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Performing precarity: Refugee representation, determination and discourses

Event type
Conference, Public lecture, Symposium

The current European refugee crisis continues to be a major focus of media attention as well as a point of political, cultural, ethical and social conflict. Images of migrants are constructed, mediated and circulated to create compelling representations of refugee-hood that serve a variety of agendas and conform to specific identities and expectations. They are, in this sense, performances.

In addition, refugees in Europe and other regions, including Australasia, are subjected to detention and/or expected to perform/conform in certain ways to meet the shifting demands of determination processes and the cultural preferences of different regions. Once released from detention and/or recognised as refugees, another set of performances ensues – 'welcome' from the host country and 'gratitude' from the refugee.

This interdisciplinary conference aims to draw together scholars from a wide variety of fields to examine the ethics and politics surrounding refugee representation, determination, and discourses.

Proposal topics may include

  • The ethics and issues around refugee determination processes
  • The performance of refugee precarity (see Judith Butler and others) and non-
  • precarity
  • Tropes of authenticity and identity
  • The ways in which the media, political and NGO authorities may construct, manage and represent refugee plight and issues
  • Framing the crisis – migrants versus refugees
  • Performances of welcome, hostility/xenophobia, suspicion, empathy and compassion, and the ways in which the media constructs and represents these performances
  • 'Morality' performances and mediations
  • Culturally codified or expected performances/behaviours – e.g. refugee performances of 'gratitude'
  • Refugee as 'hero', 'innocent', 'victim'
  • Refugee detention and processing centres and practices and performances of place and site
  • Refugee trauma and dis-placement
  • Refugee voices, responses, and art
  • Refugee mobilities, borders, and boundaries
  • Representations of refugees as corrupters, as disease carriers and terrorists (see Suvendrini Perera); representations of refugee exploitation and violence
  • Postcolonial responses
  • Performances of resettlement and 'successful integration'
  • Refugee bodies as media
  • Representations of refugee exploitation and violence

We welcome abstracts for papers, performances, panels or other presentation formats

Please submit a 300-word abstract of your presentation and a 150-word biography for each presenter by July 30, 2016.

Please send your abstracts or any enquiries to the Theme administrator, Ryan Tippet at

About the Performance of the Real Research Theme

The Performance of the Real is a University of Otago funded interdisciplinary Research Theme. The project is to investigate what it is about representations and performances of the real that make them particularly compelling and pervasive in our current age. At its core is the study of how performance/performativity, in its many cultural, aesthetic, political and social forms and discourses, represents, critiques, stages, and constructs/reconstructs the real, as well as the ethical, social and form-related issues involved in such acts.

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