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Over the past two decades, ethnic minority youth across Iran and Afghanistan have been increasingly displaced from villages and rural settings by environmental degradation, protracted militarism, U.S.-imposed economic sanctions, and exclusionary political forces in late capitalism. Rights activists and scholars of migration studies advocate for displaced groups by bringing them into refugee rights frameworks, mobilizing discourses of humanitarian crisis. However, this refugee rights model of advocacy actually further marginalizes displaced youth through forms of representation that “other” youth and exceptionalize their movement. Working with Afghan refugee youth and Iranian Kurdish youth, this dissertation traces representations and humanitarian interventions for displaced youth and offers participatory media production as alternative, collaborative tools for youth self-representation. This project is based on fifteen months of fieldwork in Iran working with three differently situated groups: social documentary filmmakers (filmhaye ejtehmai) seeking NGO alliances to develop film projects about displaced youth, children’s rights advocates volunteering their time and skills to create NGO youth programs, and displaced youth seeking basic support and services from NGO service providers. I utilize feminist and visual anthropological methods to explore how the identities of displaced ethnic minority youth, which are as multifaceted and porous as the borders they cross, become fixed through state practices and local and international humanitarianisms. This project argues that Afghan and Kurdish youth are racialized and classified as refugees through what I call “documentary regimes,” which includes forms of governmental classification as well as social documentary films about displaced youth. I demonstrate how these “documentary regimes” reinforce fictions of the nation, reduce youth identities, and ultimately restrict displaced youth’s access to resources through affective humanitarian representations. Additionally, through collaborative, participatory work with the Shahrzad Digital Storytelling Group, I demonstrate how youth produce alternative senses of their own “emplacement” within Tehran. These affective youth-produced images deepen a sense of belonging among youth in ways that emplace them within the very places where they have been told that they do not belong. Ultimately, this project upends humanitarian framings such as “crisis” and “irregular migration” to argue that migration is in fact regular, and the crisis is one of the nation state’s own unsustainability.

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329 pages


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Humanitarianisms; Migration and Refugee Studies; Youth


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Union Local


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Hodzic, Saida

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Raheja, Natasha
Munasinghe, Viranjini P.
Golestaneh, Seema
Sniadecki, John Paul

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Ph. D., Anthropology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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