• 182 pages
  • 5.25 x 8.5
  • 7 halftones
  • Price: $27.95
  • EAN: 9781439915318
  • Publication: Nov 2020
  • Price: $99.50
  • EAN: 9781439915301
  • Publication: Nov 2020
  • Price: $27.95
  • EAN: 9781439915325
  • Publication: Nov 2020

The Refugee Aesthetic

Reimagining Southeast Asian America

Timothy K. August

The refugee is conventionally considered a powerless figure, eagerly cast aside by both migrant and host communities. In his book, The Refugee Aesthetic, Timothy August investigates how and why a number of Southeast Asian American artists and writers have recently embraced the figure of the refugee as a particularly transformative position. He explains how these artists, theorists, critics, and culture-makers reconstruct their place in the American imagination by identifying and critiquing the underlying structures of power that create refugees in the contemporary world.

August looks at the outside forces that shape refugee representation and how these expressions are received. He considers the visual legacy of the Southeast Asian refugee experience by analyzing music videos, graphic novels, and refugee artwork. August also examines the power of refugee literature, showing how and why Southeast Asian American writers look to the refugee position to disentangle their complicated aesthetic legacy.

Arguing that “aesthetics” should be central to the conceptualization of critical refugee studies, August shows how representational structures can galvanize or marginalize refugees, depending on how refugee aesthetics are used and circulated.


In the space between dominant American rhetorics of condescension or benevolence and emergent voices of authors who turn the release of information into artful acts of negotiation, Timothy August locates what he argues as the politics of the refugee aesthetic. Written with sensitivity to bring attention to subjective nuances of pain, belonging, reflexivity, and hope in numerous Southeast Asian American narratives and artworks, this book is a compelling testament to a stigmatized population’s admirably creative uses of discursive forms.”—Rey Chow, Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor of the Humanities, Duke University, and author of Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience

“The Refugee Aesthetic establishes Timothy August as a leading figure in refugee studies. This erudite yet admirably lucid book brings to bear on refugee writing a new and productive set of theoretical frameworks that particularly emphasizes aesthetics and the visual. It offers fresh, compelling readings of works from Thi Bui’s graphic Narrative, The Best We Could Do, to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Sympathizer. As a result, The Refugee Aesthetic immediately proves its worth to a wide audience, from readers interested in race and U.S. literature to those seeking guidance to the contemporary literary scene.”—Timothy Yu, Martha Meier Renk-Bascom Professor of Poetry and Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and author of Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry since 1965

"August presents a compelling and multifaceted analysis of Southeast Asian refugee artistic expression....The Refugee Aesthetic is critical, interdisciplinary, and brings needed humanity to the scholarship of migration.... (August) lays a detailed foundation for envisioning and re-envisioning what it means to be a refugee and exploring what that truer and more complex meaning tells America about itself."
Ethnic and Racial Studies

About the Author(s)

Timothy K. August is an Associate Professor of English at Stony Brook University.

In the Series

Asian American History and Culture

Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeriti editor Michael Omi, David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Võ, and Shelley Lee, series editors Cathy Schlund-Vials and Rick Bonus continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.