The University of Newcastle, Australia

Journal article compares two case studies to examine displacement

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Anthropologist with the Centre for 21st Century HumanitiesDr Hedda Askland has written a new journal article with UON alumnus Dr Georgina Ramsay.

Coal mine
An open cut coal mine.

Published in the Ethnos Journal of Anthropology, Displacement as Condition: A Refugee, a Farmer and the Teleology of Life features two radically different case studies – a farmer and a refugee – to ask whether it is possible to express displacement beyond assumptions of involuntary movement.

The article examines what it means to be displaced and uses the refugee as the conventional symbol of displacement while also highlighting a different sense of displacement through the case study of a farmer affected by a coal mine.

“Through analysis of these two saliently different ethnographic case studies of a refugee and a farmer, we argue for a new conceptualisation of displacement as an existential condition that stems from having the teleology of life ruptured,” Dr Askland said.

Case study subject Camille fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as a refugee, then sought asylum in Uganda, only to be resettled in Australia where her children were then removed from her by government services. Alistair is a farmer who has lived in Australia his entire life and worked on an inter-generational family farm whose future is now under the spectre of a proposed open cut coal mine. Where Camille’s life has been characterised by experiences of forced movement and unstable dwelling, Alistair’s life has remained relatively static, oriented towards stewardship of land and sustainable farming practices.

“Despite their differing biographies both experience a concurrent detachment from the teleology of their life: that is, they experience a disconnection from the purposeful future orientations or goals that centre their lives and sense of self, and the present is, subsequently, experienced as void of deliberative meaning beyond much more than survival and maintained stasis, Dr Askland said.

The article defines displacement as the experience of being detached from moving through life with purposeful orientations.

“The ‘crisis’ of displacement is not the commotion that follows people in this state but is a rupture of being that creates this condition in the first place. In the words of Camille it is the sense of being ‘dead’ while physically alive; or, from Alistair it is experiencing life as a ‘nightmare’.”

“Whether evolving from migration or stasis, or resulting from personal catastrophe or societal change, we argue that displacement involves having one’s sense of purposeful being and purposive connection to place, time, and social worlds – that is, one’s teleology – ruptured.”

A fundamental aspect of the displacement that is experienced by Camille and Alistair is that, for both, their grasp of the teleology of life has been taken from them by more powerful actors.

“The vital resources through which they have navigated their sense of life purpose –for Camille, the presence of her children, and for Alistair, the functionality and purpose of his farm – have been forcibly taken from them.”

The article argues that displacement is more than involuntary mobility and ambivalent political status and shows how people who would fall outside conventional categories of displacement can endure significant experiences of dispossession.

“If we continue to approach displacement as a condition of involuntary mobility or politico-legal status, rather than a process of existential and temporal rupture in the teleology of life, we risk overlooking the experiences of people like Camille, who endured displacement in a context of refuge, and Alistair, who feels displaced while remaining, technically, at home,” Dr Askland said.

Download a free online copy of the article.


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