American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Living in the European Borderlands Representation, Humanitarian Work, and Integration in Times of Crises in Greece

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Susana Peña (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Erin Felicia Labbie (Other)

Third Advisor

Yiorgos Anagnostou (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Michaela Walsh (Committee Member)


The migration flows that peaked during the 2015-2016 “refugee crisis” have had long-lasting effects to the countries of the European South. The latter have been deemed as border wardens of the European Union, filtering the “undesirables” who pose a threat to the European North, and by extension a proclaimed “Western way of life.” This project examines the living conditions of displaced persons and the systems of support in place for them in the European borderlands of Greece, with a case study of Crete. Starting from an archival ethnography and textual analysis of the “crisis” in an institutional archive, the ethnographic research focuses on the experiences of humanitarian workers and displaced persons on the island of Crete, where reception programs for asylum seekers and refugees run since 2017. Through in-depth ethnographic interviews with six (6) displaced persons and (24) humanitarian workers, the project analyzes the views, experiences, and strategies employed by humanitarian workers in protection and assistance programs for asylum seekers and refugees that dominate the Greek borderlands. Moreover, the focus on the constant categorization of beneficiaries by Greek and European authorities affects State policies and fieldwork daily, shaping the views of the displaced persons about themselves, their relationship to authorities, and the local community. The present research finds that in Greece the nature of services offered is temporary, without any policies for the future, even though participants acknowledge that migration flows towards Europe through Greece will only increase in the future. The lack of integration policies results in further reinforcing the role of Greece as a country-intermediary stop for displaced persons coming to Europe, offering few incentives for displaced persons to stay; in successful cases of integration, neighborhood communities have been critical in covering systemic deficiencies.