"Storytelling is  an act of profound hospitality. It always has been; story is an ancient form of generosity, an ancient form that will tell us everything we need to know about the contemporary world. Story has always been a welcoming-in, is always one way or another a hospitable meeting of the needs of others, and a porous artform where sympathy and empathy are only the beginning of things. The individual selves we all are meet and transform into something open and communal. […] We will tell it like it is, and we will work towards the better imagined." (Ali Smith)

ARENA was spawned by the so-called ‘European refugee-crisis’ and the often superficial and one-sided accounts of forced migration  that were shaping the public discourse at the time and still determine the popular perception of refugees today. It aims to cultivate, practice and encourage a more refined way of seeing and talking with and about involuntary migrants and to give voice and recognition to them as full members of the society in which they have come to live. To this end a teaching initiative has been developed that brings together students of English literature and refugees over a period of about ten weeks during which they meet regularly and put into writing experiences and impressions of involuntary migration and life as a migrant. The resultant journals are gathered  in ARENA (Archive of Refugee Encounter Narratives) and shall eventually by housed in DAM (Dokumentationsarchiv Migration Tirol, https://dam.tirol/)

Begun as a pilot study in the summer term of 2017, the project first ensued in the publication of a collection of students’ writings titled Refugee Narratives—Fluchtgeschichten. Since then, the initiative has involved over fifty refugees in Innsbruck, and as many migrants working with students of English at the Universities of Liège and Bochum. Their narratives have been yielding invaluable insights into transcultural narration and its special significance for refugees. They document how narrative agency is restored to refugees in the event of their encounters with non-refugees genuinely interested in their stories and how the ensuing dialogue allows a basis of trust to develop in which a truth-telling  becomes possible different from the narrations routinely coerced during the asylum adjudication process.  As we have observed, it is in the discursive free space constituted in and through the encounters of students and refugees that the negotiation of forced migration, commonly a  fairly straightforward reaction to public asylum and immigration debates, can acquire a markedly proactive momentum and allow the interlocutors to move beyond the systematic contestation of popular notions of forced displacement  to a far more creative engagement with refugeedom, and facilitate the working "towards the better imagined" envisaged by Ali Smith.

Nach oben scrollen