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SE Displaced Persons: Knowledge Networks, Colonial Laboratories, and Camp Cities

Avi Sharma

Modul 6: 
Stadt im Netz

Di 10-12 • • HBS 103

This seminar course looks at the administration of Displaced Persons (DPs) from the 19th century to the present.  Population Displacement is a topic of pressing importance, impacting lives, shaping politics, transforming cityscapes across the globe.  Despite cutting across a variety of disciplines, though, population displacement – its causes and consequences – tends to be viewed in relative isolation.  Residents of the Shatila camp in Lebanon, for example, are never compared to Haitians who were displaced by the 2010 earthquake, despite the fact that many of the same organizations, infrastructure, and planning instruments are critical in the response to each displacement event.  The Lebanese and Haitian cases may share some characteristics, but in other ways, Shitala (a refugee camp) is more like Dharavi (one of the largest informal settlement in the world) in Mumbai, where residents are displaced neither by political persecution, war, or natural disaster.  The Camp (Shatila) and the Slum (Dharavi) both, for example, have a density well above 200,000 persons per square kilometer.   How do we account for the similarities and differences across cases?  How should we understand a refugee camp that in most ways is more like a city than a temporary settlement?

This seminar suggests that we look at Population Displacement in a global comparative context, situating the topic in the historical matrix of capitalism, imperialism, the human sciences, and international knowledge networks.

The course is intentionally provocative.  It suggests that the administration of displaced persons is rooted in far older traditions deployed to manage “surplus” people.  It argues that the racialized logics of DP administration are drawn from colonial experiments.  It argues that the international aid and planning instruments oriented towards displaced persons constitute a knowledge network and a material infrastructure that unifies diverse cases.  And it suggests that a global history of displacement can learn not just from cross case comparison, but from scholarship on informal settlements (slums), precarity (surplus labor), and the carceral society (prisons).

This course is intended to be a shared learning experience.  The seminar leader has not decided whether the arguments described above are correct or not.  This means that student participation is critical to the success of the course.  Students are welcome to disagree on any or all points, and discussion between seminar members will actively fostered.



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