Migrancy and Narratibility: Precarious Subjects on the Move between Law and Literature

Wednesday, April 12th 2023, 5:00pm to 6:30pm
Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley, South Drive Berkeley, CA 94720

Directly related to Zander's current research project on "Universal Rights – Global Literatures," her starting point is the significance of the narratability of refugee and migrant experiences within the context of asylum law. According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugee status is only granted to those who can claim “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” However, the capacity to turn the claim of 'a well-founded fear' into a coherent narrative is more often than not called into question by the reality of flight, be it through the trauma experienced or a lack of cultural or linguistic translatability of the experience. In the Nigerian novelist Helon Habila's Travelers and the Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah's By the Sea, both novels address precisely this paradox by negotiating the relationship between migrancy and its potential narratibility. In this respect, both texts not only generate a necessary awareness of the legal challenges of refugee status determination procedures for the individual subject on the move, but also – in a more general sense –  reflect on the broader relationship between law and literature, processes of subjectivation and their relational interplay in both discourses.

The talk will be moderated by Dr. Devin Zuber (Associate Professor, Graduate Theological Union), with a response from Dr. Munir Jiwa (Associate Professor, and Director of the Center for Islamic Studies, Graduate Theological Union).

Laura Zander is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB 1385) “Law and Literature” at the University of Muenster (WWU), funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). In the first funding phase, her research focused on Literature as Equity in British Cultural History, most specifically on legal fictions and the works of Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell and the Brontës. For the upcoming funding phase of the CRC, she is preparing a research project on Subjects on the Move in Literature and Human Rights in collaboration with the law school at the WWU Muenster and the Institute of English and American Studies at Osnabrueck University. Laura holds degrees in both English Literature and Law and received her PhD by the faculty of language and literatures at the University of Munich (LMU). Before coming to Muenster, she taught Literature at the English Department at LMU and Law at the Universities of Munich, Frankfurt and Saarbruecken. Publications include Writing Back / Reading Forward: Reconsidering the Postcolonial Approach (Berlin 2019), as well as articles on law and literature, gender and postcolonial studies, and both South African and Caribbean literature. Most recently, she edited a volume on "Europe in Law and Literature: Transdisciplinary Voices in Conversation" which will be published with DeGruyter in May this year.