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What is identity transformation and how could it be analyzed from a sociological point of view? This paper addresses this general issue by drawing on fieldwork on refugees’ search for work, highlighting that the demand for recognition and the preservation of biographical coherence are two decisive components of refugees’ social experience. The paper argues that in order to capture what is at stake in this social experience, two complementary theoretical approaches should be interconnected. The social theory of Axel Honneth focuses on the contribution of recognitive dynamics in identity transformation, while Michael Pollak’s theory of identity preservation analyzes the work of preserving biblio­graphical coherence. In a first step, the paper analyses each of these two models separately. In a second step, it contends that the two models could complement one another in a general model of identity transformation. And in a third step, the paper investigates the heuristic potential of this general model by referring to interviews and observations concerning refugees’ search for work. Special attention is then paid to the ways in which refugees attempt to obtain recognition, maintain a positive relationship with themselves, and preserve a minimal biographical coherence.


  • Identity transformation
  • recognition
  • preservation of identity
  • refugees
  • work
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