*** Panel ***
Faces of displacement.
Constructions of the self and discourses about refugee-ness across the Mediterranean region.
“I am a child, I am not a refugee.”
“I am not a refugee in Egypt. I live and work here and I pay for my expenses.”
The refugee as a legal category emerged with the bureaucratic and discursive domain of humanitarianism and state policies. Subsequently, it became the object of disparate studies that investigate refugee-ness and its social, political and cultural processes. Whereas anthropological inquiry has extensively demonstrated how refugees’ past, present and future are deeply intermingled through cultural discourses and practices, the literature on refugees’ political agency has to an extent complicated the bare life paradigm outlined by Agamben. Nevertheless, less attention has been paid to the significance of “being a refugee” attributed by displaced people themselves. Displaced people seem to not always define themselves collectively and individually as ‘refugee(s)’, and as suggested by Malkki, they often adopt multiple identities that may function as a status, a weapon, a shield or a fund of memories. This is 1 strongly influenced by the individual’s social and educational background, gender, religious or ethnic belonging and hopes for the future. The ways displaced people consciously use or reject the term “refugee” could be a site to further complicate the literature that deconstructs “the refugee” and experiences of forced displacement. Indeed, discourses about the construction of the self are a repository of particular life experiences, as well as cultural, social and political practices in the place of refuge and have a significance intrinsically connected to how displaced people envision “being a refugee” vis-a-vis the “international refugee regime” and the local realities they inhabit.
This panel aims at exploring different constructions of the self adopted by displaced people from Middle Eastern countries in the Mediterranean region. This discussion intends to unveil both discourses and practices forged by displaced people themselves in relation to “being a refugee” and the discrepancies between their narratives and the definition imposed by the “international refugee regime”. Another objective of this panel is to scrutinise how local realities and their history of (im)migration shape particular narratives of the self amongst displaced people. In order to understand how people ‘play’ with markers and labels imposed on them, the panel will also explore the role of morality and technologies of the self in the refugee-ness. Finally, the panel intends to question the connections between experience of refugee-ness, the individual’s past life experiences and hopes for the future. The directors seek to attract paper proposals from all disciplinary backgrounds that deal with the situation of displaced people from Middle Eastern countries in different places of refuge in the Mediterranean, their construction of the self and interaction with the respective host society, the state and their own community.
Magdalena Suerbaum (SOAS) has conducted ethnographic research among Syrians staying in Cairo. The focus of her research is set on changes in constructions of masculinity and in gender relations upon seeking refuge. She will discuss in her paper how Syrian men define themselves when being considered by their surrounding as ‘refugees’. It appears that their identity and their application of the term ‘refugee’ is not static and dependent on their memories and ideas of the future.
Veronica Ferreri (OIB) investigates Syrians’ entangled experience of displacement in Lebanon and citizenship in Syria. Based on an ethnography amongst Syrians living in Beirut and the Akkar region, the study demonstrates how Syrians’ narration of “being displaced” is strongly connected to the social imaginary of the Syrian State, the role of the UNHCR and their experience of citizenship/subjection between the two borders. This comparison aims to unveil how displacement is defined through terms like homelessness, exile and migration.
The directors of the panel plan to disseminate the papers presented to the following international journals in English:
Journal of Refugee Studies
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Journal of Middle East Women's Studies
International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
Citizenship Studies Journal
Middle East Critique
The directors would also like to discuss with the other panel participants the possibilities to submit their works in other journals (both academic and non-academic) in English, French, Italian and Arabic.