The genres and politics of refugee testimony

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Law and Literature, 2018, 30 (1), pp. 81 - 104
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© 2017 by The Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University. This article explores the genre and form of narratives that refugee applicants must present in order to move from refugee applicants to (refugee) citizens. It addresses these narratives as they feature in the adjudicative setting of the oral hearing within refugee status determination (RSD) processes. My argument is that the generic aspects of credible refugee testimony constitute and reflect the non-citizen subject whom refugee-receiving states are willing to accept. Through a close reading of testimonial forms and dialogue within the oral hearing, I show that the narratorial voice required of refugees is that of the realist novel’s omniscient narrator, who can confidently account for herself and others. Second, drawing on Joseph R Slaughter’s work on the relationship between the novel and human rights discourse, I argue that the narrative of a ‘genuine’ refugee is marked by the literary conventions of the Bildungsroman. Just as in the reconciliatory genre of the Bildungsroman, refugees must present their evidence in the form of a linear narrative that moves towards self-possession and sovereignty, and that resolves in incorporation into the nation-state and citizenship.
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