Refugees' Career Capital Welcome? A Qualitative Study Among Afghan and Syrian Refugees in Austria

Activity: Talk or presentationScience to science


We explore how refugees entering the Austrian labor market relocate, acquire and convert cultural, social and economic capital. It draws on French sociologist P. Bourdieu’s (1990) theory of practice assuming that capital is useful for an individual only if it fits a specified social field. To enter the host country’s labor market, an unfamiliar field, refugees need to adapt their capital portfolio. Semi-structured interviews with 16 Afghan and 19 Syrian refugees were subjected to a qualitative categorical content analysis. We found that refugees lose their economic and social capital, and that their cultural capital is radically devaluated due to unfamiliar labor market rules and non-recognition of educational certificates and job experiences, which causes professional identity threats and Status loss. The acquisition of new cultural and social capital requires proactivity and the interplay of capital forms: mastering the language facilitates social capital acquisition and vice versa; language is needed for additional education; and economic constraints prevent refugees from acquiring cultural capital. Compared to voluntary migrants, refugee job seekers face much more pronounced obstacles. The theory of practice is well suited for studying refugees’ career behaviors. When studying capital relocation and acquisition, interdependencies of capital forms need to be considered. Practical implications include support for refugees to learn the language and to access additional training, to tap into local social networks and coaching related to identity issues. The study adds to migration research contrasting refugees’ and voluntary migrants’ disadvantages in the labor market, show how refugees face challenges to pursue sustainable careers and address the role of the field for the value of career capital when they move between fields.
Period13 Sept 201715 Sept 2017
Event title10. Tagung der Fachgruppe Arbeits-, Organisations- und Wirtschaftspsychologie der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie
Event typeUnknown
Degree of RecognitionInternational

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 501003 Occupational psychology