Beckman Fellow 2020-21

Lila Sharif

Asian American Studies

Sharif image
Palestinian refugees are forced to flee during European Zionist incursions in Historic Palestine in 1948. Palestinians would soon become the largest displaced population in history.

Historiographies of Displacement: A Comparative Study of Palestinians in Berlin, Santiago, and Chicago

Refugees and displacement are defining issues of the 21st century. United Nations data shows that nearly 66 million human beings in the world are displaced from their homes—more than at any other time in recorded history. Refugees, conceptualized primarily as a problem to be solved by benevolent ‘hosting’ nation-states, have long been the subjects of volumes of study in the social sciences. However, the focus on refugee suffering and assimilation has precluded any critical examination of the global socio-historical conditions that create refugee “crises” to begin with, as well as the divergent experiences of displacement, racism, and resettlement that inform their relationships to Western nation-states. Moreover, much of the discourse on refugees assumes integration into a monolithic “West," when, in fact, the “West” is filled with diverse and divergent histories in relation to race, genocide, and displacement.

Building on the field of critical refugee studies, this project uses an interdisciplinary, comparative, and transnational framework to intervene in these dominant discourses about refugees. Through an in-depth ethnographic study of Palestinian refugees—the largest and most protracted refugee population to date—Professor Sharif will explore the locally-specific and intersecting historical, political, social, and cultural conditions that have made Berlin, Santiago, and Chicago key sites for Palestinian resettlement since the ongoing Palestinian exodus, as well as the ways in which these refugee experiences complicate both our conception of the “West” as well as the figure of the “refugee.” She asks: how have Palestinian refugees made a life in these distinct “Wests," how do they expand upon what we know about refugee lifeworlds, and what does this mean for the generations of refugees to come?