EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Moving people: anthropologists adopting, interrogating and refuting governmental categorisations (ANTHROMOB)

Location S-238
Date and Start Time 31 July, 2014 at 14:00


Siobhan McGuirk (Georgetown University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

From asylum seekers to refugees, foreign students to skilled workers, official categories of migration imbue particular status. This panel invites papers that consider the ways in which anthropologists can reinforce but also interrogate and refute governmental categorisations of moving people.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists studying the movement of people between and within nation states invariably use legalistic and governmental frameworks to categorise populations. When conceptualising and presenting our work, we differentiate between populations through official terminologies: Internally displaced peoples; refugees; asylum seekers; economic migrants; foreign students; skilled workers; undocumented peoples; international businessmen; third country nationals; naturalized citizens. Only some labels are stamped on official papers. All imbue particular status.

Populations' right and ability to traverse intra-national spaces and international borders are central to our understanding of mobility at both a governmental and personal level. These categorisations mark the central site where wider regimes of mobility connect with the embodied experience of moving. Holding, or not holding certain papers--passports, visas, titles, finical documents--can profoundly shape subjective experiences of moving; as well as affecting the right to remain. Moreover, being known and named as a particular type of migrant alters perceptions and presentation of selves.

Anthropologists are in a position to cement, contest and complicate official categories of migration. Yet we often adopt legally prescribed definitions without questioning adequately their foundation. This panel is designed to explore the consequences of that choice, and will interrogate the methodological, theoretical and political uses and/or limitations of categorizing moving people.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Beyond the category of refugees: mobility and prospects for Karen post-refugee futures in the Thailand-Myanmar borderlands

Author: Prasert Rangkla (Thammasat University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores limitations of categorizing Burma-origin displaced persons as refugees in a northwestern Thai borderland. It argues that the legally prescribed category of refugees should integrate mobile strategies into the discussion of refugees’ future prospects and the homeland reconstruction.

Long Abstract

This paper explores limitations of categorizing Burma-origin displaced persons as refugees in a northwestern Thai borderland. Tens of thousands of people from eastern Burma fled civil wars and conflict-induced difficulties into Thailand. A number of them have considerably contested the humanitarian assistance, provided along the category, because they make a living beyond the notion of weakened acquiescent refugees. To understand Karen refugees' practical strategies for struggling with their vulnerable situations, this article investigates their further trajectory of mobility without waiting for the formalist durable refugee solutions. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the Thailand-Burma borderlands, it raises a question as to what extent their moving propensity and capacity for transnational engagement can constitute resources for resilience in a post-conflict setting. I would argue that there is a need for paradigmatic shifts to challenge the legally prescribed category of refugees, as well as to integrate mobile strategies into the discussion of refugees' future prospects and the reconstruction of their trouble-ridden homeland.

Rethinking the category of "indigenous migrant": mobility of Yucatec Maya speakers in Mexico

Author: Eriko Yamasaki (University of Bonn)  email

Short Abstract

The urbanisation and the mobility of the indigenous population have posed challenges for ethnographic fieldwork, manifested in the problem of categorising the mobile population. Drawing from the example of Maya speakers, this paper critically examines the categorisation of “indigenous migrant”.

Long Abstract

The proceeding urbanisation process has changed the daily life of Maya speakers in the Yucatán peninsula which was once based predominantly on subsistence farming.

The migration of rural population in search of wage work led to the growth of urban centres such as Mérida and Cancún. The orientation of many Maya speakers towards urban life is challenging for ethnographic fieldwork which used to focus on the village as a single bounded unit, putting a "place focused concept of culture" (Hastrup and Olwig 1997) into question. Urban anthropology represents one of the solutions to cope with the mobility of the population studied by anthropologists. Opening up the discipline into the urban space certainly reflected a necessary step for anthropology. Meanwhile defining and categorising the population proves to be increasingly problematic. The frequent categorisation of the Maya-speaking population in the urban space as "indigenous migrants" implies the image of indigenous population as rural and settled. By highlighting their geographic mobility, which is rather trivial and self-evident for them and marking it as "indigenous migration", anthropologists unwillingly confirm certain prejudices against the indigenous population in the urban area, cementing the fictional dichotomy of rural as indigenous and urban as non-indigenous.

