Afghan Diaspora in the Digital Age: A Grounded Theory

Afghan Diaspora in the Digital Age: A Grounded Theory

Please, use citation for this document: Zamecnikova, M. (2019) Afghan Diaspora in the Digital Age: A Grounded Theory. Royal Holloway, University of London. Available at:


The interrelation between the Internet and displaced ethnic minority groups has offered a completely new insight into transnational migration studies and led to the development of the term transnational diaspora (Blanc-Szanton, 1992; Putnam, 2000; Mahler, 2001; Hannerz, 2002; Aouragh, 2011; Fortunati, 2012). The information age has spread the word about the difficulty of defeating the neo-Taliban insurgency and delivering fundamental rights by the Afghan government, despite the persistent presence of the international community (Linschoten and Kuehn, 2018, pp. 230-242). Afghanistan, with a population of more than 35 million inhabitants (World Population Review, 2019), has experienced a significant outflow of people immigrating to the Western countries (Afghanistan Analysts Network, 2019). The United Kingdom is one such country, where Afghan refugees seek safety and a modern livelihood (Refugee Council, 2019). Although many research topics have been covered about Afghanistan, including democratization, international relations, and domestic issues, the combination of Afghanistan and the Internet seems to be an irreconcilable idea for some researchers due to its isolation from cyberspace (Khan and Halperin, 2011; Rahmaty and Spears, 2015; Dale, 2016). This study examines how the Internet is utilised both during a migration journey and upon arrival in the destination country through the view of the Afghan refugees themselves. In this study, the Internet is understood as a necessary instrument in the world of transnational interactions and reachability (Putnam, 2000; Lister, 2009, p. 425; Fortunati, 2012). The phrase ‘digital age’ can be separated into ‘digital’, which signalises the proliferation of technology, and ‘age’ represented by particular timeframe (Weller, 2013; Goodwin, 2009). Therefore, the digital age is considered as a rapid increase in Internet facilities since participants having received access to the cybersphere in the host country.

This thesis addressed the lack of an in-depth investigation of the interrelation between the Internet and a particular transnational diaspora. Through analysis of the research question: ‘How does the Internet shape Afghan refugees’ behaviour?’, this thesis intended to contribute to the substantive area of research by arguing that the occurrence of immoral content on social media as well as dependency factors play a crucial role in the utilisation of the Internet, and the motivation of having a modern lifestyle can weaken potent cultural bonds. A constructivist grounded theory method with the aim of developing a model of Internet factors shaping refugees’ behaviour was used to explore Afghan refugees’ experiences.

This paper contains six chapters, including the introductory section. The second chapter discusses migration studies and presents the context of the Afghan war and Internet development in both Afghanistan and the UK. The methodology is developed in the third chapter comprising the researcher’s positionality, approach to the literature, theoretical framework, data collection and analysis. Fourthly, findings followed by supporting literature results are examined in the results chapter. Chapter 5 discusses the findings and contributions to the substantive research area, and finally, study limitations, evaluation, and recommendations for future research are followed by the conclusion in Chapter 6.

2. Context

2.1. War in Afghanistan

‘Afghanistan, the endless war’ is the common phrase used by the media (The Guardian, 2019), politicians (Defense News, 2019), and authors (Goodson, 2001; Wissing, 2016) referring to more than 40 years of conflict. The beginning of the Afghan war dates back to the Cold War when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with support of the Afghan communist government, which intended to gain arms and military advisers (Saikal and Maley, 1989, p. 31; Gohari, 2000, p. 7). The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) and the Soviet Union fought against rebel factions known as Afghan Mujahideen (translation: ‘struggle’) whose supporters were the United States (US) and Pakistan (Saikal and Maley, 1989, p. 31; Jalali, 2002, p. 5). In 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew its combat forces, the DRA was overthrown, and many regions and cities fell under the Mujahideen’s rule. However, the Mujahideen broke up into many factionalised groups, resulting in several years of devastating fighting (Gohari, 2000, pp. 6-7). At the end of Afghan Civil War, one of the Mujahideen factions organised a new militant group known as the Taliban (translation: ‘students’) enforced by thousands of al- Qaeda fighters, and they captured Kabul in 1995 (Linschoten and Kuehn, 2018, pp. 10-11). The Taliban established an authoritarian Islamic state and controlled 90 percent of Afghanistan until the US invasion in 2001 (Rashid, 2001, p. 5). Although the neo-Taliban is currently recovering from defeat and regrouping its forces against the international community, the cultural changes implemented by Mujahedeen and the Taliban have persisted (Linschoten and Kuehn, 2018, pp. 226-227). The insurgent group, for example, has forced women to wear the hijab and men to grow beards (Aggarwal, 2016), and there were many cases when participants were victims of beatings because they disobeyed (Nadia; Rasearch; Matin; Rabia). In June 2017, government forces killed 90 protesters who had called for better security measures, and 400 were injured during a demonstration in Kabul (Wais; Independent, 2017). In July 2019, more than 1500 civilian deaths were reported, primarily due to the impending presidential elections in September, representing the highest number of casualties in a month since May 2017 (Amnesty International, 2019).

Ruins after the attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Source: Aria Wais.

2.2. Digital gap between Afghanistan & the UK

Although Internet access has grown in the UK from 9% in 1998 to 93% in 2019 (Office for National Statistics, 2019). The Internet arrived in Afghanistan in 2002 and has increased to nearly 18% access in 2019 (Internet World Stats, 2019). The cause of the slow adoption of the Internet in Afghanistan was the enforcement of Islamic censorship by the Taliban in 2001 (Open Net Initiative, 2007). The Taliban believes that the Internet spreads immoral anti-Islamic material (Deibert, 2008, p. 240). Freedom of expression was eventually secured through the Constitution of Afghanistan ratified in 2004 (Afghan Embassy, 2004). However, the primary limitation of Internet development persists in Article 3, which states, “no law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of the holy religion of Islam in Afghanistan” (Afghan Embassy, 2004). There were many incidents, particularly on Facebook, where freedom of expression and the free flow of information contravened the tenets of Islam, and many Facebook pages were expurgated (Freedom House, 2016). Therefore, Afghanistan remains more or less outside cyberspace. In addition to limitations, Afghanistan has one of the lowest rates of literacy globally (Freedom House, 2016). According to UNESCO (2017), literacy levels are on average 31% compared to 99% in the UK. The rate of female literacy is between 9 and 18 percent in Afghanistan, estimated as the lowest rate globally (Open Net Initiative, 2007). This low level of female literacy is primarily associated with limited women’s rights, which has also been a subject of international concern since the 1990s (Tolo News, 2019). There are different attitudes applied by Afghan men towards the correct treatment of women, again supported by the holy religion of Islam (Dupree, 1989). The question then becomes: If women have limited access to the Internet because they are uneducated, which is caused by patriarchal values in conjunction with the religious influence, how does this issue shape Afghan women’s behaviour after they have settled in the host country, particularly in the UK, where the cultural isolation almost disappears, and the Internet is taken for granted as an ordinary instrument of daily life?

2.3. Transnational Diaspora

Traditional migration studies usually provide a generalisable focus on the betterment of transportation and communication for marginalised groups to satisfy their divergent identities, lifestyles, and economic ties (Miller and Hors, 2006; Donner, 2008). Scott and Marshal (2005, p. 155) propose that the new wave of migration and diaspora studies should be more realistic in order to capture the diversity and fluidity of migrant experiences compared to the older models of international migration.

