Affective Witnessing [Trans]posing the Western/Muslim Divide to Document Refugee Spaces

Nishat Awan and Aya Musmar

February 1st at 7:57pm

Seeking out affect in the exceptional zone of the refugee camp, this chapter follows a method of “documented witnessing” of undocumented migration. Written by two academic scholars who share a belonging to feminist post-humanist thought and a Muslim upbringing, we turn our attention to the everyday violence of the border regime in the hope of developing an architectural research methodology for working with precarious lives. A question that animates this chapter is what kinds of violence can/should we bear testimony to through our role as architects in relation to the spatial violence endured in refugee camps and in the circulatory movements of the undocumented? We address this question through a feminist lineage approaching witnessing as an embodied spatial practice. Emphasising the centrality of the body alongside an investment in the way emotions circulate across difference produces what we term “affective witnessing”. Through discussing an architectural design studio, we explore how we might register our affective witnessing basing it in a politics of belonging as distinct from the approach of humanitarian NGOs whose professionalised practice of witnessing is often a strategic exercise designed to produce evidence within institutional or legal contexts.