Seminar: Refugee Narratives - Details
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General information

Subtitle Aufbaumodul Anglistik Literatur I / Kulturwissenschaft IV
Semester SS 2021
Current number of participants 29
maximum number of participants 30
Home institute Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Courses type Seminar in category Offizielle Lehrveranstaltungen
Next date Wed , 19.05.2021 15:30 - 17:00
Type/Form Online-Veranstaltung
Studiengänge (für) ANG.05271.02 für BA Anglistik/ Amerikanistik 60+90 LP (2013+2015)
ANG.06105.01 für BA IKEAS 120 LP (2015)
Miscellaneous ANG.05271.02 für BA Anglistik/ Amerikanistik 60+90 LP (2013+2015)
ANG.06105.01 für BA IKEAS 120 LP (2015)
ECTS points 5


Session 2: Early Modern Strangers and/as Today’s Refugees, Session 3: Refugee Tales I: Intertextual Connections, Session 4: Joint Session with the University of Innsbruck: Refugee Encounter Narratives, Session 5: Refugee Tales II: Aesthetics, Form, and Storytelling, Session 1: Introduction: What Are Refugee Narratives?, Session 6: A Country of Refuge: Satire, Memoir, and the First-Person Perspective, Session 7: Exit West I: Unhomely Homes, Session 8: Exit West II: Magical Realism and Liminality, Session 9: The ‘Asylum Story’, Session 10: Term Paper Session, Session 11: Asynchronous Session, Session 12: Little Bee (I) and the ‘Asylum Story’, Session 14: Little Bee (III) and the Bildungsroman, Session 13: Little Bee (II) and Refugee Literature

Course location / Course dates

n.a Wednesday: 15:30 - 17:00, weekly

Module assignments


In her much-noted TED talk from 2009, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns of “the danger of a single story”. Whenever histories, cultures, or entire populations are condensed into such a single story, she admonishes, we reduce their complexities to a simple, incomplete, stereotypical narrative. How quickly single stories can come to overshadow any alternative accounts has become readily apparent in the context of the so-called refugee crisis, which rarely slipped from the headlines of Western news media from 2015 up until around 2019. Although the refugees fleeing war, persecution, or repression are no less diverse than the populations of the European countries where they have arrived, they are often depicted as a homogeneous group. Many of the stories told about them conform to what scholars have termed “the normative ‘refugee archetype’” (Szczepanik 2016). Having fled from Turkey, journalist Ece Temelkuran reflects on the pressure to adhere to a single refugee story: "Now I am obliged to tell a story, but only that one particular, stupid story of my sufferings that I hold like a ticket for my passage to the civilized world” (The Montréal Review 2017). In consequence of the reductive “storying of refugees” (Gotlib 2019) as either deplorable and passive victims or dangerous and threatening perpetrators, refugees are caught in the static position of the 'other', who has no chance to claim more complicated or conflicting versions of who they are and why they are fleeing. Transcending the binaries of pitiful victim or malicious perpetrator, what other stories about refuge(es) could be told, and who has a right to tell those stories? How can refugees, writers, and academics resist narrative simplifications and erasures? Which forms and genres are best suited to convey the precarious situation of refugees and do justice to the multiplicity of their identities?

The Refugee Tales project (2015-) is one prominent attempt to develop and disseminate alternative stories about forced migration and detention. As part of this ongoing collaboration, UK-based and international writers seek to counter one-sided representations of refugees and provide a fuller picture of their experiences and backgrounds, especially through the serial publication of (as of yet) three volumes of Refugee Tales. It is striking that they chose Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic Middle English text The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400) as a foil on which to model the anonymous accounts of displacement retold by such well-known authors as Ali Smith, Monica Ali, and Bernardine Evaristo.

This course traces the rich intertextual connections between contemporary refugee narratives and earlier literary representations of travel and migration. In addition to illuminating the resonances between the Refugee Tales and the Canterbury Tales, we will also study how the early-modern speech known as “The Stranger’s Case”, attributed to William Shakespeare, has been restaged to capture the realities of 21st-century refugees. We will discuss two novels about forced displacement in detail: Chris Cleave’s Little Bee (2008) and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017). Our course reading will also include the first volume of Refugee Tales (2016) alongside short stories and essays from the anthology A Country of Refuge (ed. Lucy Popescu, 2016) and excerpts from Anne Michaels’s Fugitive Pieces (1996), Helon Habila’s Travellers (2019), and Behrouz Boochani’s memoir No Friend But the Mountains (2018). We will test these readings against such genre categories as refugee literature, the Bildungsroman, the ‘asylum story’, and life writing, while also considering the extent to which they resist classification.

Students are asked to obtain their own copies of the following novels (please make sure to pick the right edition):
--- Cleave, Chris. Little Bee. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-4165-8963-1
--- Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West. London: Penguin Books, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-241-97906-8

All other texts assigned as required reading will be made available on Stud.IP.

The grade for this course will be based on a final term paper.

Admission settings

The course is part of admission "Beschränkte Teilnehmendenanzahl".
The following admission rules apply:
  • A defined number of seats will be assigned to these courses.
    Seats will be assigned in order of enrollment.

Registration mode

After enrolment, participants will manually be selected.

Potential participants are given additional information before enroling to the course.