9.9. Workshop: Citizen/Stateless Person/Cosmopolitan

Refugee Selfhood in Global Intellectual and Legal History


9th September, 2022
Old Class Library, 71 South Street, St Andrews


This conference brings together perspectives of global intellectual history and global legal history to chart these transformations in refugee selfhood. It interrogates the legal frameworks which defined the civil and political rights of refugees, as well as their claims on property. Simultaneously, it investigates new political and social thought which evolved to wrestle with refugee presence: from amongst the refugees themselves, as well as their host societies. The refugee was frequently an unwanted presence; but sometimes, as in India or China, a desired comrade in democratic and revolutionary struggles. Refugees often fashioned new kinds of cosmopolitan sensibilities – what we call ‘refugee cosmopolitanism’ – which radicalized their surrounding societies, even as they were castigated for alleged ‘rootlessness’. We ask: how did legal, intellectual, and literary discourses on citizenship and refugee rights nourish each other?

The globality of these refugee histories stemmed from the transnational scope of organizations like the UNRRA, the IRO, and the UNHCR; from connected histories of state violence, for example, linking the Holocaust and the Partition of Palestine; as well as from the planetary outlook of many refugee actors themselves, who expressed solidarities with wider oppressed multitudes. By bringing legal and intellectual history into a common conversation, we aim to map how legal-political transformations shaped, and/or were in turn shaped by, changes in intellectual sensibilities: ultimately converging to place the refugee, rather than the classical citizen, at the heart of ‘the political’ in twentieth-century’s ‘age of extremes’.