‘Reckoning with refugeedom: refugee voices in modern history’

Peter Gatrell, Katarzyna Nowak, Alex Dowdall, Anindita Ghoshal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article outlines an agenda to relocate refugees to the centre of historical enquiry by recovering and analysing their voices, in the form of letters and petitions sent to authorities within the refugee regime. We adopt a comparative approach by using evidence from four distinct incarnations of the refugee regime: the League of Nations in interwar Europe; the early post-1945 era represented by the International Refugee Organization (IRO); the era of the newly established Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and the quarter century following Partition in India, specifically its impact in West Bengal. The article demonstrates how refugees’ voices were shaped by the social, cultural and administrative contexts within which they wrote, and that understanding these contexts can help us see why refugees framed their claims in particular ways. The article suggests that Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of ‘polyphony’ provides a means of understanding how refugees understood their predicament and engaged with the refugee regime from often contradictory and ambiguous viewpoints.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-95
Number of pages26
JournalSocial History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2021


  • International Refugee Organization
  • League of Nations
  • Refugees
  • polyphony
  • refugee petitions
  • refugee regime


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