Brown, Andrew. 2015. ‘Refuge in Performance: Restaging LGBTI Refugees in South Africa’. Doctor of Philosophy, Illinois: Northwestern University.

  • Category: Literature
  • Source: Academic
  • Subject: Xenophobia,Asylum/Refugee,Homophobia,Lesbian,LGBTI
  • Place: Angola,Kenya,Malawi,Nigeria,South Africa,Uganda,Zambia,Zimbabwe
  • Year: 2015
For Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) refugees in sub- Saharan Africa, the political asylum application process sets a volatile stage upon which identity and belonging are forged at the level of the individual, the nation, and global. My dissertation, Refuge in Performance: Restaging LGBTI Refugees in South Africa, interrogates how the bodies, journeys, and narratives of my collaborators interrogate and remake the systemic and quotidian borders around what it means to be a refugee, queer, and African in the 21st century. This dissertation is a critical reflection on the processes of conducting performance ethnography with African LGBTI asylum seekers in South Africa. In it, I use performance as both an object and a method of analysis, explore how theorizing performance in everyday life, as a research method, and as stage productions proposes new figurations of LGBTI refugee subjectivity in South Africa and transnationally, while simultaneously mining a context-specific performance ethnographic practice for methodological developments. I draw upon ethnography and oral histories I conducted with African LGBTI refugees who journeyed to South Africa as the only country on the continent to officially grant asylum to victims of gender and sexual orientation-based persecution. I consider the everyday performances African LGBTI refugees manifest when they use Facebook, give interviews to newspapers, participate in a gay pride marches, or wait in line to renew their asylum seeker permits. I argue that these quotidian performances articulate new queer/African/refugee conjunctions, revealing productive resistances to and re-routings of prescriptive conditioning of identity and belonging. I simultaneously created collaborative performances with my collaborators, most centrally, a solo work titled Home/Affair staged at the South African National Arts Festival. I combine an analysis of these quotidian and staged performances to assert that performance ethnography allows us to construct new models of gender, sexuality, ―African‖ identity, and legal status in a country where asylum applicants regularly wait in limbo for more than a decade, subject to multifarious forms of homophobia and xenophobia.