Performance Anxieties: Interpellation of the Refugee Subject in Law
Canadian Journal of Law and Society [Forthcoming]
19 Pages Posted: 27 May 2014 Last revised: 30 May 2014
Date Written: May 26, 2014
Refugee law posits the refugee as a rights-bearing subject prior to legal recognition. The determination procedures from which legal protection may be availed to a person escaping persecution demand of the applicant that she be recognisable as a subject entitled to law’s power to name her as a refugee. In this article, I draw on speech act theory to investigate the rhetorical structure of refugee recognition. Viewed as a performative speech act, refugee subjectivity emerges as a result of repetition and citation of tropes of “refugee-ness” which function to legitimate and naturalise certain representations as evidence of the grounds for protection. This places applicants in a paradoxical position: they must attempt to deliver their evidence as a performance of refugee-ness, but in order to make the narrative recognisable and understandable according to the norms of the legal process, the singularity, and possibly the authenticity, of the account may be lost. The argument is supported by empirical research conducted at the Australian Refugee Review Tribunal.
Keywords: refugee law, Australian Refugee Review Tribunal, speech act theory, performativity
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