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Cultures of Exile and the Experience of «Refugeeness»

Stephen Dobson

Refugee research and debate have focused on international agreements, border controls and the legal status of asylum seekers. The lived, daily life of refugees in different phases of their flight has thus been unduly neglected. How have refugees experienced policies of reception and resettlement, and how have they individually and collectively built up their own cultures of exile?
To answer these questions the author of this study has undertaken long-term fieldwork as a community worker in a Norwegian municipality. Refugees from Chile, Iran, Somalia, Bosnia and Vietnam were on occasions subjected to exclusionary and discriminatory practices. Nevertheless, restistance was seen in the form of a Somali women’s sewing circle, the organisation of a multi-cultural youth club, running refugee associations and printing their own language newspapers.
Moreover, in activities such as these, refugees addressed and came to terms with a limited number of shared existential concerns: morality, violence, sexuality, family reunion, belonging and not belonging to a second generation. Drawing upon these experiences a general theory of refugeeness is proposed. It states that the cultures refugees create in exile are the necessary prerequisite for self-recognition and survival.

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Glossary 337

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337 Glossary Chiasm To overcome the view of subjects always making Others into objects in order to achieve their own subjective state the term introduced by Merleau-Ponty was the chiasm. It has been developed in this understanding of cultures in exile to mean the intertwinings between the flesh of different bodies and signifiers, resulting in a different kind of flesh, that of a community history – when in exile or in the homeland. In short, the chiasm is a shared inter-corporeal space of bodies, signifiers and history, where the result is corporeal experiences of touched- touching, seen-seeing, speaking-spoken to and so on. Exile cultures The cultures of refugees are founded upon and give rise to signifiers, which are at the same time the source of ontologically valued experiences of familiarity, intimacy and authenticity. They represent therefore ways of Being, or more pre- cisely ways of Being at home with oneself and others in the concrete, material ontic of the that which is of entities. Flesh The shared corporeal experience of touched-touching, seen-seeing, spoken-hear- ing. An inter-corporeality is founded, termed a chiasm by Merleau-Ponty. There is also the flesh of signifiers composed of metaphors and metonyms and the flesh of a community embracing the social bonds between different actors. Hybridy When the signifiers of culture become multi-accented or it is evident that the meanings given to them are the source of struggle and never more than a tem- porary agreement is reached. Hybridity replaces the notion that cultures can be distinct and...

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