Although the definition of migrants and refugees differ, the issue of international migration studies that focus on information communication technologies (ICT) is that there is no appropriately rendered boundary between ‘voluntary’ and ‘forced’ international migration (UN, 2019). The ‘voluntary’ migrants typically emigrate for economic or other reasons and obtain technological devices throughout the planned journey, whereas refugees are forced to leave their country with few or no possessions (Fortunati, 2012). Putnam (2000) claims that the Internet alleviates the trauma of separation from the community and supports refugees in their accommodation in a new environment. This argument emphasises the receding significance of borders among nation-states, focusing mainly on the marginalised group of people and the purpose of ICT in their lives. Underlying this interrelation is the study phenomenon of the transnational diaspora, providing an alternative solution to the traditional definition of migrants and refugees (Burrell, 2005; Upegui-Hernandez, 2014). The concept of diaspora shifted from the original Jewish and Armenian ‘old diaspora’ to ‘new diaspora’ comprising of further characteristics, for example, transnational relationship and transnational migration, which emphasise the interconnection to both country of origin and destination country (Kissau and Hunger, 2008). The transnational diaspora can be linked to any migrant group due to flexible and open definitions (Grassmuck, 2000). Faist (1999) recommends narrowing the definition in order to focus on the structure and patterns of migrant contacts to achieve clear research results. In this study, the term transnational diaspora is understood to describe a specific ethnic minority group that was forced to flee from the country of origin and that now use the Internet to enhance modern life in the host country (e.g., for maintaining transnational relationships). This study also linked literary transnationalism with the transnational diaspora to fully express participants’ experiences (Faist, 1999; Grassmuck, 2000). Literary or critical transnationalism is a relatively new term that expresses two or more geo-cultural imagined communities that intersect, connect, disrupt, or conflict with each other in literary form (Anderson, 1983; Morgan, 2017).

3. Method

A qualitative research and constructivist grounded theory (GT) was designed to investigate the research question and study aim of this paper. The following sections include a definition of GT and the rationale for using it. The last sections focus on the detailed determination of data collection and data analysis.

3.1. Approach to Theory Construction

In this research, the theory construction obtained the interpretive tradition that contains constructivist GT. This form of GT prioritises the study phenomena and consists of relativist ontology and subjectivist epistemology; it highlights that there are multiple realities shaped by context (Charmaz, 2006, p. 126-130).

3.2. Research Puzzle

The Internet and social media have spread awareness around the world about the conflict in Afghanistan, and people have prejudices about Afghan refugees coming into Western countries; for example, refugees are associated to terrorism or dangerous, marginalised groups (Alemi and Stempel, 2018). As the researcher became increasingly involved within the Afghan community during the internship, she developed further interest in their feelings, experiences, and their points of view on the current situation. During her casual observation, the researcher began to notice something that puzzled her: the limited freedom of women, high rate of illiteracy, but the most importantly how the Internet shapes their behaviour towards the real world. Rarely does a week pass without any attack or suicide bombing in Afghanistan. All these events are broadcasted online by media (Independent, 2019), governments (GOV.UK, 2019; Overton, 2019), or even insurgent groups themselves (Goudsouzian, 2019), and these situations must have some outcome in the form of Afghan refugees’ behaviour. However, what if, instead of deciding by herself what is inside the heads of these refugees and what they think, the researcher asks them? What do they do when they see such news? What was the impetus to leave their loved ones? How do they know their relatives are safe when there is limited Internet access compared to what we are used to in Western countries? All these questions began to formulate into an exciting idea for a research topic, where the researcher could be part of a new community and investigate the field from inside.

3.3. Approach to Literature

This research arises from grounded theory construction. As its originators, Glaser and Strauss (1967, p. 37), suggest “literally to ignore the literature of theory and fact on the area under study” in order to preserve originality, minimise preconceptions, and avoid inclusion of received theory (Charmaz, 2006, p.165; Hussein, 2017). GT is the exploratory method that is the most suitable for those researchers who have little or no knowledge about the studied topic and the investigated group of people (Stebbins, 2001). Therefore, no investigation was made before all categories emerged from the data analysis in this research. In addition to classic grounded theorists, the reason for not having a literature review was to be fully adaptable to any possible direction of the research puzzle while gathering data (Charmaz, 2006, pp. 2-14).

The initial assumptions of the study’s contributions were, for example, the international trade, the EU asylum policy, cyberactivism, immigration, ethnic racism, feminism, or any other academic discipline. The only knowledge that spontaneously occurred before the data collection of this research was direct contact with the Afghan community from the day of the submitted dissertation outline. The importance of technical and nontechnical literature was not underestimated. According to Glaser (1978, p. 72), the approach to the literature should be during theoretical coding in order to be sensitive to rendering relationships in the data explicitly. Therefore, the researcher began to explore the substantive area when all focused categories were developed. The findings are supported by the literature in section 4.3., and then contributions to the substantive area are discussed in section 5.1. The nontechnical literature collected during interviews, such as pictures and photos, is presented in the appropriate section of investigation.

3.4. Theoretical Framework of GT

Grounded theory is a study approach based on the individual accounts that investigate processes, meanings, and perceptions and generates a substantive theory, which is grounded in data (Charmaz, 2006, p. 8). Constructivist GT asserts its methods without earlier objectivist or positivist assumptions, and the substantive theory is an interpretation of how individuals view their situation, or in this study, the interpretation of how the Internet is utilised through the view of the Afghan refugees themselves (Bryant, 2002; Charmaz, 2001; 2006, p. 130). Moreover, GT enabled the researcher to examine what is happening inside the Afghan community (Morse, 2009, p. 13).

This project is unique because it addressed and raised awareness of the Afghan diaspora in the UK and it is the first research of this kind to examine if and how the Internet is utilised both during the migration journey and upon arrival in the destination country. Glaser and Strauss (1967, p. 1) explain GT as containing “the discovery of theory from data,” which indicates that the researcher uncovers something that already exists. However, this viewpoint of classic GT has more positivist epistemology than is expected in this study. The social constructivist GT was the most appropriate version, which was developed by Charmaz (1990; 2000; 2002; 2006), who argues that interaction with the data is necessary for the successful construction of theory. Therefore, the methodology and theoretical product are both assigned to GT. This research used Charmaz’s (2006, p. 21) social constructivist GT because she proposes to build a mutual relationship with participants in the construction of a shared reality instead of taking a distant relationship (Glaser and Strauss, 1967).

3.5. Reflexivity

According to Charmaz’s constructivist stance (2006, p. 178), the researchers are seen within a studied phenomenon, not outside as observers, which highlights the reflexive stance towards the research process. The researcher was a female student from the Czech Republic. During the time of carrying out the research, she was in direct contact with the Afghan community as an assistant teacher in the English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes and a Political Communication intern in the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA). In contrast to the participants, she was not from their community and did not identify as a refugee in the past. She had no direct experience with people from Afghanistan before this research.

The researcher believed in the transparency of the conducted study, and she had an interest in empowering vulnerable populations, development, culture, and diversity. She commenced the research with curiosity about how Afghan refugees experience accommodation in European culture, and how their experience can possibly shape international relations on a collective level as well.

Theoretical Sensitivity

The acknowledgement of the researcher’s sensitivity to the data emphasises any prior knowledge gained in order to recognise biases in the analytical process of GT (Glaser and Straus, 1967, p. 46). The research outline was submitted before the data collection, as mentioned above. However, the direction of the substantive area completely changed during interviews. Therefore, pre-existing knowledge was successfully ‘bracketed’ (Elliot, 1999). Moreover, this study used three instruments to ensure transparency and encourage active reflection: reflexive journal, memo writing, and research supervision.

Significant Amendments during Research

The initial title of this study was ‘Internet Use as a Bridge between Afghanistan and the European Union’ with the aim to investigate the individual as well as the collective level of research question: ‘How does the Internet influence international trade in Afghanistan?’. The research question was changed prior to data collection and only investigated at the individual level. During theoretical coding, the title was required to match with the substantive area of research.