This paper presents different representations of the mobility of Yucatec Maya speakers which goes beyond the simple scheme of indigenous rural-urban migration. In so doing, it critically examines the consequences of categorising mobile Maya speakers as "indigenous migrants".

Bordering desire: 'modern' subjectivity, 'normal' mobility and classification tools

Author: Francesco Vacchiano (ICS-UL, Lisbon)  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims at discussing how migrant’s expectations come up against the bureaucratic taxonomic system in the receiving countries. I will discuss how categories are part of a wider “bordering” process, aimed at channelling the migration drive into productive profiles.

Long Abstract

In quite a recent article, Olivier Bakewell stressed the need to study forced migration 'beyond the categories", in order to avoid the "confusion between categories of policy and analysis" (Bakewell 2008). His claim, which should be extended to human mobilities altogether, seems particularly appropriate since bureaucratic categories constitute powerful tools of social ordering "through movement". For some authors, their deployment represents one of the main aspects of contemporary "border regime" throughout the world. Besides producing a deep patterning effect on mobility and on the migrants' experience, categories work as "performatives" which crystallize the complexity of movement into few recognizable administrative profiles, moulded upon the binary distinction between "regular" and "irregular". Nonetheless, contemporary migration widely exceed the motives and causes made visible by the bureaucratic reason and described through classes such as "refugee", "unaccompanied minor", "victim of trafficking", "economic migrant" and so forth. I will argue that human mobility is often undertaken "at any cost", since it is underpinned by a strong desire of being "modern", channelled through expectations of material citizenship in a framework of hegemonic global values.

This paper aims at discussing how migrant's expectations (factors often disregarded in structural analyses of mobility) come up against the bureaucratic taxonomic system in the receiving countries. Drawing on my research in countries of origin, transit and destination, I will discuss how the classification of mobility works in accordance with a general "bordering" process, aimed at channelling the migration drive into economically productive profiles for the receiving countries.

Anthropologist or migrant? Positioning and cultural intimacy in the field

Author: Marek Pawlak (Jagiellonian University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper aims to explore the relations between particular categorization of Polish migrants in Norway and the dynamics of researcher’s (self-)positioning in the field. Drawing on Herzfeld’s concept of ‘cultural intimacy’ I will attempt to present the complexity of doing fieldwork among co-ethnics.

Long Abstract

After Poland's accession to the European Union in May 2004 a considerable number of Poles left the country seeking for employment in Western Europe. Many of them decided to stay and settle in, while some - after achieving their goals - returned to Poland. Others, however, found themselves caught between countries and started living intense mobile lives. Post-accession Polish migration - characterized by heterogeneous migration flows (unskilled and semi-skilled migrants, students and recent college graduates seeking short-time employment, young professionals wishing to start a new career or set up their own business, and intergenerational families), high levels of mobility (transnational and circular migration), and variegated settlement patterns - have had a significant impact not only on how migration is researched and theorized, but also how it is perceived and understood in the public discourse.

The paper therefore aims to explore the interdependencies between particular categorisation of Polish migrants in Norway, its impact on collaboration and the dynamics of anthropologist's (self-)positioning in the field. Drawing on Michael Herzfeld's concept of 'cultural intimacy' I will attempt to present that conducting a fieldwork among co-ethnic migrants poses significant questions that often seem to be neglected: What is the impact of categorisation and labelling on the research? What is the relation between anthropologist, co-ethnic migrants and the host society? How does the host society perceive anthropologist? Is a researcher categorise as a migrant or perhaps not? And in what terms, on the other hand, do migrants describe anthropologist, who is of the same ethnic background?

Resisting transit and renegotiating im/mobility in Morocco: transit migrants or adventurers?

Author: Sebastien Bachelet (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

The category of "transit migrant" has been criticized for its theoretical ambiguity and ties with hostile migration policies. This paper problematizes it and engages with the terminology used by sub-Saharan migrants entrapped in Morocco: "adventurers" on a quest for their "objective".

