UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The killing of Syrian children : on the dangers of theorizing from emergency El Refaei, Salma Essam


How does theorizing from a state of emergency inform representations of Syrian refugee children? This thesis introduces a theoretical framework that brings into consideration Edward Said’s Orientalism, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks and Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Through a reading of these texts, the thesis explores why it is essential for representation to “exceed the language and practices of security” and the emergency framework. This thesis has a two-fold argument. First, I argue that the humanitarian discourse and the anti-refugee/immigrant discourse on Syrian refugees and children reincarnate a colonial approach and language to studying the Other. Resultantly, some of the circulated representations of the Syrian ‘refugee crisis’ either vilifies refugees collectively or overlooks their agency by romanticizing them. On one hand, these representations are then problematically employed to justify rigid border control measures; on the other, to legitimate humanitarianism as a response to the refugee crisis. Secondly, I argue that theorizing from emergency results in “killing of [the] lives” that it sought to preserve, through a recourse to a colonial discourse that alienates Syrian children from their “way of life – life as it is lived” and relegates them to a zone of extinction. To further demonstrate the presence of discontinuities between some of these representations and acts of resistance and reclamation that Syrian refugees and children engage in, I draw on stories and actions of war affected Syrian refugees, in documentary radio and social media campaigns.

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