Refuging continuity, narrating political subjectivity: Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees’ navigation of the biopolitics of displacement, camp, and community

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Chaulagain, Rabindra Prasad
University of Lethbridge. Faculty of Arts and Science
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Lethbridge, Alta. : University of Lethbridge, Dept. of Women and Gender Studies
This dissertation examines the narrated experiences of Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees from different religious groups, now residing in Southern Alberta. On average, they spent about two decades in seven refugee camps in Nepal. It examines from a biopolitical perspective their accounts of displacement, transition, and resettlement across three key sites: Bhutan, refugee camps in Nepal, and Canada. Utilizing the work of four social and political theorists—Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, and Achille Mbembe— I bring a contextual discussion into conversation with narratives through which Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees understand the politics of their designation as “refugees,” and “homeless,” and their experience of homesickness as both a mode of objectification and a form of subject-formation. I privilege their own articulation of political and social agency and of continuity in the complex transition from camp to community. The conduct of this project involved multiple methods, including semi-structured interviews and ethnography, and subsequently discourse and narrative analysis. The accounts discussed are from interviews conducted in 2021. They deal with state violence, displacement, homelessness, statelessness, racism, and discrimination. National and international refugee biopolitics includes efforts to place refugee spaces and subjectivities in a “state of exception” under the banner of “humanitarianism.” Such efforts close off claims to political rights and calls for repatriation. They accompany disciplinary regulation and normalization of refugee populations, application of labels supposedly identifying inherent characteristics of “refugees” or “migrants” (here identified collectively as “refugeeness”), and various forms of death that I term “necrobiopolitical” and that involve passive neglect, active death-dealing, or resistant self-harm. However, a key point of this thesis is that the refugees interviewed continued to identify themselves as political subjects and agents. A study of refugee biopolitics must also account for this persistence of political subjectivity, expressed in assertions of citizenship and a “right to be governed,” in descriptions of practical survival and self-organization in the camps, and in responses to discrimination in the resettlement phase. This study contributes to a new approach to the definition, management, policing, and regulation of refugee agency, analyzing concepts and practices that produce “the refugee” as a category of biopolitical management across different geographical locations. However, it refuses to discount persistent assertions of that agency in homesickness and claims to citizenship and civic ability. This study will help policymakers not only to formulate ways to manage future refugee flows to countries promising or refusing refuge or resettlement but also to recognize refugees (who may in future be from any part of the globe and any social sector) as agents with rights to political subjectivity and a say in their destinies.
biopolitics , necropolitics , biopower , necrobiopolitics , thanatopolitics , necroresistance , necroborder , refugees , Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugee , refugee regimes , political , unpolitical , refugeeness , homesickness , hopelessness , resistance , power and politics , citizenship , Foucault , Agamben , Mbembe , Arendt , agency , political subjectivity , border , body , migration , displacement , camp , community , space of exception , neoliberalism , neoliberal biopolitics , identity , negotiation , humanitarianism , racism , state racism , sovereign power , policing , death , ethnography , semi-structured interview , discourse and narrative analysis , genealogy , Bhutan , India , Nepal , Canada , Biopolitics , Refugees--Bhutan , Refugees--Nepal , Refugees--Alberta, Southern , Refugees--Bhutan--Interviews , Refugees--Nepal--Interviews , Refugees--Alberta, Southern--Interviews , Refugees--Bhutan--Social conditions , Refugees--Nepal--Social conditions , Refugee camps--Nepal , Emigration and immigration , Nepali people--Bhutan , Refugees--Legal status, laws, etc. , Political refugees--Nepal , Homesickness , Forced migration--Bhutan , Forced migration--Nepal , Social integration--Alberta, Southern , Resistance (Philosophy) , Despair , Dissertations, Academic