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Refracting exoticism in video representations of the victim-refugee: K’Naan, Angelina Jolie and research responsibilities

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Media that makes use of the fixed, two-dimensional victim-refugee figure participates in a kind of exoticization of refugee-ed people by reading forced displacement exclusively through the lens of suffering. Yet the body of scholarship critiquing this media is susceptible to saying more about the scholars and their concerns than about the concerns of those whose experiences are being represented. This article returns to focus group research from 2009 when the author ran media discussion workshops with refugee activists, including both refugee and citizen participants. The workshop discussions focused on K’Naan’s hip hop video ‘Soobax’ and Hollywood film Beyond Borders. The research aimed to understand the pedagogical potential of textual and audio-visual narrations of refugee cultures but became an exercise in refracting the exoticization latent in the project’s research questions. One important outcome of this research was the different emphases in participant responses to the victim-refugee figure in the videos. Workshop participants with a refugee background iterated that, given the context of growing apathy and antipathy towards refugee claimants in Canada, the representation of refugees as suffering victims remains a useful and powerful intervention in public debates. The article finishes with some reflections on the implications of the research findings and on the responsibility of engaged scholarship for researchers in cultural refugee studies and humanitarian communication.
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Keywords: culture of care; engaged research methods; humanitarianism; media and film studies; postcolonial studies; refugee studies

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2018

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  • The course of cultures at both local and global levels is crucially affected by migratory movements. In turn, culture itself is turned migrant. This journal will advance the study of the plethora of cultural texts on migration produced by an increasing number of cultural practitioners across the globe who tackle questions of culture in the context of migration. They do this in a variety of ways and through a variety of media. To name but a few relevant aspects of this juncture of migration and culture, questions of dislocation, travel, borders, diasporic identities, transnational contacts and cultures, cultural memory, the transmission of identity across generations, questions of hybridity and cultural difference, the material and oral histories of migration and the role of new technologies in bridging cultures and fostering cultural cross-pollination will all be relevant. Methodologies of research will include both the study of 'texts' and fieldwork.
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