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SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011

(P113)

Experiencing movement: subjectivity and structure in contemporary migration

Location Tower B, Piso 3, Room T10
Date and Start Time 18 Apr, 2011 at 11:30

Convenors

Knut Graw (Catholic University of Leuven) email
Samuli Schielke (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)) email
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Short Abstract

Drawing upon documentary and ethnographic approaches focusing on personal narratives, life histories, and extended case studies, the panel 'Experiencing Migration' investigates the subjective, emotional, and existential dimensions of migration in a variety of different geographical contexts.

Long Abstract

With the increase in migration in a multitude of contexts worldwide, many people are confronted with new and often challenging socioeconomic and sociopolitical conditions. With large parts of migration studies being primarily preoccupied with the economic and political dimensions of these processes, the personal and emotional impact of the actual act and condition of migration often remains out of sight. Responding to this situation and drawing upon ethnographic approaches focusing on personal narratives, life histories, and extended case studies, the panel 'Experiencing Migration' intends to contribute to an emergent field of literature in anthropology and other disciplines concerned with the subjective, emotional, and existential dimensions of migration. This includes the ambivalence expressed in many migration narratives, which are usually not unisonous but seem to oscillate between expressions of subjectivity characterized by resourcefulness and resilience, on the one hand, and of subjectivization through marginalization and exclusion, on the other. In an attempt to come to terms with the specificities of different locales as well as with the shared properties of the experience of informal labor migration today, the panel invites contributions that deal with different geographical contexts reaching from more 'traditional' migration destinations such as Europe, the US, and Canada to more recent or emergent labor markets worldwide. Furthermore, the panel is concerned with the possible theoretical implications of such a more existential and cross-regional approach to migration for our general understanding of the dynamics and consequences of migration, both for the individual as well as for the different sociocultural settings concerned.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Dialectics of transition: subjectivity and structure in African-European migration

Author: Knut Graw (Catholic University of Leuven)  email
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Short Abstract

Drawing on conversations and ethnographic research in Senegal and Spain, the paper deals with the experiences and expectations of labour migration between West Africa and Southern Europe, focusing on the complex interplay of subjectivity and structure in contemporary migratory transitions.

Long Abstract

Drawing on conversations and ethnographic research in Senegal and Spain, the paper deals with the experiences and expectations of labour migration between West Africa and Southern Europe. Making use of theoretical perspectives ranging from existential thought to political economy, the paper explores the complex interplay of subjectivity and structure in contemporary migratory transitions.

Without being a new phenomenon as such, migration from West Africa to Europe has arguably taken on a new quality during the last 20 years. One of the main stages of these developments has been Spain. Until the tightening of border controls and the onset of the international financial crisis which had a particular harsh impact on the Spanish economy, large numbers of West African migrants arrived in Spain in search of work. In this context, the paper addresses a wide range of issues, reaching from labour market developments and the administration of residency to the personal experience of these and other conditions. Through this ethnography of migratory experiences and conditions, in both peri-urban and urban environments, the paper attempts to develop an understanding of the dialectics of contemporary migration that is both existentially sensitive and critical.

When will all this end? Narratives of the immigrants living in the C.E.T.I Of Melilla

Author: Francesco Bruno Bondanini (Universität zu Köln)  email
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Short Abstract

Melilla is a place of transit migration and a frontier between Africa and Europe. Through the lens of social science and visual I am studying life and construction of identities of immigrants living in the CETI (Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes) of the city waiting for their “ticket” to Europe.

Long Abstract

Melilla is a Spanish enclave situated in the North of Africa divided from Morocco by a huge fence and from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea. The city is a door to Europe for the thousands of immigrants arriving from Africa. It is a place of transit migration and an obligated stop, a frontier and a Limbo, a "no man's land" where to exclude and lodge in the Centre for immigrants the thousands of people that reach the city every year. The research I am developing in the city tries to build, through the lens of Social Sciences and the instruments of ethnographic narratives and interviews, the life history of some of the immigrants blocked in the C.E.T.I. (Centro de Estancia Temporal de Inmigrantes) of Melilla. In the study I consider some aspects of this life on the fringe as the recasting of social lives, religiosity, rituality and different relations between groups and how they rebuild their life in this Limbo where they are waiting, most of the time lasting years, their "ticket" to Europe or, more probably their expulsion. The city represents a trap for immigrants in the terms that they are forced to stay without the possibility to move forward (to Europe) or backwards (to their home country). Finally I am using arts and visual especially through interviews, but also to give instruments to the immigrants to enable them to write their own ethnography through the instrument of visual.

Returned, but not at home

Author: Stephan Duennwald (Centro de Estudos Africanos, ISCTE IUL, Lisbon)  email
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Short Abstract

For increasing numbers of African migrants it is impossible to reach Europe or to stay there. Involuntary return, without fulfilling the migration aims, forces migrants to readapt to a not always welcoming society of origin, and increases their vulnerability. On the other hand, even the experience of an unsuccessful migration can be turned into strenghts and strategies to reintegrate. The paper juxtaposes different migrant trajectories and the role experiences play in return and reintegration.

