English / Management / Research / Research Insight

Transnational Intercultural Rhetoric: Theorizing through the Figure of the Refugee

sara mckinnon, university of wisconsin madison gives talk at CELSA paris sorbonne universitySara L. McKinnon, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin – Madison will give a talk at CELSA

15 Oct 2013 (6-8pm)
CELSA – Grand Amphi
77 rue de Villiers
92200 Neuilly sur Seine, France

Scholars in communication studies, linguistics, and writing and composition have taken the “intercultural turn,” yet scholars of rhetoric have been slow to recognize and theorize the rich sites where rhetoric and culture meet in ways that cannot be contained by nation-state borders. Drawing on work from rhetoric, intercultural communication, critical/cultural studies, postcolonial studies, and feminist studies, Prof. McKinnon will outline a theoretical and methodological program for an area of inquiry that could be labeled transnational intercultural rhetoric. Toward illuminating the nuances of the framework, McKinnon will read the potential for a transnational intercultural rhetoric against the figure of the refugee/asylum seeker. This rhetorical subject not only illuminates the ways that international law, state geopolitical and economic relations, as well as national anxieties shape people’s possibilities to be seen as political subjects with legitimate rhetorical claims, but this framework allows us to see the ways that constructions of culture—where it is located, who has it, and what is contained by it—influence who gets recognized as a legitimate rhetorical subject.

By taking up the rhetorical figure of the refugee in international law and in North American and European asylum granting countries (specifically the US, UK, Denmark), the goal of this project is to demonstrate the theoretical and methodological utility of making our rhetorical analyses not only more interculturally engaged, but also attentive to the transnational desires and anxieties that play out when political claims exceed the bounds of the nation-state.

McKinnon’s talk will use a supporting case study — Standing In Her Shoes: Imaginaries and Erasures in US Asylum Policy for Chinese Opposing Population Control

In 1996, Congress included Section 601 in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This provision recognized people who leave their country because of opposition to their state’s population control policies as eligible for asylum under the political opinion category of the UN refugee definition. In analyzing Section 601, the rhetoric deployed to justify it, and the cases that emerge from the provision, I argue that the protection offered through this provision is a contemporary turn on an historical preference for Chinese male subjects in immigration contexts. Specifically Chinese women who fear persecution, serve as the rhetorical “babes in the woods,” the innocent victims who prove the point of China as a “bad sovereign”
toward its citizens. In material terms, these same women claimants are feared because of the discourses of fertility, passivity, loyalty, and sexual deviance that, as scholars of immigration policy and history demonstrate, continue to define Chinese immigrant women’s subjectivity in the United States. Chinese women’s subjectivity as victims in need of protection, then, is a guise to compel the mobility of particular kinds of men. This mobility is a contemporary turn on an historical preference for male subjects in immigration contexts, who while threatening in their own right, do not pose the same threat as female migrants to the nation, namely the reproductive threat to the white nuclear family and nation.

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