Issue 8.3


The centerpiece of our new issue is an exciting dossier on contemporary refugee timespaces, starting out with Angela Naimou’s preface and proceeding through a multisited exploration of brief essays. The issue is rounded out by a brilliant essay on Dorothy Thompson by new editorial board member Lyndsey Stonebridge, a review essay by John McCallum on human rights and war, and several other important articles.


The "Great Doctrine of Human Rights'': Articulation and Authentication in the Nineteenth-Century U.S. Antislavery and Women's Rights Movements

Angelina Grimké, the abolitionist and women’s rights reformer from South Carolina, faced a paradox in 1837. Having recently embarked on a successful antislavery speaking tour with her sister Sarah, both women had been derided for addressing audiences of women and men. The sisters’ gradual awakening to the tenets of antislavery—influenced by their earlier experiences on the Grimké family plantation, combined with years of personal anxiety in the face of the restrictive separate spheres ideology—led them to find equivalences between abolitionism and women’s rights. To justify Read More »

Humanitarianism Was Never Enough: Dorothy Thompson, Sands of Sorrow, and the Arabs of Palestine

If governments get the idea that they can expropriate their citizens and turn them loose on the kindness of the rest of the world, the business will never end. A precedent will be created; a formula will have been found. —Dorothy Thompson, “Escape in a Frozen World,” Survey Graphic, 1939 “Politics,” said Aristotle, “is the art of discerning what is good for mankind.” The problem of the Arab refugee can make or break support for the west in the most critical strategical area, economically and Read More »

Life, Story, Violence: What Narrative Doesn't Say

“Go ahead and torture me. It will take my death to make me talk, and for your information I’m sorry for every bit of cooperation I have offered in the past,” I said. “First of all, your cooperation was achieved by force. You didn’t have a choice. Nor will you in the future: I am going to make you talk,” ——— said. —Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Guantánamo Diary To name, to give names that it will on occasion be forbidden to pronounce, such is the originary Read More »

On Vernacular Rights Cultures and the Political Imaginaries of Haq

Around the globe, we are witnessing multitudinous struggles over rights. Several of these are collective struggles by marginal and dispossessed groups over what Walter Mignolo has termed “life rights” with some resisting precarity and dispossession heralded in by neoliberal developmentalism and its championing of privatization of natural resources: mountains, minerals, forests, rivers and streams; while others are struggling to redefine the substantive content of existing formal constitutional guarantees.1 The key question this essay asks is: How do we conceptually capture these rights struggles? In South Read More »


As the name for one who flees (fugere) from danger to a space of protection, the term refugee names a specific position in space and time: a past emergency leads to a dislocated present under the threat of harm, propelling one’s flight to find refuge toward a future elsewhere. Its shadow is not only the term migrant but also fugitive, one who flees from the law, a reminder that persons move and are moved between regimes of legality and illegality.1 Under the names of asylum Read More »

On Humanitarian Architecture: A Story of a Border

Many contemporary refugee camps are located in undeveloped border areas of host countries. States providing asylum are often unwilling to integrate refugees into the economy or social structure and maintain these outposts as parallel systems, often relying upon international aid to maintain them. The grounds that they inhabit often represent edge conditions, between competing entities and interests. The well-trod idea that they represent forms of extraterritoriality, while perhaps useful in theory, can be misleading in reality. While certain refugee contexts must be understood precisely as Read More »

Beyond Europe, Borders Adrift

“Quite frankly, I don’t remember whether we committed suicide that night or not.”1 Borges’s imaginative realism evokes the surrealist nonchalance of Italian and European Union (EU) politicians as they recursively chase an immigration agreement with Libya.2 Such an agreement, seeking to contain purportedly unwanted African emigration, was most recently formalized in February 2017. It has been resurfacing on the European horizon since 2004, when “Leader of the Revolution” Muammar Gaddafi was a sought-after business partner, and then again in 2012, following his demise. Italian and Read More »

The Human Costs of Outsourcing Deportation

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Central Americans have sought asylum in the United States. Most of them are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, the three countries that compose the Northern Triangle, one of the most violent regions in the world. Rather than providing Central Americans humanitarian assistance or a place of refuge, the United States—first under Barack Obama and now under Donald J. Trump—increased its detention capacity and expedited deportations. In fiscal year 2014 alone, U.S. Border Patrol officers apprehended more than Read More »