3.6. Ethical Consideration

Because participants for this study include a vulnerable group of people, the ethical approval was required. This approval was obtained from the department level of Royal Holloway, University of London. Prior data collection ethical considerations, such as informed consent, confidentiality, risk and disclosure, were addressed in the following ways:

An information sheet was provided to all participants prior to the interview to ensure understanding of the research aim and that they were given the opportunity to ask questions. All crucial components, the right to withdrawal and voluntary participation were emphatically highlighted.

The written and electronic materials collected were kept confidential and securely stored with exclusive access to the researcher. Although all participants had an option to be anonymously presented in this research, only three of them requested partial or full anonymity. In these cases, pseudonyms were allocated between them to protect their identity and all identifiable information were removed.

During the interview, if the interviewee discussed physical abuse or mental health problems, the researcher asked a direct question to ensure that the issue was notified to a health professional and currently being treated.

3.7.Data Collection

Participants and Recruitment

Participants were recruited by two different criteria due to the initial objective of investigating individual and collective levels. The first set of criteria was addressed to Afghan individuals:

–  To fulfil the fundamental criteria of this research, the participant had to was born in Afghanistan and be over 16 years old.

–  The self-identification of an Afghan individual as a refugee was necessary to proceed. This research understands a refugee as someone who had been forced to flee from Afghanistan to one of the European Union countries because of war and violence. This criterion was flexible in terms of time and place. Therefore, potential participants could identify themselves as refugees in the past or present because, without previous knowledge, it was impossible to focus on a specific time frame and evaluate their current favourite destination.

–  The participant should be fluent in English to ensure the ability to understand informed consent. Although the researcher speaks Russian alongside English and Czech, the Russian language was considered to be strategically irrelevant for recruitment because of Russia’s negative reputation in Afghanistan. After the interview with the second respondent, an Afghan interpreter was provided due to the language barrier of most potential participants.

The following inclusion criteria were applied to recruit elite participants:

–  The potential elite participant had to be an organisational representative or government official based in Afghanistan or the EU.

–  Those respondents who identified themselves as an organisational representative or government official in the EU had to be aware of current Afghan affairs or be directly involved with the Afghan diaspora in order to ‘bridge’ findings from Afghan refugees’ accounts to the collective level.

– Participants had to speak fluently English or Czech to ensure understanding of informed consent form and subsequent questions.

A total of 17 subjects participated in this research, of which two were elite participants. All 15 participants were from a minority ethnic background in London and identified themselves as refugees. The two organisational representatives who participated in this study were directly involved in current Afghan affairs (see section 4.1.).

Participants were recruited in two phases through snowball sampling (see Figure 1) to facilitate the process of the researcher being profoundly associated with the data collection and analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2013, p. 57). Both phases came from the researcher’s experience during the internship. The first phase included direct contact with the Afghan diaspora during the ESOL classes, followed by attendance at several events themed on Afghan issues where government officials and organisation representatives were introduced. Potential participants were recruited face-to-face throughout the ESOL classes and via e-mail to organisational representatives. The participant Darius is considered to be ‘in-between’ because he identified himself as a refugee, but at the same time, his family founded the ACAA organisation. The dotted line between Nadia, the interpreter, and ten participants illustrates where interpretation was required.

Figure 1. Participant Recruitment Flow Diagram

Author’s own elaboration


An interview guide was drafted with the support of the research supervisor prior to interviews. The interview schedule had the form of a loosely guided exploration of the topic with a conversational manner to ensure participants’ flow of experiences (Charmaz, 2006, p. 26). The interview guide was adapted after each interview, based on gained information, in order to comply with principles of theoretical sampling (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, pp. 45-49). The interview schedule aimed to guide the interview with non-judgemental and open-ended questions. The initial questions were designed to gain more information about participants; for example, date of arrival and age, followed by questions about their backgrounds and difficulties with an objective of naturally flowing into the topic of the Internet. Closing questions and an invitation to add further thoughts were included in order to signal the end of the interview.

An intensive interviewing method, as Charmaz (2006, pp. 25-28) proposed, was used to incorporate a flexible technique with interaction to new ideas to develop a substantial theory.

The interviews with Afghan refugees were conducted face to face in Hounslow public areas, such as Adam’s Café, the Rosemount, Bulstrode Pub, or Hounslow House, between 17 June and 2 July 2019. The selection of places was based on the time and place of the arranged interview. The second phase of virtual elite interviews via Skype and FaceTime took place between 29 July and 2 August. The length of interviews varied from 32 to 97 minutes, which reflected the flexible use of an interview guide, and theoretical sampling increased the duration in later interviews. All interviews were audio-recorded on a mobile phone to ensure eye contact with participants and create an interactional space. The reflexive journal was used to capture additional knowledge of observations after the interview.

Theoretical Sampling and Saturation

In this study, theoretical sampling was used as a strategy to gather more data that refine categories and properties in emerging theory (Charmaz, 2006, p. 98). In other words, this approach comprised transcribing and analysing interviews in order to amend the interview guide based on information gained from earlier stages of analysis. Although the initial objective of elite recruitment was a collective-level investigation, the final decision was to recruit organisational representatives as a theoretical sampling strategy to seek pertinent data to develop a substantive theory (Charmaz, 2006, p. 96).

The aim of theoretical sampling was to reach theoretical saturation of each category, which means that no more properties were revealed and thus ‘saturated’ (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 188; Charmaz, 2006, p. 113). However, Dey (1999, p. 117) proposes the term ‘theoretical sufficiency’ instead of forcing data into saturation, a strategy that provides more versatility in order to generate data that sufficiently explain categories. Therefore, theoretical sufficiency was adopted in the analysis.

Throughout the data collection, the power dynamic can manifest in several forms; for example, gender, age, ethnicity, language, or qualification of the researcher (Van Der Riet and Boettiger, 2009). In this study, the most critical factor was the latter because participants knew the researcher as their teacher. Therefore, two strategies were adopted to manage the participant-researcher hierarchy: 1) personal disclosure prior interview to establish a relationship, and 2) the interview was rather informal and conversational than structural. The power dynamics of ethnicity and language were dealt with by the invitation of an Afghan interpreter, who ensured that participants would feel more at ease with someone perceived to be like them. A thank you note was sent to each participant within three days after the interview.

3.8. Data Analysis


The researcher transcribed all interviews verbatim to ensure immersion in the data and improve in-depth understanding during analysis (Charmaz, 2006, pp. 69-70). Interviews were transcribed prior to the following interview to allow theoretical sampling and amend the interview schedule. A denaturalised approach to transcription was embraced to provide transparency of data collected (Davidson, 2009). The grounded theory supports this approach because speech is used to construct meanings and perceptions that construct reality rather than mirror absolute reality (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, p. 204; Charmaz, 2006, p. 55). Therefore, all features of the spoken language were preserved. The software MAXQDA2018 was used for transcription because it supported all features necessary for GT, such as category building and code system customising.

Initial and Focused Coding

Following the transcription of the first interview, the initial coding commenced with studying fragments of data for an analytical import, which provided a platform for the researcher to move into an interactive analytical space (Charmaz, 2006, p. 42). During this early stage, the initial line-by-line coding represented actions in each segment rather than theoretical labels to assure that emerging theory was grounded in the participant’s experiences (Charmaz, 2006, p. 47-48). Moreover, in vivo codes, also described as an aspect of real life, played a crucial role in preservation of participants’ meanings and experiences; for example, participants used the ‘fighting killing’ when they attempted to express suffering from the war (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, p. 40).

