From subjectivity to agency : Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt on "refugees", "problems" and "solutions"
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This thesis makes a historically grounded theoretical contribution to an emerging “critical” approach to refugee studies. Utilising the insights of Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt, it seeks to reconceptualise academic and policy understandings of what has come to be known as “the refugee problem" through an examination and critique of its (implicit) conceptual foundations. The thesis proceeds through a series of historically-informed moves oriented by the relationship between power, subjectivity, and agency, and argues that the key to reconceptualising the refugee problem lies in understanding how these three concepts rely upon and reinforce one another in a particular historically contingent configuration. The objectives of this thesis are threefold and connected. First, it unpacks a deceptively unproblematic term, “the refugee problem” to reveal the complicity of understanding the “refugee (as) problem” in perpetuating the plight of increasing numbers of the world’s population, despite the alleviation of the difficulties these people face being the professed goal of the refugee regime. Second, in so doing it contributes to a growing body of literature seeking to counter the voicelessness and abjection into which refugees and asylum seekers are cast. And third, on the basis of this, to begin a conversation about rethinking the nature of the “solutions” we seek to a reframed “refugee problem.” Engaging in a (Foucaultian) genealogical analysis of “the refugee problem”, the first half of the thesis charts the historically-contingent development of a distinct “refugee problem discourse”, revealing that the construction of refugees as passive victims of political forces is the effect both of such discourse and of the international refugee regime as a classificatory regime of truth and subjectivity, rather than an expression of any essential nature of “the refugee.” The thesis then turns to Hannah Arendt’s work as a theoretical lens through which to reframe our understanding of the “refugee problem” and to investigate how to identify and open up creative forces for re-subjectification processes and “solutions” not tied to the classificatory and subjectivising logic of the refugee regime or sovereign state system. Practices of rights claiming, and the City of Sanctuary movement in the UK are examined as two such processes, with the potential of posing “counter-narratives” of problems and solutions which challenge the technocratic, or population-management, approach of the refugee regime.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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