9.3 Critical Theories

Critical theories offer an important contribution to the conceptualization of immigrant and refugee families. These theories assume that thought is mediated by power relationships, which are both socially and historically constructed (Kincheloe, McLaren, & Steinberg, 2011). They focus both on the individual’s experience and on how that experience developed through interactions with multiple environments (consistent with the human ecology framework; Chase, 2011; Olesen, 2011). Critical theories have emerged from a variety of disciplinary fields and with profound influence in the social sciences. Most prominently, feminist theory, queer theory, and critical race theory have challenged dominant discourses of social interactions. Researchers who operate from these critical approaches are committed to challenging constructed social divisions, and to acknowledging how structural mechanisms produce inequalities (Chase, 2011; McDowell & Shi Ruei, 2007; Olesen, 2011).

Critical theories are important lenses to employ in research with immigrant and refugee families specifically because they aim to amplify marginalized voices. Critical researchers actively look for the silent or subjugated voices, and seek to facilitate volume. Because immigrant and refugee groups are often marginalized within the new host culture, researchers can use critical research approaches to collaboratively advocate for these communities.