Exile and desire : refugees, aesthetics and the territorial borders of international relations
The thesis begins by exploring state-centric conceptualisation of refugees in international relations and the incapacity of territorialised notions of identity and responsibility to give a properly historical account of and response to displacement in the modern world. The onus is rather on defining refugees as a 'lack' or 'aberration' before the citizen. I suggest that this renders refugees effectively invisible and 'voiceless' 'others' whose personalities and experiences are appropriated to bolster the fundamental 'territorial' grounds of IR thinking on identity, ethics and responsibility. I explore this perception of refugees in an 'international refugee regime', focusing specifically on international refugee law and on humanitarian discourses on refugees. Two case studies are involved. One the marginalisation of child refugees by the terms of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and, two, a study of Oxfam's Listening to the Displaced project in Sri Lanka. I argue that a consideration of refugees as subjects marginalised in international relations theory and practice opens up new theoretical spaces, throwing into stark relief the violence and Euro-centrism of prevalent 'territorialised' notions of identity, security, 'home' and 'culture' and, consequently, ethics and politics. Such a consideration of refugees questions the ascendancy of territorialised ethics and politics. The thesis critiques post-modern or post-structural attempts to widen the parameters of ethics and politics by noting that their methodology tends to fail to problematise the position of the critic, essentially making the geographical and historical 'locatedness' of the critic unimportant (thereby calling the non-western 'other' to definition in terms of yet another vein of the European canon). The thesis then argues that Theodor Adorno's aesthetic understanding with its emphasis on contingency, unceasing critique and the instability of all rational summations of the meaning of an object, both calls into question the subjective desire of the critic that influences what one sees and what one does not and provides a means for beginning with the marginalised experience of the other (rather than with the European canon).