7 Questions with Jennifer Kling, author of “War Refugees: Risk, Justice, and Moral Responsibility”

Jennifer Kling is an assistant professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Legal Studies at UCCS.

Jennifer Kling, assistant professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Legal Studies, researches, teaches and writes on moral and political philosophy. Her focus lies in issues in war and peace, self-defense, international relations, protest and feminism.

In addition to serving as executive director of Concerned Philosophers for Peace, the largest and most active organization of professional philosophers in North America concerned with the causes of war and prospects for peace, Kling recently authored “War Refugees: Risk, Justice, and Moral Responsibility,” published by Lexington Books in 2019.

Kling answered seven questions on the new book, which argues that war refugees have suffered and continue to suffer a series of harms, wrongs, and oppressions – and so are owed recompense as a matter of justice. “We must stop treating refugees as objects to be moved around on the global stage,” Kling contends, “and instead see them as people, with their own subjective experiences of the world, who might surprise us with their words and works.”

1. If you were describing your book to someone outside of your field, what would you say?

My book focuses on war refugees – those persons who have been forced, through no fault of their own, to flee their homes and countries due to violent conflict. What do we owe to refugees? What do other countries owe to refugees? Who is responsible for solving the current, ongoing refugee crisis? My book takes up all of these questions, and more, and argues that we owe refugees, as a matter of justice, a chance for a minimally flourishing life. Regardless of who and what caused the refugee crisis, we have a responsibility to fix it. Sometimes, you have to solve problems that you yourself didn’t cause; justice demands it.

2. How did you get the idea for your project?

I began working on the refugee crisis as a result of my more general work on war theory. My dissertation focused on war and national self-defense, and in the process of working through ideas surrounding self-defense, other-defense, and humanitarian intervention, I came to realize that not many, if any, just war theorists were thinking and talking seriously about refugees, which are an inevitable result of war and violent conflict. It struck me that this was a huge oversight in the theory, and thus, my project was born!

My research in general focuses on marginalized, ignored voices, and this project, in many ways, helped to shape my thinking that this is the most important kind of research applied political theorists can do.

3. Did your focus develop or change throughout the research and writing process? 

Yes; my project initially started out as one paper, then became two papers due to some good advice received at a professional conference, where I presented the first paper. Then, in the process of writing and revising the second paper, I realized the need to address several other issues as well, to really present a full, well-rounded view. So the focus of the project never changed, but the scope definitely did!

4. Which idea do you write about that most excites, invigorates or inspires you?      

I am most inspired by the changes that people can make to international politics simply by standing up and saying, “Things can be, and must be, different.”

Often, people get frustrated by my work, because I deal with a lot of theory before getting to the practical applications. But I actually think this is so essential; we cannot change the world for the better without first determining, fully and clearly, what needs to change and why. But once we know our guiding star, and, essentially, why it should be our guiding star, then all things are possible. That is the spark of change, and so I hope I have provided a solid, grounded theory that people can hold onto in order to stand up and demand justice for refugees.

5. Describe your writing space. Where do you do your best work? What time of day? Do you have any writing routines you are willing to share?           

I write wherever there’s a plug for my laptop! Honestly, I do my best work in all sorts of places – conference hotels, coffee shops, at home on my couch, at my desk. Really, all I need is uninterrupted time and access to the internet (so that I have access to the UCCS library!)

I do tend to write more in the mornings; if I can avoid checking my email before writing for a solid half hour, that’s a good writing day for me. Often, if I can get started, I will write for an hour and a half before stopping for the day. My key tip is to write before doing anything else for the day; and if you can’t do that, try to make some time, morning or afternoon, to write every day or every other day. That keeps it going, which is the real trick to writing. Just never stop completely!

6. Is there a favorite quote or passage you want to showcase from the book? 

“We must keep firmly in view the fact that, although refugees are and have been victimized in various ways, they are not essentially victims; they are moral actors with long-term projects and life plans, who deserve, and who are owed as a matter of justice, a chance for a minimally decent life.”

7. What new questions for future exploration have you discovered? 

My work on the refugee crisis has led me to consider a number of other issues, including refugees and protest, the expressive function of refugee oppression, and how we can seek justice without going to war. I am especially interested in the intersection of race, gender, and refugees, and some of my subsequent work has focused on these issues.

UCCS celebrates faculty and staff who author and edit books each year. In recognition of their achievement, and as part of the UCCS Author Spotlight initiative, authors are invited to submit details on their published works.