Medical volunteers heading to the conflict zone. Events of June 7, 2013.

Civil Unrest by Expatriates in Istanbul


A review of Sensemaking of Civil Unrest by Expatriates in Istanbul, Turkey from May 31, 2013 to July 18, 2013 by LeAnn Gale DeHoff.

It has been well established in the international psychology literature that the individual, organizational, national, and worldwide impact from a civil unrest incident consciously or unconsciously impact an individual’s sensemaking. DeHoff’s dissertation examines how expatriates in Istanbul assess their sensemaking during the civil unrest from May 31 to July 18 2013. Her dissertation presents validation for nations and organizations to address the impact on economics, individuals, social constructs, and media.

In setting the stage of the Gezi Park conflict, chapter one provides an adequate background on Turkey and the current political climate. The expatriate’s past experience with political unrest is noted and significant to the internalizations of fear, normalization and action. Although participants may comment that there was no individual affect (p. 143-144), they went on to share the means of impact. Such responses of denial or minimization of trauma or significant incident are common but when explored witnesses reveal significant affects. She also shares the various responses from organizations supporting, fearful, or unresponsive to the conflicts that in turn affect the employees’ sensemaking.

DeHoff adequately embraced the theoretical framework of international psychology and its relevance in the study. The encroaching reality of our global society’s national and individual political impact of current events forces a sensemaking process for all. Recognizing the expanded definition of indigenous psychology beyond its original native psychology meaning moves the discussion pendulum on indigenous psychology to multileveled mindsets of psychological meaning. This is fitting given today’s global economy and global citizenship and DeHoff’s research on the sensemaking’s multifaceted process.

DeHoff’s literature review showed a gap in the research on expatriate experience during and from an incident of political unrest in the host country. Her research looked at the organizational, national, and personal aspects to the impact. The challenges and motives of expatriates to leave their home country were key factors on their engagement with the culture they are living in. The difference between multinational expatriate and self-initiated expatriate were of interest. These distinguishing characteristics of both types of expatriate appear to have a significant impact on their experience and reaction to national events.

DeHoff took a comprehensive evaluation of the direct, indirect, and personal and social constructs and organizational impact from political unrest. Incorporating these components and the cues that allow sensemaking provided a well-rounded approach to understanding the impact on participants. Identifying Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions factors for collective/individual, low/high power, and high/low ambivalence were excellent backbones to analyzing of the data within the national constructs. It would have been interesting to see the comparison of responses according to the expatriate’s country of origin. The analysis was excellent and thorough. The social and personal construct discussion was also well positioned within the discussion of sensemaking. Global citizenship is a reality in our world and the complexities of our personal and social constructs are challenged as international boundaries are crossed.

The “cues” on sensemaking are of particular interest as the covert meanings often resonate more profoundly yet are unacknowledged by an individual. It is unclear how the measurable cues defer per ethnic culture. Most cultures carry emphasis on particular cues over others. The significance of one culture’s cue over another would be pertinent to explore. Cues could be implicit or explicit also depending on past traumatic experiences. The significant contributions in the sensemaking overt and covert cues, meaning-making processes, and cultural differences on sensemaking add value to this tool and ongoing value in multicultural and national contexts of traumatic or political events within or without of one’s indigenous culture.

Although many expatriates reportedly did not get involved in the civil unrest, it would be interesting to know why the ones who did get involved did so. It appears rational to stay out of unrest of another nation much like one does when they see two individuals arguing. An attitude of ‘it is not of my concern’, ‘not my privilege to’, lack of access entry into, or not feeling connected to the issue/nation/individual may inhibit response. However, the ones who did get involved may have felt these issues are closer to their own country of origin’s political issues or concerns.

The use of charts and graphs, one of the strengths of this study, helped to clarify ideas and processes. DeHoff took extraordinary effort to display her data in a visual and understandable fashion for her reader.

The implications of this study for a nation involved in political unrest for organizations and for its government economy were important notations in this study. Specific services and actions that organizations and governments should take were articulated (p.147-8). The resourcefulness of organizations could highly influence employee response. As an expatriate the organization does hold an increased obligation to ensure safety and support for the sponsored employee.

This study on sensemaking of a host country’s political unrest as an expatriate offers an overview of how one internalizes a country’s unrest the closer one feels to it. This is a topic of greater need to explore at various angles of physical, emotional, ethnic, and societal proximity.  The multinational or self-initiated expatriate and how these motivating characteristics affect one’s perceptions and level of involvement in a host nation are pertinent to the responses to unrest.

The identified areas for further research are imperative in order to deepen scholarly application and relevancy. DeHoff provided some significant areas of expound on. Of the noted areas of (a) studying sensemaking of a distributed populations; (b) researching the role of social media within the sensemaking process; (c) studying self-initiated expatriates and other foreign born workers, especially those who are from Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa; (d) identifying the effect of years of international work experience on the expatriates’ perceptions of the organization and host county; (e) examining expatriate emotions within the context of different host countries; and (f) exploring how personality characteristics affect the process of sensemaking of civil unrest (p.149), both (b), (e), and (f) are of particular interest.  This study underscored the impact of social media on perceptions of the unrest.  The role of social media is a newly explored dynamic to our perceptions, exposure, and interpretations of world events. The untamed influence of social media cannot be undermined.  In addition, DeHoff indicates from her research the importance of individual and national personality, history/experience, and context.

This study offers a critical aspect of international psychology in investigating the impacts of political unrest as a global citizen. It is both relevant and useful to the field of international psychology but global economy. As noted in this study, the expatriate’s organization perception, communication channels, and cultural connection highly impacts employee internalization and response of fear, involvement, or disengagement.  Global citizenship is now required by expatriate and patriot in today’s world where media, travel, and a global economy create an unavoidable intersection of inter-nation political and social society.  It is inconceivable for one nation’s state to not affect another.

Cynthia Grguric, PhD, LMHC
Colleague, Chicago School of Professional Psychology

Primary Sources


Dissertation Information

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Chicago. 2015. 152 pp. Primary Advisors: Viviane Pecanha, Sarah Marino, and Henrik Gert Larsen.

Image: Medical volunteers heading to the conflict zone, June 7, 2013. Wikimedia Commons.


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