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2016–17 Seminar: Refuge

The theme for the 2016-17 Committee on Globalization and Social Change seminar is Refuge.  From the Haitian Revolution in the 18th century to the Cold War and the present day, refugees from Latin American and Caribbean countries to the US and to neighboring countries, as well as those who are internally displaced through violence, have participated in making and remaking boundaries, as well as notions of identity, freedom, and citizenship in the Americas. Since World War I, successive crises of what Hannah Arendt called stateless peoples, ranging from the partition of India to that of Palestine have presented significant humanitarian, political, and theoretical challenges.  Arguably, however, the current refugee crisis affecting Syria, Somalia, Chad, and Yemen, among other places, is the most severe since World War II and has presented a profound challenge to the unity and stability of the European Union.  The need to find refuge under conditions of economic need, political persecution and violence is a fundamental dimension of globalization. The objective of this year’s seminar is to describe, debate and theorize refuge and the complex status of those forced to seek it outside their homes. In addition to readings directly addressing the contemporary conditions of refugees the following corollary issues will be considered:

  • Post-nationality or in Étienne Balibar’s terms, transnational citizenship.  How does the widespread plight of refugees call for new theories and practices of political belonging?  Should the nation-state be the primary form of refuge?
  • Displacement. What are the material and affective challenges, and perhaps opportunities, of mass displacements? And how is refuge constructed, even in transit?
  • Temporality.  Refugees often experience a different relation to home from that of emigrants in terms of their desire for return.  How do refugees experience a future, and a past in ways that are distinct from the subject of diaspora or of migration?
  • Heritage. As we have witnessed in the Taliban’s desecration of Buddhist sculptures and the destruction and sale of ancient artifacts by ISIS, conflict can lead to the irreparable loss of cultural patrimony.  How does this symbolic violence relate to that suffered by refugees?  And can museums, as places of refuge for objects, serve also as political or historical models?