About the Canada Conference

By invitation only
The politics of asylum and refugee movements occupy national and international news headlines daily. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2015), approximately 59 million people are currently displaced from their homes, the highest since the end of World War II. The asylum regime in the European Union appears to have reached a breaking point due to the scale of displacement, the precarity of those crossing the central Mediterranean, and the lack of unity or coherence in EU members’ responses.

Due to their geographical location, Canada and the United States face a less proximate crisis, yet historically they have been significant players in the global asylum landscape. The two countries are intimately intertwined with each other and global landscapes of displacement, resettlement, and asylum-seeking. Both have, in different ways, enjoyed positions as global leaders in asylum-seeking for some decades.

In recent years, however, the political and institutional landscape has shifted dramatically, more so in Canada than in the United States. By shutting down geographical and legal paths to entry, both countries have implemented preemptive border enforcement measures offshore to keep asylum-seekers at bay, contributing to the inability to find solutions to displacement elsewhere. Numerical changes have been accompanied by shifts in the politics and language of asylum as well, with the frequent use of the phrase ‘bogus refugee’ and ‘queue cutter’ undermining public faith in the integrity of asylum-seeking.

This shifting political, policy, and legal terrain of asylum in North America will be the main focus of the workshop. The goal is to bring together leading, interdisciplinary scholars in the fields of asylum and refugee studies from both sides of the border to workshop papers on the timely topic of refuge. The small number allows for experimentation and 'workshopping' of works in progress. Participants are encouraged to share ideas that are new, provisional, or experimental in nature about asylum, and allow plenty of time for discussion.

The objective is to stage a conversation about and across research happening on asylum on both sides of the border - to confront the ironic reality that the border divides scholarship on migration and refugee studies. The workshop will provide an opportunity to share, learn, discuss, and identify themes that cut across scholarship and across the border.

The following are guiding questions that participants will consider:

Is there anything distinctive about asylum in North America, or is it generally consistent with global trends?

What is North America’s role in the global refugee regime?’

How have meanings, politics, and geopolitics of asylum changed in North America?

What are the differences in the landscape of asylum between Canada and the United States, and what explains them? What affinities and tensions emerge between them?

What role do borders play in asylum-seeking in North America?

What are new trends in asylum and related scholarship? 

Professor Alison Mountz, professor of geography and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration at Wilfrid Laurier University, joins us as the 2015-2016 William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies. Professor Mountz is appointed through Harvard's Department of Government and taught two courses: Border Politics: Migration, Detention, and (Il)legality (fall, 2015), and Political Geographies of Violence (spring, 2016).

Tracy Neumann, assistant professor in the Department of History at Wayne State University in Michigan, and Sean Graham, a recent graduate of the Department of History, University of Ottawa, join the Canada Program as William Lyon Mackenzie King Postdoctoral Fellows. Dr. Neumann taught North American Cities (fall 2015), and Dr. Graham taught Popular Culture in North America (spring 2016); both courses were offered through Harvard's Department of History.