English 9158B

Refugee Narratives

Instructor: Professor Thy Phu
Winter Half Course.

In 1951, the UNHCR ratified the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a landmark document that defined the refugee, what his or her rights are, and the responsibilities of states with respect to claims for asylum. Because asylum seekers are expected to tell their stories as a key part of this process, the document highlights the importance of narrative as a means of making visible the figure of the refugee. This seminar develops an extra-legal and interdisciplinary approach to narrative, by turning to other cultural forms for creative expression of this condition and experience, including literature, popular storytelling, film, and photography, which we will explore by drawing on the critical tools afforded by the emerging interdisciplinary field of critical refugee studies. Through close engagement with select cultural texts, which we will analyze drawing on the analytical resources provided by critical refugee studies, this course will consider conventions of refugee narratives, including gratitude and ingratitude; displacement and resettlement; problems and solutions. We will also examine the ways forms of refugee subjectivity and the function that the figure of the refugee serves in upholding and unsettling settler colonialism.

Course objectives:

Students in this course will learn to analyze contemporary cultural texts; to summarize, synthesize, and engage with theoretical writings in critical refugee studies; and to develop and appy skills in oral presentation and essay writing.

Required texts:

Course reader
Dionne Brand, What We All Long For
Rawi Hage, Cockroach
Thomas King, The Back of the Turtle
Kim Thúy, Ru
Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Refugees


District 9 (2010)
Children of Men  (2006)


Attendance and participation                                                               15%
Critical Responses                                                                              15%
Annotated bibliography                                                                       10%
Proposal for final paper and progress meeting (2 pages)                         10%
Presentation (20 minutes)                                                                   15%
Symposium presentation (10 minutes)                                                   5%
Final essay (15-20 pages)                                                                   30%