Belongingness in practice: a discursive psychological analysis of aid workers’ accounts of living and working in the field
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The study described in this thesis represents one of the first attempts to explore belongingness as a practice among aid workers, and to contribute to our understanding of how people account for belonging in situ. In psychology, belongingness has predominantly been studied in laboratory settings, or among those who report not belonging in some way. This has led to concerns about ecological validity, and a neglect of ‘real world’ contexts in the development of belongingness theory. Through semi‐structured interviews with 25 international aid workers, using web‐based calling software (Skype), a discursive psychological approach was employed to rework belongingness as a discursive practice. Belonging was found to be an activity for which participants made themselves accountable, and in so doing worked to manage issues of blame and justification in their interactions. Aid workers constructed fitting in as necessary, but ultimately futile, formulating accounts around inherent and immutable differences with local people. The analysis also explored the ways in which participants constructed efforts to achieve belonging; much of which involved the manipulation of appearance, particularly the use of strategic dressing. Through analysis of participants’ treatment of belonging in interaction it was found that, in practice, belonging was formulated as a continuum rather than a dichotomy.