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Meet the 2020 SIRFD Cohort

Micah Trautmann, Philosophy, Boston University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

PhD expected, 2022


Academic Interests: intersection of social and political philosophy, existential significance of home and belonging, history and force of state sovereignty, the moral and political significance of hospitality, the philosophical treatment of the concepts of place and home, the nature of recognition, and the political function of exclusion and expulsion


Project title: Refugees and a Right to Place


Narratives of exile and belonging have been present in Micah’s life since childhood. Those parts of his history grew into philosophical concerns about the meaning of home and its loss. He believes those questions always have an ethical edge to them, and eventually developed into questions about the moral imperative of hospitality and refuge


Refugees, on average, spend about 17 years displaced, either in camps, shelters, transit and retention centers, and other transitional areas. Micah’s dissertation analyzes the harm of the period between immediate displacement and alleviation of a refugee’s precarious legal and political status in terms of the persistent deprivation of ‘place.’ He plans to demonstrate that the deprivation of place is also a central source of harm in displacement in addition to loss of citizenship. His contention will be that current dominant practices of “containing” refugees in liminal spaces unjustly circumscribe the ability of displaced persons to exercise certain characteristically human capacities. In defending that claim, he hopes to move in the direction of articulating just what  ‘a right to place’ means.


The big question Micah is working with is whether these places that contain refugees and asylees are morally justified, and if not, what minimal conditions of ‘place’ need to be maintained in order to continue to treat refugees as humans. Micah is working with interdisciplinary work currently being done on the nature of ‘place,’ aiming to develop a concept of human emplacement with distinct normative implications that can be used as a tool and criterion for normatively evaluating key aspects of the contemporary refugee regime. His methodology is primarily scholarly, drawing on an array of literatures from philosophy, political science, geography, anthropology, ethnography, and literature. In particular, he aims to advance a notion of place that can then be mobilized to describe a particular set of harms that increasingly shape the contemporary refugee experience and build an argument about the moral status of current patterns and practices in the production of refugee spaces. In particular, he aims to show that, as places, these forms of accommodation constitutively inhibit the exercise of certain characteristically human forms of agency. The central contention will be that these spaces primarily manifest a logic of ‘containment’ reflective of a certain model of place human emplacement, one that places structural limits on the forms of human agency that can manifest in such spaces.


Micah’s project differs from most philosophical approaches because it does not focus on “the ethics of admission,” or whether Western democracies are morally obligated to let refugees in. His work deals with the real need to address the moral and political considerations surrounding the experience and condition of that 99% of refugees who will not be resettled this year in a third-party state.


The interdisciplinary nature of Micah’s project brought him to the Initiative on Forced Displacement, where he hopes to find himself refreshed and invigorated by new and exciting work and seeing the diverse ways people can approach the same set of concerns.

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