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Navigating Unstable Paths: Critical Terms within Experiences of Displacement

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Organizer: Tabea Linhard

Co-Organizer: Ryan Long

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From the “Credible Fear Interview” to the role of narrative within healing processes, storytelling is a fundamental part of experiences of displacement. These are stories that appear in the courtroom and in the newsroom, told with objects left behind in deserted landscapes and on bodies bearing visible and invisible wounds. Yet how can diverse audiences read such stories without minimizing the radical heterogeneity of these lived realities? In which ways do these narratives challenge our reading practices as we decontextualize and re-contextualize the stories and histories involved? What new ways of seeing and relating to these life narratives emerge along with them and how might they challenge the prevalent conceptual and legal framework that intertwines subject, nation and rights? How do we understand individual experiences within their specific context while also considering broad historical and geopolitical forces? Stated differently, how do we, as students and scholars, comprehend experiences of forced displacement, asylum, and being a refugee and where does representation fit in? We envision this seminar as an opportunity to define the parameters of how to study displacement from World War II to the present and, building on collaborative work already done by the “Critical Refugee Studies Collective” and Casas-Cortes, Cobarrubias, De Genova, Garelli, Grappi, Heller, Hess, et al (2015), to create a dictionary of guiding concepts, theoretical paradigms, and critical terms across different disciplines and genres. The seminar’s presentations will not be loosely related case studies but instead focused analyses of specific concepts, that include but are not limited to: credibility narratives, crisis, loss, geography or accidents of geography, escape routes, fear, race and the racialization of refugees, and translation and untranslatability. In addition to developing the scholarly comprehension of these concepts, the seminar aims to advance the critical understanding of several related topics, including: the necessarily interdisciplinary nature of refugee studies; disputes over defining the status of displaced persons, refugees, and asylum seekers; why different forms of representation, including literature and film, are specifically important when studying refugee lives; the need to challenge common categories of refugees as “victims” or always “grateful”; the refugee experience as a constant throughout history and not an exception; displacement, refuge, and asylum in relation to colonialism and decolonization; and a trans-historical understanding of the experiences of refuge, displacement, and asylum. The seminar’s organizers invite panelists whose work spans a broad geographical, historical, and theoretical range. We also hope to incorporate a wide range of different forms of representation into our conceptual discussion.

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