The Campization of Migration: Exploring the Literary Representation of Asylum Seeker Accommodation Post-2015

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Britta Jung


Doreen Massey once noted that, “[w]hatever the abstract concept of place which people hold, there will always be differences, debates, even struggles, about how places are viewed.” (1994: 118f.). Massey concluded that we need to move beyond the social construction of space by also incorporating the spatial construction of the social, i.e., the extent – so Wendy Wolford – to which the physical environment “is internalized, embodied, imagined, and remembered.” (2004: 410). Employing the term of spatial imaginaries, Wolford goes on to define the spatial construction of the social as “cognitive frameworks, both collective and individual, constituted through the lived experiences, perceptions, and conceptions of space itself.” (ibid.).

In the aftermath of large refugee arrivals in 2015, EU regulations and national asylum laws were tightened, especially those regarding reception and accommodation. Indeed, René Kreichauf (2018) points to a concept of ‘campization’ of asylum seekers. Inspired by the transnational turn in modern languages research and the intense political debate around the treatment of asylum seekers, the proposed paper seeks to explore the literary engagement with the reception and accommodation of asylum seekers. Specifically, the paper seeks to take a closer look at the literary represen­tation of the live worlds of asylum seekers in Jenny Erpenbeck’s Gehen, Gingen, Gegangen (2015), Rodaan al-Galidi’s Hoe ik talent voor het leven kreeg (2016), and Melatu-Uche Okorie’s This Hostel Life (2018), which are set in Germany, the Netherlands, and Ireland respectively. Central to all three texts is the accom­modation of asylum seekers in large-scale, utilitarian and spatially isolated centres which – in a first step – will be analysed by a close reading, taking lead from Kreichauf’s aforementioned claim of campization, Michel de Certeau’s L'invention du quotidien and Michel Foucault’s Surveiller et punir. In a second step, the paper will return to Doreen Massey and Wendy Wolford’s notion of the spatial imaginary and explore what the authors’ spatial construction of the social means in aesthetic terms, both for the asylum seekers as well as those providing asylum, i.e., the German, Dutch, and Irish community. In a third and concluding step, the paper then seeks to briefly reflect on how these representations relate to their readership and to what extent they act as a literary intervention in the current debate(s).

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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Minorities and/in Literature