Focused Coding

The second major stage of coding was more selective than the previous phase and analysed larger segments of data (Charmaz, 2006, pp. 57-60). Selective coding was incorporated to systematically link all categories developed during initial coding with the core categories (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, pp. 116-119). This was done through the explication of a story line, which means the conceptualisation of a descriptive story about the central phenomenon (Strauss, 1987, p. 69). Focused codes were selected pursuant to the most frequent and significant codes from the initial coding stage. Therefore, the decisions were required to ensure the integration of the most incisive and complete analytical sense of categories.

Memo-writing and Constant Comparative Method

The formulation of the substantive theory was accompanied by written notes, known as memos, during analysis that constructed analytic comparisons and connections to explicate and fill out categories of the substantive research area (Strauss, 1987, p. 111; Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 197). The pivotal intermediate phase represented memo-writing, which placed the researcher’s active involvement in analysis between data collection and the final theory (Charmaz, 2006, p. 72). This phase also provided the researcher space for constant comparisons and the evolution of new ideas for the direction of theoretical sampling (Strauss, 1987, p. 112). The objective of this phase was to connect and integrate categories in order to ensure that all variations were captured by the emerging theory (Willig, 2013, p. 36).

Theoretical Coding

Theoretical codes, represented by substantive categories that were developed through the data analysis process, conceptualised the integration of codes into the theory (Glasser and Holton, 2005; Hernandez, 2009). Theoretical coding aimed to build theory from data by moving the analytical story in a theoretical direction and involved conceptualisation of substantive codes (Charmaz, 2006, p. 63). This sophisticated level followed codes that were selected during focused coding and analysed possible relationships between each of them (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, p. 72). During this stage, the researcher began exploring the literature and investigated how theoretical codes related and could be integrated into a theory of substantive area in a coherent and comprehensible manner (Glaser, 1978, p. 72).

Visual Data

Glaser (2002) argues that whatever supports the researcher to generate theory can obtain the status of ‘data’. Although the analysis of this research consists mainly of primary textual sources, such as transcription or memos, this study also used visual data analysis in the GT methodology (Konecki, 2011). The incorporation of five pictures into the Afghan refugees’ interview schedule was part of the theoretical sampling strategy.

The first three pictures of women (see Picture 1, 2, 3) in different cultures were shown to five participants because the researcher realised that the women were illiterate due to cultural suppression of education. The last two pictures (see Picture 4, 5) provided missing imagination about Facebook posts during data collection; these two pictures evoked feelings in participants about particular situations. The first picture (Picture 4) was shown to nine participants; the second picture (Picture 5) was only seen by eight participants because it could evoke negative emotions. Therefore, according to ethical considerations in the previous section, if the person expressed any kind of depression during the interview, further steps were applied to protect that participant, and the second picture was not provided.

The selection of these pictures involved a random search on the websites (Picture 1, 2, 3), inspiration from the real news (Picture 4), or participant source (Picture 5). The last two pictures correspond to real news from the week of conducted interviews. Surprisingly, the researcher was not able to read the news story that accompanied Picture 5 because it was published in the Persian language only, but many participants were aware of this attack.


The visual presentation of categorical interrelation was illustrated through diagramming, which ensured the transparency of researcher’s analytical thinking throughout the development of the substantive theory (see Figure 2) (Corbin and Strauss, 1990, pp. 197-223). Diagramming provided a central part of the coding and theoretical construction process (Struss, 1987; Strauss and Corbin, 1998; Clarke, 2003; 2005). In this study, the idea of creating a visual image supported the coherence of emerging theory and enabled the researcher to see the relative power and the direction of theoretical categories (Charmaz, 2006, pp. 117-119).

4. Results

This chapter reports the findings of the study, including a substantive theory investigating how the Internet shapes refugees’ behaviour throughout their former journey from Afghanistan to the destination country, the United Kingdom.

The model developed three theoretical codes that emerged from the analysis and provided coherence to an analytic story. Three theoretical codes contain four focused codes, each of which included properties of codes that emerged from the data analysis. Following the structure of coding presented in Table 1, all 17 participants were chronologically introduced as they were interviewed. A visual presentation of the observed transactions illustrating the inter-relation between categories and subcategories is presented in Figure 2.

The findings for each of the theoretical codes are examined under an overview of the diagrammatic model. The grounded findings in the data are granted by participants’ quotes. These quotes are presented in italics, and brackets within quotes enable improved coherence for the reader. All 17 participants had the choice to be anonymously presented in this research, and in order to comply with participant confidentiality, all identifiable information of two participants (Rabia, and Moska) was removed, and partial anonymity of one participant was delivered (George). By signing the consent form, the remaining 14 participants agreed to be presented by their real names and allowed the researcher to use their personal information and attached documents in this study. The reason of participant’s non-anonymity was the voice provided by this research to Afghan diaspora.

Table 1. Composition of the Analysis

Theoretical Codes Focused Codes Initial Codes
Utility of the Internet Meeting Needs Searching
Virtual library
Raising awareness
Online community
Information hunger
Feeling dependent
Moral uncertainty Crossing the gap Fighting killing
Feeling happy
Dissatisfaction with sociaal position
Enjoying transparency
Fear of Facebook
Behavioural factors Eager for change

Seeking a new life

Speaking loudly
Offline activism
Contacting relatives after seeing bad news

Motivation to immigrate
Accommodation to modern life
Implementing cultural changes

4.1. Participants

In total, 15 Afghan individuals who had identified themselves as refugees, participated in this study and shared their experiences, behaviours and backgrounds. In addition, two more interviews were conducted with organisation representatives in order to achieve theoretical sufficiency. Brief descriptions of their backgrounds, struggles, and opinions about the Internet are provided below.

Darius Nasimi. Darius is a young Afghan man approximately 20 years old who studies at King’s College, London. He came with his family of six people in 1999 in the back of a refrigerator container when he was only three months old. In 2001, his family founded the ACAA to help refugees who are arriving in a similar position as them. The Internet, according to him, is limited for girls in Afghanistan, especially in conservative families.

Nadia Shahidi. Nadia is 50 years old. After her arrival to the UK in 2009, when her husband died in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan, migration officers changed her surname and date of birth in her official documentation. Therefore, all qualifications gained previously in Afghanistan are written on a different name with an unmatched date of birth. She searches news about Afghanistan every morning to ensure that her family is secure.


Rasearch. Rasearch is a woman in her late 30s who has suffered from chronic migraines for more than 18 years. When she was only six months old, her dad passed away, and she was a victim of child labour. After her engagement at the age of 13, her husband arrived illegally in the UK by a small ship from Turkey and then sponsored her journey to London in her twenties. She feels depressed about Facebook because of immoral news about Afghanistan.

Muhammed Isaq Ashraf. Isaq is an 81-years-old man who underwent a second illegal immigration journey in 2017 because he was deported back to Afghanistan in 2006. The reason for moving to the UK was the death of his eldest son in 2000 and repeated death threats from the Taliban due to his family connection to the Afghan government. Isaq claims that the Internet is used for religious purposes in Afghanistan.

Muhammad Qasim Fakhri. At 64 years old, Qasim came from Finland one year ago, where he had a job at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). He had a good life in Afghanistan, but he subsequently lost his hope for a better situation. The Mujahedeen destroyed his life and attacked his house, and he then decided to migrate with his family to Finland, where he could have access to the cybersphere for the first time.

Isaq and Qasim are friends in a friendship closer than brotherhood.

Malalai Azizi. Malalai is 38 years old. She came to the UK in 2012 because her husband, who lived in London before, returned to Afghanistan to marry her. She is concerned about women’s rights in Afghanistan because girls cannot see their future husband before marriage. According to her, there is no Internet connection in rural areas, and even if there is, women have limited rights to use it.


