What if Tomorrow Never Comes? Chimeric Agency and Total Institutions in the Postmodern Era

Research output: Working paperAcademic

Abstract

Drawing primarily on ethnographic fieldwork extended over 48 months in the world’s largest refugee camp, Kutupalong-Bangladesh, we theorize the organizing dynamics and the institutional conditions of the camp and how they affect the lives of the inmates and their use of agency. We show that total institutions like refugee camps are now more driven by an identity motive than by a nation building motive that gave rise to such institutions at the first place. Through identity-control, today’s total institutions make it possible to control both ‘body’ and ‘mind’ of the inmates. We show how these processes unfold over time at Kutupalong which evolved from a fairly open structure to an increasingly total institution, diminishing the agency of the refugees substantially and threatening their individual and collective dignity severely. From the unfolding processes we show that identity-based control is made possible through a welfare-state-like organizing that enables ‘chimeric agency’ – a tool to control inmates’ behaviors to sustain the integrity of the camp.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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