Long Abstract

Since the events of Ceuta and Melilla in autumn 2005 it became obvious that migration from Africa to Europe increasingly faces difficulties. A growing number of migrants are, often after long years abroad, expelled and deported to their home countries. For most migrants, the involuntary return means hardship and shattered dreams. In Mali, migration-oriented expectations of wealth and stable family income within a deteriorating economical situation led to increasing outmigration towards Europe at the very moment when European countries closed their borders.

Coming back home, returnees are not welcomed. Often families reject the returnees, often returnees are too ashamed to return with empty hands, and rather stay in the capital. They are taken for loosers, and as persons that do not fulfil the requirements of a proper man.

Nonetheless, the story about failure is not the only narrative embedding return. Growing public awareness of the difficulties in migrating to Europe led to images of migrants as heroes or survivors. Failed migrants sometimes profit from these images, and use their migration experience for reintegration into the society. Ritualised narratives about the hardships endured help strengthening the position of a returnee. Deported migrants from Europe can not directly profit from these stories, which creates two groups of failed migrants.

The paper will focus on the ways unsuccessful returnees try to handle their situation, how they use their experiences, deal with the problem of lost years and contested masculinity.

Socio-logics and emotions of the migration experiences: the case of migration between Sri Lanka and Italy

Author: Luca Bacciocchi (Verona University (Italy))  email
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Short Abstract

Through the analysis of the relations between subjectivity and structure and between material and symbolic dimension of social existence, this paper describes and explains the socio-logics of the practices of Sri Lankan migrants and the emotions related to the experience of migration to Italy.

Long Abstract

This paper is concerned with migration between Sri Lanka and Italy. Its aim is to describe and explain the socio-logics of the migrants' practices and the emotions that go along with their life trajectories. Multi-sited research in Wennapuwa (Sri Lanka) and Verona (Italy) enabled me to enter migrants' worlds and lives and to analyse the relations between subjectivity and structure and between material and symbolic dimension of social existence. Following Bourdieu's theory of practice, the analysis of these relations is the route to the understanding of people's lives. From this point of view, I analyse the migration phases of departure, permanence and return, which are contextualized in the present situation of the migration process, after more than 30 years from its inception, and according to the socio-economic positions of the migrants. Departure appears to be a risky gamble played because of the frustration of living the gap between global desires and local (im)possibilities and yet maintaining the hope for social ascent. Permanence becomes a challenge, through suffering, in a social context where foreign people are discriminated. As a consequence, migrants have to swiftly develop means of managing their new positions in society. In this situation help amongst Sri Lankans is necessary but problematic and relations amongst them become ambivalent. Return is a steady though but also a difficult target. High expectations of migration beat against high difficulties related to the achievement of success. So, migrants have to experience the anxiety of an uncertain future, a future divided between two worlds.

Migrants, displacement and life histories: a case study

Author: Alina Ioana Branda (Babes-Bolyai University)  email
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Short Abstract

Romanian migration to Spain and Italy is, especially after 2007, a very debated topic, present, (due to its cultural, social relevance and challenge) on many agendas, being approached in various ways.

My presentation is actually the result of an intensive fieldwork carried out in two villages, Nimaiesti and Fizis, placed in the western part of Transylvania, in Beius ethnographic region.

Long Abstract

Romanian migration to Spain and Italy is, especially after 2007, a very debated topic, present, (due to its cultural, social relevance and challenge) on many agendas, being approached in various ways.

My presentation is actually the result of an intensive fieldwork carried out in two villages, Nimaiesti and Fizis, placed in the western part of Transylvania, in Beius ethnographic region. It is well known the fact that a big part of these communities is in a process of circular migration to Spain.

I am going to analyze the group of temporary migrants from these two places (at least once a year they come back home) and the impact of the phenomenon of migration for the part of the community left home: I focus on the most important reasons considered in the decision to migrate, kinship (in some cases, kinship is an important issue in this whole process), the feelings and thoughts the community of migrants has regarding the inclusion/exclusion in the host country etc.

Having previous fieldwork experiences in both these communities, I have also tried to integrate the current research topic into a larger one, that one of the forms of identity construction, the main investigation question being: Is circular migration of a big part of the village population a coagulation factor for these communities or not, is it an issue that has a certain role in the process of identity construction? Methodologically, I'll use mainly participant observation, life histories, in depth interviews for my research.

"I work with my body": Nigerian women in Morocco and Spain

Author: Kristin Kastner (LMU, Munich University)  email
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Short Abstract

The migration of Nigerian women overland to Europe is characterized by a constant shifting between subjectivity and structure. The tension between oppression and agency is reflected in the migrants' bodies that often remain their ultimate resource and capital.