Palwasha Sarwari. Palwasha is a talented woman in her late 30s who grew up during the Taliban regime. According to her, this meant no school, no reading, no writing, and sitting at home. She is happy to see young educated people who utilise the Internet for learning. However, she is concerned about political parties that use the Internet only to gain power.

Refugee Women’s Art 28/7/19: In memory of my mum

Palwasha’s mother passed away in Afghanistan four weeks into the art workshops. Palwasha being a regular participant, painted her loneliness and desire to re-unite with her mother one day after she died. She uses dark colour, night and a solo female character (herself) to express her sorrow and sense of loss. After the workshop ended, she said in Farsi, “I feel light”. An expression used when someone offloads their anxieties and sorrows by talking to others or crying. Here, she meant she feels light through painting.

Palwasha, Afghanistan, in her 30s, London

Muhammad Zarif. Zarif is a man aged 68 who arrived in the UK two years ago from Holland. He travelled illegally from Afghanistan for more than 14 years. The main reasons for leaving Afghanistan were safety and education. His preferred platform for connection with family in Afghanistan is Viber.

Belqees Ahmadzai. Belqees is a brave 40-years-old woman from a village that is in the middle of the battlefield between the Afghan government and the Taliban. She experienced many deaths threats from both sides, and on five occasions, a bomb destroyed her home. The impetus to leave Afghanistan was a job crisis in her village in 2009. She claims that social media is used by the Taliban against the government and vice versa.

Crying Belqees

Moska. A young Afghan woman who arrived in London with her husband. She had time to study and gain work experience because, after her engagement, she waited one year for marriage. After arrival in the UK, she changed her mind about arranged marriages and spent approximately seven years of her life at home as a wife and mother. During that time, the Internet was her best friend, allowing her to search and learn.

Dina Sardarzada. Dina is a twice-times divorced 31-years-old mother of one child. She wanted to end the suffering associated with her first husband, but her family was ashamed of her, and they are still arguing to this day. She came to London with her second husband in 2015, and they divorced in 2018. According to her, the Afghan community has adopted a new culture in the UK, one that they do not want to share on the Internet with their relatives in Afghanistan.


Abdul Matin Ghaznawi. Matin is a 46-years-old man who sought safety first in Russia and then in the UK in 2001. According to him, people are going backwards instead of forwards; for instance, they underestimate women’s rights, and follow the strict teaching of Islam. He distinguishes Internet utilisation using an example of a child and university student, where the former is only playing a game, but for the student, there are many things inside the Internet to learn.

Matin’s passion is calligraphy. This is his own production and it means Atash e Dar Jan e Ma (translation: “you burnt me forever”) like his favourite singer’s song.

Hajira Sadat. Hajira is 47 years old and followed her husband to the UK in 2007. She described feelings about the first few days when the war began. There was always fighting around them. Therefore, they decided to live in Pakistan, and then she moved to London. Interestingly, the communication to confirm the interview was always through her husband when the researcher attempted to reach her via telephone.

Rahila Khan. Rahila is Hajira’s sister in law. She is 30 years old and arrived in London 13 years ago. In her family, only men use the Internet because women are uneducated. She prefers using Instagram rather than Facebook because she can sell Afghan wedding decor, and there are no pictures of fighting.

Rabia. Rabia is in her late 30s. She escaped from her husband’s physical abuse and torture after more than 10 years living with him. She could not find help in London because she was isolated from the outside world. She shared a dreadful story of living under the hand of her husband and claims that 90 percent of Afghan women have a similar experience. The Internet is a necessary instrument for connection with her family after her suffering.

George. George is a former NATO representative with a British background. He was head of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. He would not recommend to any Afghan people to immigrate into Western countries, where they, according to him, seek modern life. The modern life means for him nice cars, houses, peace, and the Internet. He described the Internet as an inevitable development of postmodern society.

Aria Wais. Wais is around 50 years old and a director of the TABISH organisation in Afghanistan. He was a victim of child labour and now endeavours to improve human rights and support women and children in needs. His organisation works with returnees and deportees from Western countries. The Internet plays an active role in the TABISH organisation. He uses the Internet as a platform to make a connection with other organisations abroad and to increase his knowledge regarding the well-being of former refugees.

Aria Wais
“Safe Motherhood Project”
Dinner time
Children in Kabul, Afghanistan
Photo: Aria Wais

4.2. Model of Behavioural Factors

A central aim of the study was to develop a model for how the Internet shapes Afghan refugees’ behaviour. In Figure 2, a model is presented showing how three theoretical codes and prominent focused codes were seen to interrelate. The model is depicted with arrows and contains three inter-related substantive codes that enable in-depth investigation of each participant’s behaviours shaped by the Internet. The dotted lines indicate an overlap of the last two theoretical codes because there were already signs of behavioural factors in moral uncertainty that then culminated in its assigned category. Based on participants’ accounts, utility of the Internet, moral uncertainty, and behavioural factors must all be present in the middle row comprising focused codes to understand the feelings and expressions of participants and to achieve quality outcomes of their behavioural factors.

Figure 2. Model of Internet Factors Shaping Afghan Refugees’ Behaviour

Author’s own elaboration

Utility of the internet

The first theoretical code captured participants’ utilisation of the Internet as a tool for meeting needs, and although applicable at different contextual levels, the Internet was seen as a necessary instrument for a modern livelihood. Education and virtual library were considered to be fundamental elements of the utilisation of the Internet (Darius; Nadia; Isaq; Qasim; Malalai; Palwasha; Dina; Matin; Moska; Hajira; Rahila; Rabia; George).

I am using internet just for education purpose like a lots of people thinking the internet is just a game or playing song and these staff (.) but there is a lots of things for internet now even we don’t need to lie go to libraries a lots of books they are digit (…) (Matin).

The Afghan community is relatively new in the cybersphere. Therefore, raising awareness about issues is another example identified during initial coding (Darius; Nadia; Research; Matin; Moska; Rabia).

(…) it’s easier to tell people to attend if you are on Facebook especially if you have a lots of followers (…) in terms of raising awareness Facebook is now (…) the most effective way of reaching people because everyone has Facebook now (Darius).

Searching and creating an online community in the Internet are understandable needs of information hunger (Darius; Nadia; Isaq; Qasim; Malalai; Dina; Matin; Moska; Hajira).

We do have a lot of Afghan groups because nowadays you can just searching on Google and you have list of people and we have many (online) news channels a lot of activist that they are so active and they put everything about the daily situation about Afghanistan (Moska).

Four participants (Rasearch, Qasim; Zarif; Belqees) who could not enjoy this benefit of the Internet because of the illiteracy.

Viber WhatsApp Messenger I just can talk (.) chat (.) I don’t know I can’t read the name (.) my son put my relatives name like this but I don’t know I can’t read the names just when the pictures comes then I really know who called me (Belqees).

Hence, even if they would like to use the Internet, they cannot. The outcome of the following three pictures is a measure of dependency and participant’s opinions about women in different cultures.

Picture 1. Hijab Woman

Source: Agora, 2019

Picture 2. Afghan Woman

Source: BBC News, 2019

Picture 3. Blond Woman

Source: Shutterstock, 2019

All five participants felt scared and shy (Belqees; Dina; Matin; Moska; Rabia) about these pictures because of dependency. Feeling dependent had the second highest frequency throughout all Afghan participants.

(…) it is in our culture we don’t letanybody to take our photo or somethings (.) we feel shy the men not us our men the family’s mens family members they feel shy how the ladies our ladies take the picture or dancing or something they don’t let us (Belqees).

This theoretical code was the most frequent through all participants’ stories because the code was accompanied by simpler questions around the utilisation of the Internet. Participants utilised the Internet as something that independently developed since having received access to the Internet or as dependent relation to another person or factor, such as culture, regime, or man.

