Refugee Talk - Propositions on Ethics and Aesthetics

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Ulla Rahbek og Eva Rask Knudsen


University of Copenhagen


DKK 785,328




Monograph Fellowships


The monograph explores an ‘ethics of migration’ with focus on our cultural encounter with the refugee as a particular type of migrant protected by international law. It is deeply invested in re-grounding the debate about refugees in ethical approaches that challenge the political rhetoric and the highly emotive language that describes and arguably also accentuates the refugee crisis – thus our focus on language use, discourse and representation. We argue that the refugee crisis is also humanity’s crisis and explore art on and by refugees of the current moment whose affective experiences of indeterminate waiting in detention can be seen as a traumatising temporal dimension of stasis. Refugee 'stories' direct ethical questions at their audiences and contribute to an ‘aesthetics of migration.


The current European refugee crisis that peaked in 2015 is bound up in complex issues pertaining to the politics of language. This has been disproportionately overlooked in academic and public debates. A humanities approach that interlinks the issues of language use, discourse and representation with ethics and aesthetics has not yet been published. Our monograph fills that gap. In the contemporary political climate, we consider it a timely and important task to disseminate the continued urgency of the European refugee crisis from a perspective that takes stock of our ethical environment.


The monograph is designed as an ongoing conversation about the idea of, the figure of, the discourse about and by the refugee. It engages with and intervenes in the current refugee discourse. In order to do so in a way that has illuminating traction, our research is based on a series of dialogues with prominent international participants about key ideas that are integral to an ethics of migration, such as the language of justice, rights and duties. These are indexed in the wider conversation that the monographs stages. We draw on thinkers like Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben and Kwame A. Appiah who speak in favour of conversation as research method and of being in conversation as a polyvalent ethical practice that establishes relations and interaction. Monograph to be published in 2021.

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