Date of Award

Spring 2007

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Rhetoric & Comm Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Kevin Kuswa

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul Achter

Third Advisor

Dr. Carol Summers


''Figuring the Refugee" explores humanitarian relief for refugees as a discourse; a system of communication and identity-making which creates a subhuman refugee and perpetuates the problems of assistance. Through an auto-ethnographic narrative of my experience in the camp, I consider how the space itself creates exploitative binaries between aid workers and refugees. In an analysis of the United Nations 2006 film appeal, I argue that the discourse is normalized by images of the dehumanized refugee. The rhetoric of the film appeal limits the response of the western viewer to an uncritical sympathy, and allows for ineffective models of refugee assistance to continue. Re-informed through international media, the myths of refugee identity and assistance cause serious problems for new policies that attempt to move from refugee relief to development. A study of new Ugandan development initiatives for refugees proves that they have failed, and will continue to fail, because their policies only restate the traditional discourse. I propose a shift from discourse to dialogue as a new way to negotiate humanitarian aid. Dialogue offers a space for refugees to reconstitute their own identities and sense of agency, and for humanitarian actors to engage in meaningful ways for a true resolution to the world's refugee crises.