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By Markus Arnold and Bidisha Banerjee


of Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics


Migration, Spatiality and the Refugee Graphic Narrative

The current age of migration has thrown into relief particular spaces of exception – the treacherous waterways of the Mediterranean and the Aegean, new and long forgotten refugee camps and camp cities as well as checkpoints, borders, transit zones, and detention centres. Although characterised by liminality, precarity and temporariness, migrants often strive to find in some of these spaces various forms of belonging. For example, refugee camps are biopolitical systems of segregation that often become ethnic enclaves of the populations they serve. Refugees living in camps eschew a liberatory globality and cosmopolitanism in favor of cultural preservation and ties with the homeland. Therefore, the challenge posed by migrancy to essentialism and cultural nationalism, comes up short when considering migrant refugee identities and spatialities. These new forms of migration also problematize in intricate ways the notion of the border which, beyond its inherent ambivalence (inclusion and exclusion), appears above all as a space of “circulation” and whose effects are indeed to “produce hybrid transition zones” (Nail 2016: 7-8). However, the current migratory predicament has led to an increasing “frontierization” (Mbembe 2020: 66) which contributes to novel forms of capitalist violence and tightened control of population flux on a global scale. It is related to extreme forms of rejection and a growing worldwide production of “disposable people” (Bauman 2003, Ogilvie 2012).

These phenomena have recently found critical resonances with visual, comic, and bande dessinée artists who have introduced today’s “migratory crisis” in their creative work. Such work is located at the confluences of various, both converging and distinct, developments in the field. It shows the growing engagement of graphic storytelling with the “real” as well as social, historical, and political questions (e.g. Delannoy 2007, McKinney 2008). It builds on an already established while not forcefully well-known preoccupation of graphic artists with questions related to multiculturalism (Aldama 2010) and immigration (Marie & Ollivier 2013). It is more and more read in conjunction with the so-called “postcolonial turn” in graphic storytelling (Mehta & Mukherji 2015, Delisle 2016, Knowles et al. 2016, McKinney 2020). But beyond its relation to the after-effects of the colonial and imperial “North-South” divide, comics about migration echo similarly complex questions addressed in this predominantly hybrid medium, including war and trauma (Eerle 2017, icon Düsseldorf 2020). This not only reveals the overtly interdisciplinary character of visual storytelling. It also calls for a thorough engagement with specific forms and positionalities such as the documentary genre and the witness (Chute 2016, Davies & Rifkind 2020), foregrounds the ethical ambition of comics (Polak 2017) and their potential location within a humanitarian and human-rights agenda (Nayar 2021).

The recent creation and visibility of postcolonial graphic storytelling has led to a proliferation of scholarship as well as artistic and cultural production to which the proposed project aims to contribute in innovative ways by focusing on the specific form of the refugee graphic novel and the question of spatial identity. A sub-genre of postcolonial graphic storytelling, the refugee graphic novel deals with particular forms of vulnerability, agency, and precariousness (Butler 2004). It has brought intercultural and transnational subjects to wider audiences, demonstrating these narratives’ political, aesthetic as well as commercial potential. While the genre is, of course, highly referential, and while it openly draws on documentary, testimonial, and often photorealist forms – which may even call into doubt its artistic nature –, it both contributes to the legitimacy of comics (Beaty 2012) and to the aesthetic understanding of borders and migration (Schimanski & Wolfe 2017).


We are calling for abstracts on the topic “Spaces of Precarity: Migration, Spatiality and the Refugee Graphic Narrative” for a guest-edited special issue of the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. We are interested in exploring the graphic depiction of the spaces of migration in Anglophone and Francophone refugee graphic novels. We wish to consider the spaces of exception of refugee life, spaces of migration, of limbo and temporary permanence, of legal illegality, where refugees are held or through which they travel. These include detention centres, refugee camps, borders, and the open seas.

Contributors may consider, inter alia, the following kinds of precarious spaces of migration:

Post-Agambenian camp spatialities

While Giorgio Agamben’s concepts of “states of exception,” “bare life,” and “the camp” (Agamben 1998) have provided useful analytical tools for refugee studies, more recent camp studies have witnessed a move away from these ideas to an increased recognition of camps as dynamic spaces of resistance and political action, as “an exceptional place” (Gabiam 2016: 126) rather than a space of exception. This has led to the development of post-Agambenian camp studies which argue that a “generalized model of the space of exception falls short of an effective analysis of the refugee camp” (Ramadan 2013: 68). Camps are often seen as paradoxical spaces – exceptional spaces that come into being during emergencies and by intervention, yet spaces where families live for prolonged periods of time, sometimes even decades. Marked by their extra-territoriality, they do not belong to any national space and have their own system of governance. They are also permanently precarious, conveying an acute sense of an interminable present haunted by waiting and absence (Agier 2011: 73) for the “frontier-bodies” (Mbembe 2020:131) which inhabit them. Ho do graphic novels convey the complexity of camp spatialities and the migrant bodies within them?

Aquatic spatialities

At the height of the refugee crisis, an unprecedented number of refugees were attempting to cross the Mediterranean in order to arrive on European shores. Tens of thousands of asylum seekers have died attempting to cross the seas since 2010. Several recent refugee graphic novels tell harrowing stories of the treacherous journeys migrants undertake in order to reach “Fortress Europe.” The thanatic aspect of these journeys is delineated repeatedly in graphic novels like Mediterraneo (Nazzarro and Ferrara 2018), which often have children as protagonists – Amalia in Mediterraneo, Ebo in Illegal (Colfer, Donkin and Rigano 2018), Mai in The Boat (Nam Le 2015), Amina in Zenobia (Durr and Horseman 2018), and Petite Soeur in Les Ombres (Hippolyte & Zabus 2013). In the context of refugee migrations, the sea becomes a space with shifting boundaries, a contradictory space of capture and rescue, of stasis and mobility. The collection will explore the representation of the oceanic spatialities of migration as depicted in the various refugee graphic novels.

