This three day symposium at New York University will draw together academics and practitioners working on refugee-related issues to explore how crisis, sovereignty, representation and culture intersect in the figure of the refugee. By highlighting the social agency, political activism, and cultural expressions that refugees enact, we hope to trouble conventional representations of the refugee as the fearful subject, bereft of speech, for a more robust sense of the political aspirations of these subjects.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Conference Program

Thursday, September 23rd

Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, 4/F 20 Cooper Square

6:00pm          Opening Remarks
6:30pm          Documentary Screening: Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars
8:00pm          Discussion with filmmaker Zach Niles and Mohammed
                              Naseehu Ali, writer and musician

Friday, September 24th

Institute for Public Knowledge, 5/F 20 Cooper Square

9:00am         Breakfast
9:30am         Panel I:  Zones of Indistinction, The Production of Crisis
                       Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, "Camp Cities: Material, Space,
                               and Architecture"
                       April Shemak, "Refugee Cartographies: Mapping the Zone of
                               Indistinction in Post-Earthquake Haiti"
                       Anne Cubilié, "Impossible Ethics: Justice, Protection and
                               Operational Practice"
                       Moderator: Jini Watson, English, NYU
11:00am       Break 
11:30am       Panel II: Pictures, Stories, Voices: Representations of
                      and by Refugees I
                       Louisa Schein, "Contested Images of Refugeehood
                                in Hmong American Cultural Production"
                       Sara Green, documentary screening and discussion about
                                Art for Refugees in Transition's programs
                       Moderator: Sangeeta Ray, English and Comparative Literature,
                                U Maryland
1:00pm          Lunch Break
2:30pm          Panel III: Maneuvering at the Margins of Refugeehood
                        Zenia Kish, "'A Devil's Bargain': Haitian Rice, Agricultural
                                Agricultural Restructuring and Hunger Refugees"
                        Susan Bibler Coutin, "Falling Outside: Excavating the
                                History of Central American Asylum Seekers"
                        Celina Su, "Between Migrant and Refugee, Evading
                                Categories: Pragmatic Lessons from Shan Burmese
                                Refugees in Thailand"
                        Moderator: Margaret Satterthwaite, Law, NYU
4:00pm          Break

Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, 4/F 20 Cooper Square

4:30pm          Keynote Lecture: Thomas Keenan
                       "'After Every War Someone Has to Tidy Up':
                        Some Thoughts on the Politics of Neutrality"
6 - 7:30pm     Reception

Saturday, September 25th

Institute for Public Knowledge, 5/F 20 Cooper Square

9:00am          Breakfast
9:30am          Panel IV: Pictures, Stories, Voices: Representations of
                       and by Refugees II
                       Nina Ha, "'Our Mothers and Their Lives of Suffer':
                                Examining Refugee Women's Lives Through
                       David Campbell, "Humanity in Motion: A Critical
                                Reading of Multimedia Stories from the Congo"
                       Miriam Ticktin, "Reading Refugee Claims: The
                                Politics of Biology and Fiction"
                       Moderator: Joseph Slaughter, English and Comparative Lit,
                                Columbia University
11:00am        Break
11:30am        Panel V: Naming Practices: Consolidating Nations and 
                       Eliot Borenstein, "Running in Place: Borders, Migrants, and the
                               Symbolic Geography of Post-Soviet Russia"
                       Jana Lipman, "'Give us a Ship': The Vietnamese Repatriate
                               Movement on Guam, 1975"
                       Ilana Feldman, "The Challenge of Eligibility: UNRWA and
                               the Definition of a 'Palestine Refugee'"
                       Moderator: Renato Rosaldo, Anthropology, NYU

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Symposium Flyer

Please email us if you would like an electronic version to send to your contacts:

Screening: Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars Documentary

We will open our conference on the evening of Thursday, September 23rd with a screening of the documentary Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, followed by a discussion with filmmaker Zach Niles. The screening will take place in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis reception space, 4th floor, 20 Cooper Square, New York University.

Here is the film's trailer:

More information on the Refugee All Stars and the documentary here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Eliot Borenstein
Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University, Borenstein is the author of Overkill: Sex, Violence, and Russian Popular Culture after 1991 and Men without Women: Masculinity and Revolution in Russian Fiction, 1917-1929. He is also editor and co-translator of Russian Postmodernism: Dialogue with Chaos by Mark Lipovetsky and has published numerous articles on contemporary Russian culture.

