Media and the refugee camp : The historical making of space, time, and politics in the modern refugee regime

Abstract: This dissertation explores media practices in and of refugee camps. In the wake of forced migration becoming ever more digitized both in its experiences and its governance, this thesis historicizes media practices in refugee camps as a space of the refugee regime. In various historical contexts in Germany after 1945, this study analyses archival material in order to trace media practices in the making of refugee camps’ space, time, and politics, and thereby provides historical insights into circularities, ruptures, and continuities of media practices and their entanglement with being and being made a refugee. Refugee camps spatialize the modern “refugee regime” (Betts, 2010) as a hegemonic mode of governing forced migration. Being paradoxical tools of both shelter and humanitarian relief and at the same time segregation and exclusion, refugee camps are “heterotopian and heterochronic spaces” (Foucault, 1967/1997): othered, paradoxical spaces and times, simultaneously inside and outside of society, a temporary limbo, withholding outcasts from nation-based, bordered societies while at the same time constituting these very societies.The holistic concept of media practices (Couldry, 2004) describes how social practices of mediation and communication enable, shape, and condition socialities and materialities of the refugee camp: media as enabling environments, technologies, and techniques (Peters, 2015) construct, negotiate, and make the camp’s heterotopian and heterochronic condition. By way of media practices, camp residents, staff and authorities, NGOs and governments as well as activists, establish, maintain or alter the social relations of the camp heterotopia and heterochronia. Relating to the space, time, and politics of the camp, these media practices are conceptualized as heterotopian, heterochronic and heteropolitical media practices, which shape and negotiate the differentiation, other-ness and paradoxical inclusions and exclusions from time and space, which refugee camps thrive on.Archival records from the post-war period of ca. 1945 to 1960, and the 1980s and 1990s, provide traces of historical media practices from camp residents, authorities within the refugee regime, and activists and other communities. Three analytical chapters explore heterotopian, heterochronic and heteropolitical media practices. Firstly, heterotopian camp space is produced, governed and controlled through media practices around media infrastructure, such as architecture, media-technological equipment, and administrative practices. Secondly, refugee camps are heterochronic limbos with multiple ruptured temporalities that are managed through media practices of memory and witnessing. Thirdly, heteropolitical media practices are forms of altering and challenging the othering politics of the camp space and camp time through forms of resistance and protest.This thesis re-evaluates historical media practices in and of the refugee camp from the perspective of the digitized refugee regime and experience, and showcases trajectories of media practices that (regardless of media technological environment) have been employed in projects of negotiating and coping with being and being made a refugee. This thesis thereby challenges a rhetoric of newness around digital technologies and contributes theoretically, epistemologically, and empirically to the study of media and migration. By pointing out the complicitness and existentiality of media practices in making, differentiating, and relating space, time, and politics in bordered states, the thesis ultimately argues for an approach to media studies from the margins to help understand how seemingly peripheral spaces mirror and co-construct media practices in society more generally.