Do you get my drift?: ‘Sankofa’ and the Arts of Integrating the old with the new.

World Refugee Day UNESCO-RILA Lecture

Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts

Do you get my drift?: ‘Sankofa’ and the Arts of Integrating the old with the new.

Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts

with Gameli Tordzro, Tawona Sithole, Naa Densua Tordzro

“Do you get my drift?” is a phrase we use often in English to check that someone has understood us when we do not require ultimate precision or full comprehension.  It is a gentle way of checking that we are moving towards a shared understanding. The problem of translation and translatability lies at the heart of much of contemporary philosophy and is practically relevant to how we live with linguistic diversity in the integrating communities and societies that make up Scotland.

On 20 June I will mark World Refugee Day by giving the Annual Unesco Chair Lecture as part of Refugee Festival Scotland 2018.  I am honoured to be doing this in my capacity as Unesco Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts, and as an Ambassador for Scottish Refugee Council.

Following the publication of the New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy in January 2018, the lecture will focus in on the contested concept of integration. I will ask: who is integration for? Who does it serve? If it is indeed desirable, how is it to be achieved?  And who does the integrating?

The New Scots Integration Strategy introduces two new key approaches to integration: languages and human rights.  These approaches offer a challenge to Scotland, requiring us to consider our complex history and the vision of the kind of inclusive society we wish to foster to enable all within it to flourish.

Common sense would dictate that transparency, coherence and efficiency are the best values for delivering a national project of inclusive integration. In my lecture I will draw upon the Ghanaian concept of sankofa to offer up some complementary approaches to integration we may wish to consider: opacity, slowness, untranslatability. These offer some surprising insights.

For people to learn to live together and understand one another, the experience of difference and diversity is both vital and often difficult. Central to the question of integration is how we as individuals, institutions, societies and communities approach and manage difference and diversity.  This is also fundamental in the processes which underlie trauma healing, and recovery for individuals, societies and communities.

In the lecture, we will explore together the role of multiple languages and of different forms of art which offer us ways of engaging with difference and diversity which, importantly, do not require resolution.

Blending arts, languages and even traditional academic research we will present a variety of approaches to integration which have been part of different societies in the past. Throughout the lecture the meaning will be mirrored, embodied and given life in song, dance and poetry by RILA artists in residence.

We hope you catch our drift.

World Refugee Day 2018 is a day for everyone

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