Permanence in the Temporal: Artifacts for Freedom in the Rohingya Refugee Camp

Tea stalls in the ridges of the camps

by Nadyeli Quiroz (MDes ULE/ MLA I AP '20)

According to Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, Western politics divided the Zoe, the biological fact of life of every living being from the Bio, the social and political life in the polis. Zoe remained secluded to the domestic and private life existing within the Oikos. Agamben argues that refugees have been stripped from the political, public, and social exercise of life, the Bio and, reduced only to the naked life, the Zoe.¹

The politics of aid delivery, by design, reduce humans to a condition of bare minimum, basic biological needs, in which they have factually lost their human rights. I argue that the artifacts designed and implemented by refugees to negotiate with the bare life offered in the camps are the exercise of Bio. They are practicing a political agency within the administration of what aims to be a space devoid of any public and political life. The artifacts of negotiation of refugees are deviations within the totalitarian design of camps. These artifacts create actual cities and defy the whole narrative of the ephemerality of camps. The artifacts are exercises of freedom within the enclosure, construction of life, and the agency of those under contain­ment.

The thesis explores how to integrate the agency, Bio, and the desires of the refugees expressed in the artifacts for freedom—looking for a planning process that will allow camps to evolve into thriving communities instead of mar­ginalized populations.

¹Giorgio Agamben, Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 11.