Toward Critical Refugee Studies: Being and Becoming in Exceptional States of War, Violence, and Militarism

Co-conveners:
Lan Duong, Media and Cultural Studies, UC Riverside
Yen Le Espiritu, Ethnic Studies, UC San Diego

Fellows:
Mohamed Abumaye, Ethnic Studies, UC San Diego
Victor Bascara, Asian American Studies, UCLA
Nigel Hatton, Humanities World Cultures, UC Merced
Lila Sharif, Gender and Women’s Studies, UC Berkeley
Khatharya Um, Ethnic Studies, UC Berkeley
Ma Vang, Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, UC Merced

How refugees have been discursively constructed in U.S. national culture serves as a point of entry and departure for this RRG, as it will intervene in and restage the recurrent conversations about the state of being stateless in both mainstream and academic discourses. The group will come together to further delineate the contours of Critical Refugee Studies, an emergent field of study that is situated at the intersections between the humanities and social sciences. We invite applications from scholars across the disciplines who seek to think through a new paradigm for the study of refugees, one that reconfigures refugees as “central political figures” not only in the “national order of things” but also within contemporary discourses about war and militarism. We chart the field of Critical Refugee Studies as an interdisciplinary field that re-conceptualizes the refugee not as an object of rescue but as a site of social and political critiques, whose emergence when traced, would make visible the processes of colonization, war, and displacement.

Studying displaced populations from a variety of geopolitical perspectives, we seek to develop alternative frames of analysis for a vital inquiry into the historical and political dimensions of refugeehood. As objects of inquiry, refugees have been the subject of volumes of study in the fields of sociology, political science, and literature, coming into being in this kind of scholarship as in-between figures that symbolize victimization, resistance, or postmodern interstitiality. Critical Refugee Studies must be premised, first and foremost, on a broad understanding of the reach of empire in the definition and management of refugees in the past and present moment. Our collaborative research, as we envision it, will pivot on a critique of the unique braiding of militarism and imperialism that underlies forced migrations on a global scale. Furthermore, we seek to contextualize the violent conditions, and the racialized nature of these conditions, which impel refugee migrations. We will query the formation of refugee subjectivities as they have been (re)produced in various sites (in the diaspora, the homeland,and the camps) and affectively registered through various media (literature, film, photography, art). While we delve into the larger narratives of the national the the geopolitical, a significant part of our focus will coalesce around the lived experiences of refugees whose (post) memories have been profoundly shaped by their home countries, host countries as well as at the different centers and camps through which they have been “processed.” To decenter the monolithic notion of camp as (only) “bare life,” we want to bring to life the details of the banal and the spectacular of camp life to delineate the ways refugees intimately negotiate with the complexities of camp experiences and the sense of suspension that mark their lives under militarist rule.

Image: Lin + Lam, Tomorrow I Leave, 2010. Digital C-print, 60” x 35”. Image courtesy of Lin + Lam