Carceral spatialities

Refugee detention centres are highly securitized spaces of incarceration and isolation. They form part of a larger economy of “brutalization” which transforms parts of the global population into a “humanity in a cage” (Mbembe 2020: 151). Many graphic novelists have taken up the task of depicting these spaces graphically (see for example Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention (Chak 2017), At Work Inside our Detention Centres: A Guard’s Story (Wallman and Olle 2014), Still Alive: Notes from Australia’s Immigration Detention System (Ahmed 2022), Les Ombres (Hippolyte & Zabus 2013), Les Nouvelles de la Jungle (Mandel 2017), Humains (Troubs and Baudoin 2018), Yellow Negroes (Alagbé 2011), etc.) How do their portrayal of carceral spatialities comment on the ways in which such practices of detention shape migrant subjectivities?

Spatiality of the page

The features of the graphic novel form – frames, panels and gutters – are particularly well suited to telling traumatic stories, and comics appear to be a privileged form for debating issues of migration in an ethical and empathetic way (Polak 2017). However, some critics have drawn attention to the differences in power between the various people involved in creating graphic novels and underscoring the importance of context (see Mickwitz 2020). Notwithstanding such important questions of context and ethics, refugee graphic novels remain a potent narrative mode for telling stories of displacement and precarity while also posing challenges to stereotypical and mainstream representations of migrants that use other saturated visual modes like photography. What are the ways in which graphic artists use the conventions of the graphic novel as well as the spatiality of the page itself to depict the refugee crisis? What are the potential limitations of this endeavor?


Please send an abstract (400-500 words) and a bio note (100-150 words) by the 15th of December 2023 to Markus Arnold ( and Bidisha Banerjee ( Notification of acceptance will be communicated by the 15th of January 2024.

Full papers are expected to be submitted to the guest-editors by the 15th of May 2024.

For more information, please refer to the below pdf version of the cfp file.

Spaces of Precarity Special Issue CFP_final
Download PDF • 192KB

We would like to share the below article in Le Monde paper.

From Giorgio Scalici

We would like to share the below "call for book chapters" for the upcoming book Decolonising Death Studies. Feel free to share with your contacts!

Title: Decolonising Death Studies

Co-Editors: Dr Panagiotis Pentaris (Goldsmiths, University of London), Dr Stacey Pitsillides (Northumbria University) & Hajar Ghorbani (University of Alberta)


Social and cultural factors can strongly influence how we approach death and dying, including attitudes towards death, rituals and practices surrounding death, and end-of-life care. The World Health Organization notes that understanding these factors is important for improving the quality of life and care for individuals facing life-limiting illnesses (WHO, 2021).

Hamilton et al. (2022) note that current knowledge in death studies tends to be influenced by Western views, conforming identities, specific disciplines, the English language, and a certain generation, which can limit its application to policy and practice. The authors argue that decolonising death studies requires exploring the nature of knowledge that underpins claimed expertise in this area, which has universal implications for policies, practices, theory, and research. This is not a new argument, but one which was noted in 1978 by Lofland, critiquing the happy death movement’s lack of diversity, claiming that its proponents were predominantly heteronormative, white and affluent. More contemporary research groups in death studies, like the Queer Death Studies Network (2016) and the Collective for Radical Death Studies, address this by collecting a wider body of literature in the field of death studies.

The increasing diversity and plurality of populations around the world necessitates further attention to diversifying evidence and knowledge to ensure that it effectively serves its beneficiaries (Mokhov and Pentaris, 2022). However, there is potential risk for re-colonising knowledge in this area due to the persistence of English-speaking, Western, and conforming expertise in the field that may or may not understand the connected histories of colonialism. To address this, networks of knowledge and expertise that challenge these limitations and seek to avoid the risk of re-colonisation to broaden the case of knowledge and key texts used by death studies researchers are needed. Such networks may be physical, contextual or digital, but they always lead to collective discourses that break free from the colonisation of death studies.

With that in mind, this book is looking to host the space for an interdisciplinary, international, especially from under-represented groups, dialogue which seeks to advance our exploration of both knowledge outside of the colonised and the degree of the current knowledge's applicability in the field. Additionally, and drawing from Jansen’s (2019) thesis on the politics of knowledge focusing on the lack of postcolonial, indigenous and critical knowledge, the proposed book will become a beneficial tool for its ability to pool resources and expertise. This can help reduce gaps in the current knowledge base.

All proposals focusing on the exploration of the colonisation, re-colonisation and decolonisation of death studies – no matter the expertise of the contributors (e.g., assisted dying, AI and grief, art-based practices with dying individuals, etc.) - are welcome. The volume is particularly interested in the inclusion of minoritised voices and perspectives, in the collaboration of authors with people with lived experience, as well as the learning from different geographies and disciplines. Further, proposals linked with any of the many global issues and phenomena and how those manifest on the experiences of death, dying and bereavement are welcome. This volume will also welcome shorter forms of writing, for example: experiential essays, reflections on practice wisdom or autobiographic accounts.

The proposed book will be submitted to Routledge for consideration.

If you wish to discuss your idea about a contribution before submitting an abstract, please contact the coeditors directly.

How to submit your abstract

Please submit your abstract (approximately 350-500 words) to the co-editors at, and including a short biographical note of the proposed authors (approximately 50-100 words per author) by the 8th of December 2023. Please include all information in a single Word file which you can submit as an attachment via email.

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