July 30, 2021
Created in 1956, the well-known English children’s book character Paddington bear is the product of numerous geographical displacements. Author Michael Bond (1926–2017) was inspired to make Paddington an undocumented migrant by WWII and Cold War mass evacuations within Europe, but he relocated Paddington’s fictive origins to Africa, then to Peru. Fleeing earthquake for England, Paddington assumes the name of the London train station where he is “found.” The story’s literary and film critics have demonstrated that Bond’s work draws on colonial geographical ideas, and that it idealizes Paddington as a non-threatening, assimilated immigrant. Drawing on archival work in Bond’s papers and interviews with his contacts, including migrant justice activists, my research complicates those claims. Tracing the character’s uptake as an icon of migrant justice movements in the U.K. and Europe, it sheds light on Paddington’s emotional appeal and creative, unexpected use by activists to imagine more just futures.
David K. Seitz is assistant professor of cultural geography at Harvey Mudd College and affiliated faculty in the Cultural Studies Department at Claremont Graduate University. His work examines how people repurpose the artifacts of mainstream, middlebrow and liberal cultures to more emancipatory ends. He is author of A House of Prayer for All People: Contesting Citizenship in a Queer Church (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and a forthcoming book with the University of Nebraska Press tentatively titled, A Different Trek: Radical Geographies of Deep Space Nine. Outside of work, he enjoys working out, eating and shopping.
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