UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The politics of accounting for refugees Thomason, Michael


Refugees are presented to citizen-subjects in ambivalent terms. They are included within national systems of meaning as subjects that are desired; as subjects innocent of wrong-doing and who maintain the legal right to seek and to enjoy asylum where they see fit. Yet at the same time material and symbolic opportunities to exclude refugees abound. I analyze the furore at the arrival of the MV Sun Sea, a boat of Tamil asylum-seekers, to the shores of British Columbia, to argue that in this case, subjects that would normally be recognized as refugees with little difficulty, were rendered absolutely other; embodiments of an inhumanity that provided citizen-subjects with the sense that their rights could be casually forgotten. I ask the reader to consider the constitutive exclusions necessary to think and practice the refugee as a subject of the law and examine lay and advocate attempts to resignify the refugee with different values; to make the refugee of value to the nation as a productive body and as one that shared a being-in-common with the “fictive we” of the nation. My work with Refugee Community Organizations in London, England, calls into question the value of likeness for the political practice of relating to refugees, arguing that an attempt to become like refugees is bound to be inattentive to the very important ways in which unlikeness anchors all practices of becoming. Finally I engage with refugee story-telling to ask what must be left unexplained to promote a non-violent ethics of relation.

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