Long Abstract

The figure of the transit migrant has been ubiquitous in contemporary Mediterranean migrations studies. Initially celebrated for providing an alternative to dichotomies such as origin-destination, it has recently been the focus of scholarly debates about its theoretical ambiguity and intrinsic connection with hostile and misleading policy discourses (Düvell 2012). As for "illegal" migration (De Genova 2002), the notion of "transit" also needs to be denaturalized and its production analysed. For İçduygu et al. "transit migration today is not only an ontologically recognized phenomenon, but also an epistemologically debated concept" (2012: 454). However, the notion of transit overlooks migrants' epistemological metaphors to make sense of their own entrapment; ignoring those categories constitutes a "theoretical choice" (Collyer and de Haas 2012: 468) as much as dismissing transit altogether.

Based on fieldwork conducted with sub-Saharan migrants entrapped in Morocco, this paper mobilises and challenges understandings of the 'transit' migrant. It examines migrants' self-representation: Sub-Saharans did not talk of "transit", they self-identified as "adventurers" on a quest for an "objective", often elusively defined as "looking for one's life". Usually embodied by a distant Europe, the objective did not only entail space, it implied an existential dimension, a life without "limits" (Jacksons 2011), beyond both spatial and metaphorical borders. These im/mobile adventurers, talking of "suffering as a school of life", problematize the notion of transit as a middle passage between departure and a fixed destination. Migrants' pursuit of "chance" entails entrapped but pervasive agency and the renegotiation of their mobility.

Challenging labels: corporeal forms of resistance in three acts

Author: Anitta Kynsilehto (Tampere Peace Research Institute)  email

Short Abstract

This paper digs into the phenomenon labelled as undocumented migration and analyses different forms of resisting administrative and scholarly labels.

Long Abstract

Drawing on insights gained with persons on the move, characterized in official discourse as undocumented migrants or asylum-seekers, this paper examines corporeal forms of resistance. It departs from the frame of smooth functioning of administrative power that seeks to contain individuals in the places assigned to them, and thus regulate and stop irregular forms of global mobilities. Instead, the paper highlights mobile persons' potential of disturbing this power, indeed resisting it in different ways, thereby challenging not only the administrative and legal categorizations and labels but also questioning taken-for-granted assumptions within fluid migrant communities and among solidarity advocates. The paper analyses three forms of resistance targeting different embodiments of power, figured in a young and scrawny body journeying unassisted through various countries, a male body onto which the European quest to control its borders has carved its marks, and leaders of shadow communities negotiating the access to the people they are to protect.

Those who do not move: immobility as a category of analysis

Author: Diana Mata Codesal (Pompeu Fabra University)  email

Short Abstract

By incorporating those who stay put in the study of human mobility anthropologists can complicate established ideas of the role of the left behind and show how in fact mobility and immobility are two mutually constituent states.

Long Abstract

This paper introduces the category of the staying put in order to think about moving people. By incorporating those who stay put in the study of human mobility anthropologists can complicate established ideas of the role of the left behind and show how in fact mobility and immobility are two states mutually constituent. The sedentary logic underlying much of the production of the Western Social Sciences (Malkki, 1992: 31) explains why staying put within the borders of one's own birth country has been constructed as the 'natural' situation that needs no explanation. Non-migrants are not a topic of study because under the logic of the modern nation-state it is mobility what is constructed as a dangerous threat to the national order (Glick Schiller and Salazar, 2013: 184). Migration is the anomaly which could destabilize national identities. Immobility thus becomes implicitly constructed as normal and necessary for political and personal security. However, staying put needs to be explicitly incorporated into our understanding of human mobility.

Looking at the underlying reasons, motivations and barriers to stay put shows how immobility is a category as complex as mobility. The paper is particularly interested in the interactions between mobility and immobility. Families with migrant and non-migrant members are imbued with and crossed by changing mobility-immobility dynamics. This paper opens up such dynamics in order to facilitate readings of local socio-cultural logics where mobility and immobility are infused with specific meanings while placing them within global regimes of (im)mobility.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.