Representations of Poverty and Precarity in Contemporary Refugee Narratives

Cecile Sandten, Chemnitz University of Technology


In contemporary discourse surrounding the nation state, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants alike have increasingly and frequently been referred to as stateless people, whose lack of citizenship rights prevents them from participating in social, political, and cultural life. Stripped of their political rights to citizenship, this often puts them in an acute state of poverty and precarity. Using Judith Butler’s reflections on cohabitation and ethical obligation, this paper will engage with the topic of poverty and precarity through a selection of non-fictional texts that address flight, refugeeism, immigration, and limited access to a decent life, agency, and self-representation. Specifically, the paper will focus on Gulwali Passarlay’s The Lightless Sky (2015) and the story collection Breach (2016), consisting of stories re-written by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes. More precisely, the paper will draw attention to the on-going current debates related to the so-called “refugee crisis” by focussing on forced migration, imprisonment, suffering, hunger, life in camps, and dangerous illegal journeys to safety. Since the narratives generally make the point that globalisation has shattered the illusion of home, I will read refugee precarity as a paradoxical condition that, on the one hand, shows the severe shortcomings of socio-cultural exclusion, and, on the other hand, contributes to the questioning and/or redefining of transnational political space and actively calls for a politics of intervention.

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