David Campbell
Professor of Cultural and Political Geography and a member of the Durham Centre for Advanced Photography Studies at Durham University. His many publications include the books National Deconstruction: Violence, Identity and Justice in Bosnia, Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity, and Politics Without Principle: Sovereignty, Ethics and the Narratives of the Gulf War. He is currently working on a book about the global image economy and its production of pictorial representations of atrocity, famine, and war.

Susan Bibler Coutin
Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society and the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. She also directs the UCI Center in Law, Society and Culture. She is the author of The Culture of Protest: Religious Activism and the U.S. Sanctuary Movement, Legalizing Moves: Salvadoran Immigrants' Struggle for U.S. Residence, and Nations of Emigrants: Shifting Boundaries of Citizenship in El Salvador and the United States.

Anne Cubilié
Anne now works in the Capacity Development Office at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and was formerly an assistant professor at Georgetown University. She has lived and worked in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt, is the author of Women Witness Terror: Testimony and the Cultural Politics of Human Rights, and has co-edited a special issue of the journal Discourse on "The Future of Testimony."

Ilana Feldman
Ilana Feldman is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at George Washington University.  She is the author of Governing Gaza: Bureaucracy, Authority, and the Work of Rule, 1917-67 (Duke University Press, 2008) and co-editor, with Miriam Ticktin, of In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care (Duke University Press, forthcoming fall 2010).  Her current research examines the Palestinian experience in humanitarianism in the years since 1948, exploring both how this aid
apparatus has shaped Palestinian social and political life and how the Palestinian experience has influenced broader post-war humanitarian practice.

Sara M. Green
Sara is Executive Director of A.R.T. (Art for Refugees in Transition), which she founded in 1999 in response to the humanitarian crisis in the Balkans. She has worked with refugee populations in Kosovo, Colombia and Thailand, where A.R.T. develops self-sustaining programs that draw on each community's indigenous art forms and enable community elders to educate and incorporate younger generations in their cultural traditions. Sara earned her MBA from Columbia University, and also has a BFA in dance and danced professionally for ten years in the U.S. and Europe.

Nina Ha
Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Director of the World Literature Program at Creighton University. Her book in progress is titled American 'Gook' Examining Diasporic Vietnamese Masculinity and Sexuality.

Thomas Keenan
Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and the Director of the Human Rights Project at Bard College. His publications include the book Fables of Responsibility as well as articles in PMLA, The New York Times, Wired, Aperture, Bidoun, and Political Theory. He is the editor of The End(s) of the Museum and the co-editor of Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics, New Media, Old Media, and other titles.

Zenia Kish
Ph.D. student in the American Studies Program at New York University. Her Master`s thesis in Media Studies examined representations of survivors and the politics of refugeeness in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She has published on post-Katrina hip-hop in American Quarterly. Her doctoral studies concentrate on human rights, the reproduction of third world underdevelopment, agricultural imperialism and right to food movements.

Jana Lipman
Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Tulane University. She is the author of Guantanamo: A Working-Class History between Empire and Revolution, as well as articles about the role of the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay in foreign relations. She is currently writing about the relation of U.S. military bases and their significance for refugees and human rights in the second half of the twentieth century.

Zach Niles
Co-director and producer (with Banker White) of the documentary "Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars" (2006). The film was nominated by the International Documentary Association for best feature in 2006 and was broadcast in North America on PBS and internationally in Latin America, Japan and Korea. He is the associate producer of the independent film "Peepers" (2010) and for the eight-part television series "Live at the Fillmore" (2001-2) which ran on TBS. He is co-founder of WeOwnTV, a media and art education center on Sierra Leone and recently was acting director for Ciné Institute (, a film school in Jacmel Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the country's devastating earthquake. In addition to his work in film and television, Zach now manages "Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars" and has worked on the production and promotion of music tours by artists such as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, George Michael and Madonna.

Crystal Parikh
Associate Professor in the Department of English and the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, and Director of Undergraduate Studies in SCA. Her areas of research and teaching include Asian American studies, Latino studies, critical race theory, theories of gender and sexuality, and twentieth-century American literature. In addition to several articles, Professor Parikh has recently published An Ethics of Betrayal: The Politics of Otherness in Emergent U.S. Literature and Culture and is currently working on a new book about human rights discourses and contemporary U.S. writers of color.