Moral Uncertainty

The second theoretical code was described as a stage where participants started to ‘crossing the gap’ of their comfort zone and began to freely express those issues and concerns that evoked negative feelings and emotions; for example, when participants were not satisfied with their social position due to conflict and negative prejudices (Rasearch; Qasim; Palwasha; Belqees; Dina; Matin; Hajira; Rabia).

I had everything I had good job big house and after Taliban everything broke (Qasim).

Nine participants (Malalai; Palwasha; Zarif; Belqees; Dina; Matin; Moska; Hajira; Rabia) had seen the following ‘Facebook post’, which expectedly evoked happiness in all participants.

I am feeling very very happy when any of Afghans are laughing they give me more energy (…) I think these news can improve the feeling of our community here (…) these things are showing that Afghan people their real face what’s going on you know (Matin).

Picture 4. The First Afghanistan Victory: 2019 Cricket World Cup

Source: Afghan Celebrations, 2019; CricTracker, 2019

In contrast to the first picture, the second Facebook post evoked negative emotions from ‘fighting killing’ and was the most frequent code throughout all 17 participants. Eight participants who saw this picture felt sad (Palwasha; Belqees; Dina; Moska; Hajira), the rest were upset about the USA and the Taliban (Zarif) or felt helpless (Matin; Moska) or surprised (Malalai).

(…) I am crying for my people all the time I am looking at news I didn’t looking that I am looking and I’m crying for my (.) they are civilians (.) the innocent people they are killing it’s why I feel sorry all the time when I am watching the news like this I just start crying (…) (Palwasha).

Picture 5. Attack in Afghanistan: 22 June 2019

Source: Nadia

More than one-third participants had a fear of Facebook (Rasearch; Malalai; Belqees; Palwasha; Dina; Hajira; Rahila). They stated that they typically preferred other social platforms instead of Facebook (such as Viber or WhatsApp) because those platforms do not show immoral pictures about the current situation in Afghanistan.

(…) when I am going to use social media I feel like I can’t see the good thing (news) I feel depressed because of connection to Afghanistan I use YouTube Facebook but this one (Facebook) I don’t like (…) (Rasearch).

However, some participants did not identify themselves due to a fear of Facebook’s position, and they frequently enjoyed the transparency of the Internet’s content and benefitted from being provided with a bigger picture (Darius; Nadia; Isaq; Qasim; Matin; Moska).

(…) when I came here (in the UK) I search a lots of things about Afghanistan even in Kabul also but from here you know much better because if you are on the top of the hill you can see what’s going on there (in Afghanistan) (Matin).

These negative and positive emotions provided detailed insight into participants’ lives and their uneasiness in the digital age. The moral uncertainty is seen as a transition from chatting and regular use of social media to particular actions in the real world.

Behavioural Factors

The relevance of the previous section is explained further in this area, where the data are promoted in behavioural factors. When participants observed the field and crossed the gap into a new comfort zone, they were eager for change to occur. This theoretical code is an identification of Afghan refugees’ behaviours after they became involved in a certain situation due to the Internet. The group initiation of ‘eager for change’ was delivered through ‘speaking loudly’ (Darius; Nadia; Rabia; Wais).

(…) I think people just have to put themselves forward to express their views (.) otherwise if they don’t do anything the whole world will just think you are happy (…) (Darius).

Another frequent example is a demonstration when people recognised the benefit of the Internet and took action together in the real world (Darius; Rasearch; Nadia; Rabia; Wais).

(…) there was a peaceful big peaceful demonstration against the government about two years ago and then suddenly in the demonstration four hundred people were killed by the Taliban (.) and then everyone on the social media was like the government did this the government is working together with the Taliban (…) (Wais).

After seeing bad news on the Internet, most participants reached their relatives via social platforms (Nadia; Rasearch; Malalai; Zarif; Dina; Moska; Hajira; Rahila; Rabia).

(…) every day when I see this Facebook I think about my family or WhatsApp with them and just I call and I ask ‘everyone is ok?’ and my sister and I just I put my voice ‘please just answer me yes’ (Dina).

Seeking a new life was highly valued by participants and associated with a wide range of positive behaviours towards modern life, immigration, and improvement of livelihoods (Darius; Isaq; Qasim; Palwasha; Belqees; Matin; George).

(…) this attitude (towards the modern life) fuelled the refugee flow to the West (…) the West was drove by this idea of comfortable modern life (…) the modern life means that all the facilities we take for granted (.) electricity plumbing healthcare (…) nice new cars nice eh.. houses eh.. peace (…) (and) the internet (George).

Seeking a new life encompassed the last properties, independence, and implementation of cultural changes–and encouraged Afghan refugees to escape from dependency identified in the first theoretical code (Darius; Nadia; Palwasha; Dina; Matin; Moska; Rabia).

When I was with him he was telling me do niqab hijab yeah and with the black glasses so when I was coming out with him sometimes I feel shy everybody looking like like it’s something like ghost (.) I didn’t have enough information about the Islam yeah then I studied I learn inform me on the internet about real Islam and then I take out from the him (Rabia).

The Internet provided a safe low-cost platform that has supported Afghan refugees’ desire for a new life (Isaq; Qasim; Matin; Belqees; George), helping them to escape from dependency to responsibility of their own decisions (Palwasha; Dina; Moska; Rabia; Wais), and simplified contact with their closest relatives (Darius; Nadia; Rasearch; Malalai; Zarif; Hajira; Rahila).

4.3.Supporting Literature Findings

The Internet has made the world a single field with persistent interconnection, interaction, and exchange (Hannerz, 2002, p. 19). Throughout transnational diaspora, Blanc-Szanton (1992) believes that ICTs are ‘bridging’ the nations and create social fields that cross not only geographic but also cultural and political borders. First, geographic borders are crossed mainly by transnational relations, which are defined as cross-border interactions with other people (Nye and Keohane, 1971; Mahler, 2001). In the case of Afghanistan, there was always one who remained at home, usually a woman (Nadia; Rasearch; Qasim; Malalai; Palwasha; Belqees; Dina; Moska; Hajira; Rahila; Rabia), and one who left the country of origin to find a better livelihood in the host country, subsequently calling his wife and children to join him (Zarif).

(…) I was living alone in Holland then I called my family then they came there (…) (Zarif).

Afghan refugees developed the transnational relations, which provide cross-border interrelation, in the host country after immigration in order to reunite the family or after seeing bad news on the Internet. This example can be linked to behavioural factors with respect to how Afghan refugees perceived their experiences upon arrival.

Second, people can interact with different cultures on the Internet or meet with the transnational diaspora in their country (Kissau and Hunger, 2008). Although cultural awareness is delivered by the opinion exchange on the Internet and thus reduces prejudices about diaspora (Kissau and Hunger, 2008; Kempny, 2012), Baumann (1996) asserts that the label ‘immigrant’ applies even to subsequent settled generations of families from Asia. According to Bauman (1996, p. 42), the second and next generations are not accepted as pure and authentic British citizens due to religion, skin colour, and country of origin. These identity issues were also apparent across all conducted interviews within the context of ‘moral uncertainty’. The additional quotes presented below linking supporting literature to the behavioural model with respect to dissatisfaction with social position due to conflict and negative prejudices.

(…) here (in London) is difficult (…) there is no one saying (that) you are welcome (…) no one can feel this this is only we can feel this how hard it is so for outside people it’s just you came from Afghanistan yes but for us it’s very hard we can feel in our part of our bodies (Matin).

Although many participants expressed unpleasant feelings about their host country (Nadia; Matin; Rasearch; Isaq; Belqees; Dina), the grounded statement came from an organisational point of view.

