Refugee Tales

In_Visibilizing Stress: Refugee Tales as a Counter-Apparatus




Refugee Tales project, in_visibilisation of stress, apparatus, life writing


This article claims that the UK immigration complex is best understood as an apparatus (in the sense of Foucault and Agamben) that uses stress as a tool. It further argues that the Refugee Tales project acts as a counter-apparatus, and that the project’s life writing branch makes visible the many roles which stress plays in the context of immigration legislation. Stress researchers in the humanities maintain that poverty is one of the greatest stressors (Baker), that cutting people off from their material and mental resources is the most effective way to produce stress (Hobfoll), and that disturbing established rhythms of stress and relaxation can lead to ‘zombification’ (Korovkin/Stephenson). Selected pieces of life writing by women and men in the four volumes of Refugee Tales published to date, shed light on how stress manifests for people caught up in the immigration apparatus. They do so by demonstrating how narrative can i) be a source of stress, ii) trigger stress originally caused by something else, iii) represent stress, iv) perform, v) communicate, but also vi) alleviate it. By visibilizing what the immigration apparatus keeps from view, the analysed pieces of life writing contribute to Refugee Tales’ overall goal of putting an end to indefinite detention in the UK.

Author Biography

Sylvia Mieszkowski, University of Vienna

Sylvia Mieszkowski is Professor of British Literature at the University of Vienna. She serves as deputy-speaker of the interdisciplinary research platform GAIN (Gender: Ambivalent In_Visibilities) and is a member of a second research platform – SOLE: The Stress of Life – hosted at the University of Vienna’s Faculty of Psychology. Most recently, she published ‘Compassionate Projection: Zadie Smith’s The Embassy of Cambodia’ in Journal of the Short Story in English 75 (2022; open access: She co-edited Migrant States of Exception with Birgit Spengler, Lea Espinoza Garrido, and Julia Wewior as special issues 27.2 (January 2022) and 27.3 (July 2022) of Parallax. A special issue on Politik in der Populärkultur, co-edited with Sigrid Nieberle for Gender: Zeitschrift für Geschlecht, Kultur und Gesellschaft, and on Gender: Ambivalent In_Visibilities, have just come out, and another special issue, co-edited with Elisabeth Holzleithner and Birgit Sauer for Journal of Gender Studies, is forthcoming.





Refugee Tales