Academic journal article Refuge

Making Homes in Limbo? A Conceptual Framework

Academic journal article Refuge

Making Homes in Limbo? A Conceptual Framework

Article excerpt


This issue is a small attempt to take on a big dilemma: how--and why--do people who are living in ongoing displacement make homes. The dilemma is more than a problem of refugee policies ill-suited to the contemporary politics of "protracted refugee situations" (PRS)--a term that initially referred to people who spend years, possibly decades, in encampments and detention centres, but which we expand to include those forced migrants who go into "hiding" in urban areas, who are "in transit" from one place, one state, to the next, and who are subject to other "temporary" conditions such as unresolved residency permission. For refugees and forced migrants, the multiple urges for safety, for meaningful lives and livelihoods, and for belonging are not well served by the "permanence of temporariness," as these protracted liminal states have been called. (3)

The tensions that accrue as a result of ongoing conflict, volatility, and flux from interactions between people on the move and the institutions, systems, and structures designed to manage particular types of human movement, lead to states of high uncertainty and social fluidity. This tension has profound effects on practices of homemaking in precarious circumstances, notions of "return" to a recognized home, and indeed the meaning of the term home itself. As a geographer and an anthropologist of forced migration, and as feminist scholars and practitioners, we have used our own fruitful collaboration to examine this dilemma from new--or newly synergistic--theoretical perspectives, as we mine disciplines and approaches towards understanding how, in practical terms, people in administrative limbo find the means and the capacity to carry on thinking about home and making home, despite their liminal and often dire circumstances. We further propose that a feminist understanding of homemaking may enable alternative humanitarian and policy approaches to shelter and meaningful inclusion.

In our introduction to this special issue of Refuge, we develop a conceptual framework of making homes in protracted situations of displacement. By challenging the common idea that long-displaced people are necessarily in limbo, we weave a critique of the policy context of protracted displacement in a globalizing world into our framework, and present a concept of "constellations of home" for mapping the complex and multiple understandings of home embedded in homemaking in protracted situations of displacement. We give examples of practices that illustrate the intersection of local meaning-making with national and supra-national notions of home.

This article has three main sections. We first explore the relationship between home and forced migration. We then turn to the notion of "protracted displacement," its magnitude, and implications of protractedness in a globalized world, before reflecting on people's experiences of living with protracted displacement. Finally, we place our conceptual framework of making home in protracted displacement within a feminist politics of place.

Home and Forced Migration

"In some sense, the narrative of leaving home produces too many homes and hence no Home, too many places in which memories attach themselves through carving out of inhabitable space, and hence no place in which memory can allow the past to reach the present (in which the "I" could declare itself as having come home)." (4)

Home and place are complex and interrelated notions, (5) to which the experience of "forced migration" adds an additional layer to the puzzle of belonging and identity. Our understanding of place as open and dynamic comes from Doreen Massey. (6) Brun notes that, for refugees and forced migrants, place is a particular articulation of social relations stretched out beyond one location. (7) A place encompasses physical, social, economic, and cultural realities; a home in this understanding is "a particularly significant kind of place with which, and within which, we experience strong social, psychological and emotive attachments. …

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