(…) particularly they (Afghan refugees) want to go to England I don’t know why and eh.. I said ‘well first of all you would not be welcome (…) (George).

Fortunati (2005) adds that the Internet provides new socio-cultural environments in which the transnational diaspora lives their everyday local and international experiences that project feelings and imagination, as seen in Pictures 4 and 5. Undoubtedly, the most influential book has been Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1983), which provides transnational argumentation of the interplay between the technology and social organisation. Anderson’s (1983) concept is based on we- and other-ness that was developed during commoditization of the printed word and made it possible for citizens of a particular community to recognise that there were people much like themselves—the ‘imagined community’—beyond a face-to-face community. The similar notion of ‘here or ‘there’ of literary transnationalism appears on the Internet for refugees as online news consumers, more or less willingly (Darius; Nadia; Matin; Moska; Hannerz, 2002, pp. 20–21; Morgan, 2017).

Everyday first I am going to search Afghanistan what’s going on there (.) the news (.) yeah because my family is there and was thinking about them (.) they said ‘you are lucky here’ I said ‘you are lucky there’ (Nadia).

In the digital age, all of us, including refugees, engage in multiple socio-cultural worlds, such as enjoyment of different cultures or lifestyles that have become symbolic of the post-modern condition (Kempny, 2012).

The third example of ‘bridging’ the nations proposed by Blanc-Szanton (1992) is how political borders are interrelated with each other, and how the political instability of a particular country becomes an issue of the international community due to the quick and efficient spread of information. In this study, four imagined communities were observed: “innocent people”, the international community, the Afghan government’s supporters, and the Taliban (Nadia; Rasearch; Palwasha; Zarif; Belqees; Matin). From this point of view, communication media properties created something more than imagined communities, as Anderson proposed. McLuhan’s (1964, p. 93) ‘global village’, exemplifies a sense of interconnectedness and togetherness, but that is incompatible with the current world. A particularly relevant example of why the world is not global village is seen in Afghanistan, where three belligerents—the Taliban, Afghan forces, and the international community—are presented, each of which seeks different benefits but uses a similar language (all participants).

(…) and so they (Afghan) government exploited us the international community they got what they wanted in terms of support (…) (George).

(…) most of other country they try to use the Afghanistan to steal the wealth and they try to they want to they have their own gold and rich just they try to use the Afghanistan (…) (Moska).

The outcome is typically an intensified feeling that the world is unsafe (e.g., deaths of innocent people, suicide bombing, or terrorist attacks), also provoking empathy. Hannerz (2002, p. 44; Fortunati, 2012) proposes a more appropriate term—’global ecumene’—that reflects the studied field of this research and is explained as corresponding to an interwoven set of happenings in the world of transnational interactions and reachability. Transnationalism, as a social phenomenon that highlights the interrelationship between people, had given immigration a prominent role in relation to the ICT beyond the traditional migration studies (Fouron and Glick-Schiller, 2001, p. 60). The transnational diaspora supported arguments of interconnectivity between displaced people inside the host country and their relatives still living in Afghanistan. Online media and the Internet have played an active role in shaping Afghan refugees’ behaviour in most cases, and behavioural factors are outcomes from the analysis above.

5. Discussion

5.1. Contributions

It is worth noting that several findings in this research overlapped with results from previous studies that have examined transnational diaspora highlighting communication, education, the spread of information, and increased global awareness (Blanc-Szanton, 1992; Fortunati, 2012; Morgan, 2017). However, there were several unique observations and substantial findings explicitly related to refugees’ behaviour, that will be discussed in further detail below.

Utility of the Internet

The Internet, generally seen by participants as an instrument for the improvement of welfare in routine life, was used primarily for educational purposes to search for current issues and particular topics (Blanc-Szanton, 1992; Fortunati, 2012). However, the added value of cyberspace for Afghan refugees was inclusion into the online community and heightened public attention to a vulnerable group of people living in the UK. Despite the fact that Afghan female literacy is one of the lowest globally (Human Rights Watch, 2017), one would expect that Afghan women will accommodate the Internet after a few years living in the UK and have at least basic knowledge, such as being able to search for their home address on Google Maps or call relatives in an emergency via Viber, a necessary ability in an independent postmodern society (Cooke and Lawrence, 2005). Fortunati (2012) argues that transnational migration is tied to the expression of masculinity and femininity that is perceived even across borders. On the one hand, the suppression of women and patriarchal values in the Muslim world is not a novel finding (Humphrey, 1998), and there are many other secondary sources that discuss how women feel inside a context of cultural oppression (Dupree, 1989; Humphrey, 1998; Allievi and Nielson, 2003; Sharify-Funk, 2008). A limited amount of literature, on the other hand, has investigated the cultural bond concerning the Internet in the host country (Rahimi and Eshaghi, 2019). One such study was conducted by Cooke and Lawerance (2005, p. 11), who describe the impact of the Internet on Muslim women as being gender-inclusive while remaining a taboo socially. This study added that the utilisation of the Internet was either developed independently because Afghan refugees accommodated in the host country were followed by information hunger or the dependency factors remained upon arrival and well-being needs, such as education or responsibility of own decisions, were not fulfilled.

Moral Uncertainty

Although the primary role of transnationalism is an investigation of interconnectedness and global access to information, the appearance of negative emotions and uncertainty is a disadvantage that is rarely mentioned. On the one hand, a sufficient amount of literature (Fouron and Glick-Schiller, 2001; Hannerz, 2002; Smith and Guarnizo, 2006; Ben-Rafael and Stenberg, 2008; Vertovec, 2009; Kempny, 2012; Fortunati, 2012;) highlights positive effects, such as social significance of boundaries, flow of people and ideas, and emergence of a global economy. Literary transnationalists (Kadir, 2013; Morgan, 2017), on the other hand, believe in a level of cognitive dissonance where the transnational literature is at the same time tied to differences and similarities of ‘us’ and ‘them’ or ‘nation’ or ‘other’. Morgan (2017) investigates these chronotropic expressions through the view of powerful organisations or official representatives during conflicts. In addition, a fresh view of literal transnationalism is provided by the Internet (Hannerz, 2002; Fortunati, 2012). Fortunati (2012) argues that the Internet gives displaced people the opportunity to be informed about events in their village or city of origin and create online communities where they can share a common identity; people can have their own opinions about a particular situation without being inside the area of conflict (Morgan, 2017). Participants described their experiences and viewpoints by we- and other-ness that pursue the tendency to categorise people into social groups. The perspective differed based on the participants’ assignation to one of four imagined communities. The unique finding of this theoretical code is that the moral uncertainty caused by the overuse of chronotropic expressions in the global ecumene developed participants’ critical thinking skills but also evolved in isolation from social media, particularly from Facebook.

Behavioural Factors

Three findings are presented in this theoretical code. First, the overlapping finding in this category is communication with relatives abroad (Hannerz, 2002; Fortunati, 2012). Fortunati (2012) and Putnam (2000) argue that ICTs provide a platform for migrants to be in touch with family, subsequently mitigating the trauma of separation. This research completely agrees with their argument and adds that Afghan refugees most frequently reached their family members after the occurrence of specific content or news on the Internet that evolved negative feelings. Second, Cooke and Lawrence (2005, p. 11) suggest that the interconnection between Afghan women and American Muslim women through the Internet opens up the possibility for actual movement. This study contributed that the interactions between those participants who left the country as refugees and those who stayed gradually decreased the cultural isolation upon arrival because people accommodated the modern lifestyle and could see the difference between a relatively miserable and a comfortable modern life. Third, Fortunati (2012) argues that today, migrants count on the availability of powerful instruments, such as ICTs, to mediate their migration journey. Despite asking targeted questions to gain information about the importance of the Internet throughout the participants’ journey, this argument was not supported by any subject. However, this study observed that the reasons for non-involvement with ICTs included the unaffordability of the Internet prior to and during a journey (Nadia; Rasearch; Zarif; Rabia), limited Internet facilities in Afghanistan (Darius; Malalai; Palwasha; Belqees; Dina; Moska; Hajira; Rahila; Wais), and unplanned migration without any possession; hence, people left everything behind (Matin; Isaq; Qasim). The final grounded findings that formed the substantive theory of behavioural factors overlapped with existing literature as well as contributing to diaspora and transnational studies with the visual investigation of factors shaping the experience of Afghan refugees and three causes of cyberspace isolation.

