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Please note, this call for papers has now closed

Photojournalist Brian Sokol asked refugees in Mali, Syria and South Sudan to show him the most important item they brought with them. © UNHCR / B Sokol
Photojournalist Brian Sokol asked refugees in Mali, Syria and South Sudan to show him the most important item they brought with them.

The RSC's Refugee Voices conference, taking place 24–25 March 2014, will explore the voices and aesthetic expressions of those dispossessed, displaced and marginalised by the pre-eminence of the nation-state.

Refugee Voices will bring together scholars from across the social sciences and researchers in cultural studies, literature and the humanities to look beyond the nation-state and international relations in order to give new attention to the voices and aspirations of refugees and other forced migrants themselves. Among the themes to be explored are historical and cultural sources and meanings of flight, exile and forced migration, as well as the significance of encampment, enclosures and forced settlement.

Conference papers are sought which recognise and investigate unheard voices of forced migrants who exhibit adaptability, resilience and resistance in the ‘grey zones’ and borderlands between states and state bureaucracies.

Most academic disciplines, including refugee studies, and humanitarian practices adopt the nation-state’s perspective in their approach to forced migrants. People must be tied to territory, and thus humanitarian practices are frequently about re-settlement either in the state of origin, the state of current emplacement or a third nation-state. However, the current realities of displacement situations do not support either current forced migration theory or most humanitarian aid practices, and an epistemological change in thinking about forced migrants, exiles and refugees is urgently required.

Some of the questions which might be addressed at the conference include: Under what circumstances do refugees, exiles and forced migrants leave a nation-state that is collapsing? How do they cope with existence outside the nation-state? How are resilience and resistance to the ‘bare life’ of the refugee and exile expressed across different refugee experiences? What mechanisms and mediums are used to express loss, perseverance and hope? How do they perceive their futures and manipulate existing systems outside the nation-state to achieve their goals of dignity, justice and freedom (ie well-being)? Abstracts are sought which investigate, among others, the following modes of expression:

Cultural expression

eg aesthetic expression through art, music, literature, story-telling; contextualising our understanding of refugee experiences.

Socio-Legal and Political expression

eg refugees' preferences not to be put in camps (Syria), or their preferences for durable solutions (eg when should repatriation happen for refugees from Burma).

Methodological/Ethical expression

eg the crucial role that refugees play in facilitating academic work (as translators, research assistants – but rarely as authors/academics); explorations of methodological concerns and research ethics such as that raised by ‘second-hand’ ethnography.

Meanings of voice

eg the need not only for articulation but also for dialogue/conversation; the difference between having voice and being heard – soliciting refugees' voices is one dimension but genuinely listening to what those voices say is a much deeper phenomenological process.


Maximum length: 300 words
Deadline for submission: 30 November 2013

Authors of abstracts which are selected to proceed to full papers will have until 28 February 2014 to submit their final drafts.

The conference organisers intend to edit and publish a selection of papers in special issues of leading journals. An interest in having a paper published should be indicated at the time of submission of the abstract.

Other initiatives to share the outcomes of the conference papers and events with those whose voices have been sought will also be developed.

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