Lunchtime seminar: Rosanne Kennedy on ‘Shards of Testimony’.

Shards of Testimony: Digital Witnessing to Refugee Lives in Detention

Thursday 11 May, 1pm Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

This paper explores two contemporary case studies of digital witnessing based on the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers in the Australian offshore border protection regime. First, The Messenger, a podcast from within the detention centre on Manus Island in PNG, broadcasts the voice of Aziz, a young Sudanese refugee who is now in his third year of detention. Aziz and Michael, a journalist in Melbourne, use WhatsApp to communicate. The intimate form of voice recordings enables Aziz not only to report on the daily routines and disruptions that structure life at the camp, but to convey a strong sense of himself and of life in the camp. Second, we consider the Nauru Files, incident reports written by staff at the detention centre on Nauru, leaked to The Guardian and made accessible online in an interactive digital database.

We will map these two cases as a ‘dense digital environment’ generated by an assemblage of technologies that disseminate refugee testimonial now from within a border protection regime that works to render these offshore sites invisible and silent. As Kay Schaffer and Sidonie Smith suggest, digital environments raise provocative questions about how to approach emergent acts and instances of witness. Here we will argue that distinctive assemblages of user, story, interface and device are emerging from these southern spaces, and that, as the streets and squares of Cairo are imprinted in e-witnessing from the Arab Spring, so too the mobilisation of testimony from these camps is a distinctive testimonial culture.

Rosanne Kennedy is Associate Professor of Literature and Gender, Sexuality and Culture at the Australian National University. Gillian Whitlock is Professor of Literature at University of Queensland. They are working on a project on refugee live narrative in a digital era.


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