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.
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.