5.2. Limitations of the Study


The generalisability of qualitative research is often criticised (Mays and Pope, 1995; Seale, 1997). Charmaz (2006, p. 141) argues that instead of seeking to construct generalisable theories, the objective of GT should be to develop a tentative theoretical understanding that is situated in time, space, action, and interactions. In this study, all Afghan refugees were living in London; the results should, therefore, be situated with respect to the context of the participants. There were only two participants who did not identify themselves as refugees. This is seen as a primary limitation of this study due to the limited word count because the initial aim was to develop a substantive theory based on both the collective and individual levels. Only one participant who could have different experiences and provide a distinct perspective was based in Afghanistan instead of London. Therefore, his answers concerning deportation from the UK were seen as potential recommendations for future research because there was no further capacity to develop another theoretical code. Thus, the experiences and behaviours of a highly specific ethnic minority group were represented in this study.


Despite most of the participants not being English speakers, it was not possible to employ an interpreter due to financial constraints of carrying out this study as part of a postgraduate degree in Politics of Development. However, inside the Afghan community, a range of people offer to volunteer in order to gain work experience. During ESOL classes, an Afghan interpreter in each classroom spoke most of the spoken languages of this multilingual country, and one of them, Nadia, participated in this research. After the interview, she agreed to volunteer for research purposes. Indeed, her presence helped the research process because participants felt more comfortable with someone perceived to be similar to them. The benefits for the interpreter were further contact with the Afghan community, acquaintance with new people, and gaining valuable experiences. Nevertheless, she was not a highly qualified interpreter, and the researcher was not a native English speaker. Therefore, these issues may have caused research bias during the interviews. Efforts to avoid such biased research included giving space to each participant to express their feelings and opinions by themselves and creating a reflective journal from written notes during interviews.

5.3.Research Evaluation

Hammersley (1992, p. 57) argues that ethnographic research should not be judged by the same criteria as other methods in qualitative research. The difference between ethnography and grounded theory is that GT develops the substantive theory, whereas the objective of ethnography study is understanding and investigation of a particular community (Charmaz, 2006, pp. 21-25). The aim of this research was, on the one hand, the development of substantive theory investigating the interrelationship between the Internet and refugees. On the other hand, this study was part of an in-depth understanding of the Afghan community. Charmaz (2006, pp. 181-182) proposes four evaluation criteria that reflect constructivist GT: credibility, originality, resonance, and usefulness.


Both Hammersley (1992, p. 70) and Charmaz (2006, p. 182) argue that the research should acquire a sufficient level of plausibility and credibility. In this research, credibility was achieved by confident familiarity with the studied topic based on participant’s accounts, number and depth of observations, powerful logical links between categories and the collected data (Figure 2), and by provided evidence to allow the reader an independent assessment: table of online searches, samples of coding, and frequency of codes. Moreover, the constant comparative method ensured that all findings based on participants’ accounts were granted in data.


The researcher explained her own perspective on the studied topic to inform the reader about positionality from which the data were analysed. The researcher also contributed fresh categories and new insights (Wilkinson, 1998). Although several studies have addressed many issues from governmental and political perspectives with respect to Afghanistan (Goodson, 2001; Wissing, 2016), the added value of this dissertation was providing information from and about innocent and vulnerable people in an area of conflict.


The aim of this study was understood by all participants and provided more profound insight into their lives, such as the importance of modern life and technology, and area that is often taken for granted (Charmaz, 2006, p. 183). The second phase of theoretical sampling (Figure 1) achieved the significance of this study in order to ground findings of Afghan refugees by an institutional point of view, and the comparative method supported understanding of the substantive area.


Usefulness could be marked, according to Hammersley (1991, p. 111), as relevance. This research delivered substantive relevance by developing a theory based on analytical categories and through a discussion of novel findings. The findings contributed to the study area of transnational diaspora and provided suggestions for future social researchers interested in new insights into traditional migration studies. Few overlapped findings were observed that ensured the relevance of the substantive area, and a number of unique individual-level results supported by the literature were investigated. This research fulfilled its objective and developed substantive theory based on the research question: ‘How does the Internet shape Afghan refugees’ behaviour?’.

5.4. Future Research

The current findings emphasise several directions for further research. The platform provided by this study is a detailed investigation of the collective-level interconnection between Afghan refugees and the Internet. One recommendation is intensive interviewing with organisation representatives and government officials included in current Afghan affairs, an approach that would enhance the findings in this research and fill the gaps between the individual and collective levels; this may be a valuable outcome to the context of the Afghan war, transnational studies, as well as digital divides.

Few secondary sources explain influencing factors, which overlap with the findings in this study, and the development of literacy in Afghanistan (The Guardian, 2013; UNESCO, 2017; Human Rights Watch, 2017). However, information regarding how the Internet increases educational equity in the host country, or why refugee women do not enhance their lives with the educational opportunity offered in the destination country, was not obtained.

Transnational activism was marginally highlighted in this research only in terms of interconnectivity between people and how particular issues spread awareness around the world. However, further research could provide an in-depth investigation of transnational activism and how the Internet helps to organise demonstrations against specific regimes, what the role of a diaspora is in transnational activism, and how political actors use the Internet to promote power in the real world.


Irrespective of its limitations, this research sought to investigate whether and how Afghan refugees engaged with the Internet as they settled into their new environment and how the Internet has shaped their experiences in London by using a grounded theory method. This work was done with the aim of generating a theoretical model of behavioural factors, investigated via collected data from 17 participants and by using constructivist GT. Three theoretical codes emerged from the data and were mapped into a behavioural model. This study emphasised the empirical analysis of understanding what research participants’ lives are like in the digital age and how the Internet forms and develops their experiences towards the area of conflict in their country of origin. The supporting literature provided a platform to develop a substantive theory from theoretical codes.

This research provided new insight into transnational studies with respect to how the Internet is utilised and accommodated by a specific minority group of people in the host country. With reference to novel findings, the study drew attention to the interrelation between social media and refugees’ behaviour that highlighted the active interconnection between those participants in the host country and those who stayed in Afghanistan after the occurrence of a Facebook post that evoked insecurity. The imagination of a comfortable modern life encouraged people to seek a better lifestyle in Western countries and relinquish powerful cultural bonds. Cultural influences played a decisive role in Internet utilisation, whether the Internet was utilised independently or whether other dependency factors may have prevailed. The availability of the Internet during a particular journey was not confirmed. However, three causes were investigated: unaffordability of the Internet due to financial issues prior to and during a migration journey, Internet isolation in Afghanistan, and unplanned migration without any possessions.

It is important to note that outside of the novel findings, the majority of results that overlap with the existing literature are consistent with transnational studies. Hence, one key point is worthy of consideration, the added value of the Internet has ensured inclusion of refugees to the online community, and it has also increased public attention to vulnerable people living among them; therefore, this work highlighted literary transnationalism, which was used to express participant’s lives in the digital age.

Teddy bear found a new home with these two beautiful Afghan girls before my move to Brussels, Belgium.


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