This project employs ethnographic methods to explore the experiences of forty ordinary Texans of different social and religious backgrounds who were active in pro-refugee volunteer and advocacy work during the four chaotic years of the Trump administration. The goal of this research is to better understand people’s reasons for volunteering and advocating on behalf of refugees during a time of political upheaval, when prominent public figures in positions of leadership around the country have repeatedly framed refugees as a threat to American security and cultural identity. Despite the crucial roles that local volunteers typically play in the process of refugee resettlement and integration, relatively little academic work has been done to understand how and why people become involved in this work, especially if they themselves do not have a recent family immigration background. These questions are particularly important during a time of rising xenophobia and political polarization.

This study explores the interconnections between personal ethics, social identity, and civic engagement, and illuminates the unexpected social connections that can form across religious and other social boundaries when people unite in pursuit of a common goal. It contributes to the “anthropology of the good” by adding a new moral / ethical dimension to theoretical concepts of citizenship and civic engagement. Finally, it lays out some general conclusions with regards to refugee supporters’ ideas about what it means to do (and be) “good”; the role of faith-based organizations mobilizing (and sometimes suppressing) support for displaced people; common narratives about refugee / immigrant “deservingness”; and the relationship between volunteerism and activism.

Degree Date

Fall 2021

Document Type


Degree Name





Caroline B. Brettell

Second Advisor

Nicolas Sternsdorff-Cisterna

Third Advisor

Maryann R. Cairns

Fourth Advisor

Harold J. Recinos

Subject Area


Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License



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