Asylum and the politics of compassion

G33 - Aston Webb Building
Social Sciences
Monday 18th March 2019 (14:00-15:30)
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Join us for the IRiS Seminar Series 2018-19, The Legacy of Migration, at the University of Birmingham

On 2 September 2015, Nilüfer Demir arrived at a beach in Bodrum to photograph refugees embarking on treacherous journeys across the Aegean Sea to Greece. As the morning light broke the photo-journalist spotted the drowned figure of Alan Kurdi washed up on the shore. She took a series of photographs of Alan which were rapidly shared across the world accompanied by the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (humanity washed ashore). They went on to become iconic images of the ‘refugee crisis’ and were a catalyst for an unprecedented outpouring of sentiments of compassion. This paper explores how we might understand such moments that interrupt the seemingly unrelenting hostile discourses which characterise contemporary debates on immigration and asylum. It is argued that in the context of the rise of a cultural and political script of humanitarianism a discourse of compassion has been used by both implementers and opponents of restrictive immigration and asylum policies, often building on the colonial origins of the use of this discourse in reference to racialised others. In doing so, these voices on both sides of the debate have grounded compassion within a relationship of power disparity, control and subjugation. However, there is also evidence of possibilities for alternative engagements with compassion that are grounded in solidarity, and which offer more promising modes of responding to, and resisting, suffering and social injustice. 

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Speaker: Dr Marta Foresti, Overseas Development Institute.

All welcome!