Louisa Schein
Associate Professor of Anthropology and Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University. She is the author of Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in China's Cultural Politics and the book-in-progress, Rewind to Home: Hmong Media and Gendered Diaspora. She is also the co-editor of Translocal China: Linkages, Identities and the Reimagining of Space and the forthcoming Media, Erotics and Transnational Asia.

April Shemak
Assistant Professor of English as Sam Houston State University. She has published articles in Modern Fiction Studies, Textual Practice, and Postcolonial Text and is the author of the forthcoming book, Asylum Speakers: Caribbean Refugees and Testimonial Discourse.

Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi
Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi is currently writing a Ph.D. dissertation at New York University on the protection and governance of refugees as expressed in the architecture of camps, and the broader urban, geographical, and cultural impacts of emergency planning for refugees. She will be interning at the Women's Refugee Commission this year on a project to develop guidance and tools for field-based practitioners to build gender-based violence protection into economic livelihoods programs for displaced people. She is the author of The L!brary Book: Design Collaborations in the Public Schools  (recently published by Princeton Architectural Press) about an initiative to revolutionize the culture of education to combat poverty in low-income New York City neighborhoods, through innovative instruction and library design. Her
background includes nonprofit work, freelance journalism, and architectural practice.

Celina Su
Associate Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. Her work looks at civil society and the cultural politics of education and health policy. She is the author of Streetwise for Book Smarts and co-authored Our Schools Suck (with Gaston Alonso, Noel Anderson, and Jeanne Theoharis). She is the co-founding Program Officer for the Burmese Refugee Project, a non-profit organization that develops participatory models for community development among Shan refugees living in Thailand.

Miriam Ticktin
Assistant Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at the New School for Social Research. Her research interests include anthropology of the human and humanitarianism; migration, camps and borders; sexual violence/violence against women; PTSD/trauma, and psychiatric humanitarianism. Her articles appear in American Ethnologist, SIGNS, Interventions, Ethnicities, and The Political and Legal Anthropology Review. Her forthcoming book, The Moral Emergency Complex: Humanitarianism, Sexual Violence and the Politics of Immigration in France, looks at how politics are enacted in the name of care and protection, under threat of emergency. She has also co-edited with Ilana Feldman the forthcoming volume, In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care.

Conference Description

The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees estimates that there exist over 30 million international refugees and persons of concern at the current moment. However, the monolithic definition of the refugee flattens out the political trajectories and historical texture that have produced different refugee populations. In contrast, the politics and poetics of refugees - and our attentive response to them as practitioners of the humanities and social sciences - insists upon the singularity of each refugee's experience of displacement, homelessness, and vulnerability, while retaining the possibility that this subject is never only the sum of those experiences. As such, this symposium will make visible heterogeneous archives of hostility and hospitality, which in turn demonstrate the ways in which the nation-state participates in the categorical "making" of the refugee. Thus, "The Politics and Poetics of Refugees" considers the "crisis" of refugeeness - one we will address to be a characteristically modern phenomenon - as intrinsic to the continual reinvention of sovereign power, as the state names (or, more precisely, creates) citizens and resident aliens, as well as criminals, terroristic threats, detainees, and illegals.

"The Politics and Poetics of Refugees" will feature scholars working at the promising critical juncture of cultural studies, humanities scholarship, and refugee studies. Panelists will address a myriad of questions, such as: What spatial and temporal conceptions of the refugee camp determine our understanding of refugee experience? What does it mean to claim the identity of a refugee, especially in contrast to that of the migrant, the exile, the diasporic citizen, or the guest-camp experience? How should we think of refugee subjectivity in relation to gender, racial, and class identities? How do refugees variously conceptualize - or resist - notions of home and return? How is refugee experience lived, remembered, incorporated/historicized, and memorialized in the body politic?

Professor Tom Keenan (Director, Human Rights Project, Bard College), will provide the keynote lecture for the symposium, offering a theoretical framework for the study of refugeeness and refugee agency as it relates to prevailing critical paradigms of sovereign power. Symposium participants will include scholars and practitioners working on issues related to refugees from a diversity of geographical and political locations, from various disciplinary homes, including literary studies, history, anthropology, visual culture, media studies, and critical theory. In addition, the symposium will open with a screening of the documentary "Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars" and discussion with filmmaker Zach Niles.