Beyond labelling: Rethinking the role and value of the refugee ‘label’ through semiotics

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For decades, academics have written on the need to interrogate the labels upon which the field of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies has been founded. At the centre of these discussions are certain foundational texts, which expound the need to take nothing about the meaning and purpose of the refugee label for granted. Though these accounts have proven incredibly rich and formative, this article suggests that much of the discussion on labelling to date has lacked a clear theoretical framework around which to structure their otherwise critical observations about the performative and malleable characteristics of language. It therefore introduces semiotics as an approach for making sense of these manifold interpretations and their relationships to each other, and for exploring what impacts this has on negotiations over refugees’ futures. To showcase its analytical potential, this heuristic framework is applied to the history of durable solutions. This is used to suggest a number of key ways in which this approach necessitates a rethinking of the role and value of the refugee ‘label’ itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1–21
JournalJournal of Refugee Studies
Issue number1
Early online date8 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2018


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