While the forced displacement of people due to persecution, wars, environmental disasters, etc. is not a specifically modern phenomenon, the idea of ‘the refugee’ and systems of refugee protection are (Gatrell 2015). The 1951 UN Refugee Convention defined the refugee category and produced institutions like the UNHCR. We are interested in why, how and upon which conditions these institutions began to provide shelter and domestic spaces for refugees. But, it is also integral to highlight and investigate how refugees themselves have understood and actively responded to their displacement via domestic materials and practices. For instance, how did Hindu refugees from Pakistan accommodate themselves in the emptied houses of Muslims in 1947? What were the domestic practices of Palestinian exiles in UNRWA refugee camps or Jewish refugees in the USA post-WWII? We encourage submissions that present and reflect on historical instances of refugees making domestic spaces and even homes.
Historical examples illustrate best how the relationship between refugees and domesticity is one fraught with tensions. In Palestinian refugee camps, for example, architectures of domestication are strongly opposed by inhabitants due to the claim of return to Palestine. Conversely, refugees often struggle to even have and cultivate domestic spaces, and be perceived ‘at home’ in foreign countries and territories, especially as the policy of repatriation prevails as the refugee solution (Long 2013). As Hannah Arendt points out, “What is unprecedented is not the loss of a home but the impossibility of finding a new one” (Arendt 1958: 293). In this respect, the highly ambivalent meanings and implications of domesticity for refugees demand theoretical reflection in relation to the concept of home, the geopolitical framework of the nation state, and political claims to citizenship.
Finally, we want to critically reflect on what is done on behalf of and by refugees now. Since the 2015 ‘crisis’ in Europe, there has been a surge of critical interest in refugee shelter in relation to the discipline of architecture (cf. Katz 2017, Couldrey and Herson 2017, Scott-Smith 2016, Brun and Fàbos 2015). How can, for instance, architectural aesthetics improve the conditions of refugees (Scott-Smith 2017, Mallonee 2014)? Applicants may provoke critical thinking on these top-down practices of domestic engineering (e.g. the creation of the IKEA flat-pack, Shigeru Ban’s design for UN-Habitat) and, informed by a historical perspective, question the underlying principles of humanitarian shelter construction, and their social, environmental and economic sustainability. Moreover, it is important to investigate the ways in which refugees themselves make domestic spaces, such as the diverse shacks of the Calais ‘Jungle’; to question, in turn, how refugees have challenged bottom-up typical presuppositions of domesticity.
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