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement Home Raid before Church

Saturday, we went out to a picnic. Sunday, we were going to go to church. On Sunday morning around 8:30, they knocked on the door really hard. They called from outside: “Maria Lopez, this is immigration. We need to talk to you.” Maria didn’t have nothing to fear, so she went down. They asked, “Does your husband live here?” —Vern, Guatemalan deportee1 Vern went downstairs and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at his door handcuffed him and put him in their Read More »

Refusing Refuge at the United States–Mexico Border

Contemporary social relations at the United States–Mexico border kill the legal fiction that distinguishes between politically motivated refugees and economically motivated immigrants, a distinction fundamental to liberal governmentalities. The border is where refugee, immigrant, green-card holder, and other legal categories become occupied, become transformed, and are destroyed. Its subjects may become sites for a refusal of liberal governmentalities—rooted in long-standing practices of border life, escaping the law, and normative accounts of resistance in academic circles. They may birth a sense of autonomy or defiance rather Read More »

Necessary Decisions

In 2008, the Nigerian police twice arrested twenty-six-year-old Ugochukwu Chinoso Nwanebu. A peaceful activist, Nwanebu was, like other Igbo secessionists, profiled and persecuted by Nigerian police via systematic torture and assassination. The first time that Nwanebu was arrested, he was tortured. The second time, he was tortured and released; however, he was released only so that police could hunt and kill him for sport. Nwanebu managed to escape and find his way to a relative’s home. Knowing that the police would find him if he Read More »

The Logic of Analogy: Slavery and the Contemporary Refugee

In literary studies, questions of race, power, and terror raised by the mention of the Zong atrocity have long been familiar. While the facts of the case are well known—in 1781, a captain of a British slave ship chose to throw 133 slaves overboard so that he could claim them as insurance losses—the afterlife of Zong far exceeds its eighteenth-century abolitionist frame of moral outrage, legal maneuver, and humanitarian activism. Following in and amplifying J. M. W. Turner’s footsteps (whose 1840 painting Slave Ship galvanized Read More »

The Innocents: Reading Refugees in National Culture and Diasporic Literatures

Early in Lê Thi Diem Thúy’s novel The Gangster We Are All Looking For, Lê’s first-person six-year-old narrator finds herself in communion with the glass animals locked in a display case in the office of the Russell family, which sponsors her, her father, and four other men—”the uncles”—who accompanied them as they fled from Vietnam to the United States. She tells the animals about her journey on the boat and rescue at sea by the U.S. Navy, memories of her mother from whom she and Read More »

Anglophone Novels from the Tibetan Diaspora: Negotiations of Empire, Nation, and Culture

The preface of the Charter of the Tibetans-in-Exile (1991) states the goals of the government as follows: Efforts shall be made to transform a future Tibet into a Federal Democratic Self-Governing Republic and a zone of peace throughout her three regions. Whereas in particular, efforts shall be made in promoting the achievement of Tibet’s common goal as well as to strengthen the solidarity of Tibetans, both within and outside of Tibet, and to firmly establish a democratic system suitable to the temporary ideals of the Read More »

Haitian Refugees and the Guantánamo Public Memory Project: Remembering Haitian Refugees

The United States military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, came under scrutiny in the early 1990s when it served as the site of detention for Haitian and Cuban refugees brought there following their interdiction at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. Typically, after a few months at Guantánamo, Cuban refugees were taken to the U.S. mainland, where they received political asylum because they were seen as refugees fleeing a communist nation. Haitian refugees often languished much longer at Guantánamo, and few were granted asylum in Read More »

War and the Historical Sociology of Human Rights: Violent Entanglements

  The Contentious History of the International Bill of Human Rights Christopher N. J. Roberts Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014 René Cassin and Human Rights: From the Great War to the Universal Declaration Jay Winter and Antoine Prost Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013 Rights and violence are so intertwined that their relationship can appear both self-evident and utterly obscure. Consider the work that rights do in the first historical sociology of the United States: they push democratic citizens to Read More »