Long Abstract

The migration of Nigerian women overland to Europe is characterized by a constant shifting between subjectivity and structure. Due to the extreme circumstances of their journey and, sometimes, also of their lives in Europe, they reach their personal and even existential limits.

(Borderline) experiences of migrants can be approached from a perspective based on the anthropology of the body. Migrants' bodies play a significant role in various phases: during their perilous journeys overland from Nigeria to Morocco, the long waiting periods in Morocco, the dangerous crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar, the arrival in Spain and, finally, on the various careers and detours of the migrants in Spain. The pregnant body as well as bodies of small children gain particular relevance on both sides of the Strait. Though the body is often the target of suffering and violence, it is also the women's ultimate resource and their capital. Hence, this perspective on the body enables to approach migrants' practices of navigating between structural constraints and individual agency. Photographs are a useful tool to illustrate issues like the body and embodiment that are fairly verbally communicable. These photos show how a number of migrants want to be portrayed whilst being in a liminal state. Here, migrants themselves have chosen background as well as postures and style. The catchwords of Suffering and Styling express the inherent ambivalence in migrants' lifeworlds: Subjected to enormous constraints and limitations, they are actors, who proceed with their journeys, who play their particular roles, and who form their bodies.

Embodied cosmopolitanisms: the interplay between love, sexuality and exploitation in the lives of migrants working in the global sex trade

Author: Nicola Mai (Kingston University London)  email
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Short Abstract

The contemporary nexus between migration and the global sex industry is the outcome of transformations of established geopolitical, economic and moral orders and of the associated forms of subjectivity. Against the scenario of victimisation emphasised by anti-trafficking rhetoric and policies, many migrant young men and women work in the global sex industry in order to negotiate their economic-psychological autonomy from ‘home’ and to sustain more transnational, diasporic and cosmopolitan lifestyles and identities. By engaging with original ethnographic and interview material, I will analyse the ways in which essentialist gender, ethnic and sexual normativities are both reproduced and challenged through embodied practices, such as migration and sex work, rather than through verbalised discourses. In doing so, I will de-construct hegemonic understandings of young migrants’ involvement in the global sex trade in terms of ‘trafficking’ and ‘exploitation’ to show how the (anti)trafficking logic of ‘humanitarian intervention’ provides forms of solidarity and support which are paradoxically enforcing the demarcation of moral, economic and geopolitical forms of subalternity.

Long Abstract

The contemporary nexus between migration and the global sex industry is the outcome of transformations of established geopolitical, economic and moral orders and of the associated forms of subjectivity. Against the scenario of victimisation emphasised by anti-trafficking rhetoric and policies, many migrant young men and women work in the global sex industry in order to negotiate their economic-psychological autonomy from 'home' and to sustain more transnational, diasporic and cosmopolitan lifestyles and identities. By engaging with original ethnographic and interview material, I will analyse the ways in which essentialist gender, ethnic and sexual normativities are both reproduced and challenged through embodied practices, such as migration and sex work, rather than through verbalised discourses. In doing so, I will de-construct hegemonic understandings of young migrants' involvement in the global sex trade in terms of 'trafficking' and 'exploitation' to show how the (anti)trafficking logic of 'humanitarian intervention' provides forms of solidarity and support which are paradoxically enforcing the demarcation of moral, economic and geopolitical forms of subalternity.

The talk will be preceded by the screening of an excerpt from NORMAL, an experimental documentary film I made out of the made of the combined interviews with four young migrants, who are impersonated by actors. The four characters explain how they came to see their involvement in the sex industry as NORMAL and how their notion of normality evolved with their life experiences. At the same time, their life trajectories do not conform to the victim/villain stereotypical opposition which dominates current debates about sex trafficking.

Displaced bodies and emplaced spirits: religious concepts and practices in migration

Author: Paola Abenante (Milano-Bicocca)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper describes the experience of migration of an Egyptian Sufi leader. It explores how, by mobilizing religious notions and practices, he recomposes his disrupted subjectivity and, eventually, inscribes himself in the social environments he encounters.

Long Abstract

In the paper I explore the experiences of migration from Cairo to Baghdad and Rome, of Safwat, an Egyptian Sufi leader, by putting in critical dialogue my field-notes with Safwat's personal narration. I describe how, through religious notions and practices, Safwat reconfigures his disrupted subjectivity and the social environments he encounters.

In his narration Safwat mobilizes the notions of zahir and batin to provide his migration with an ethical horizon that makes sense of his continuous movements and his social exclusion. On the level of his body experiences he reconfigures his emotional and physical experiences of displacement through the practice of the hadra and the awrad -respectively collective and individual Sufi rituals. Safwat so transforms his body from the site of displacement to the protagonist of his religious self-reconfiguration.

At the same time, by drawing on this new body-awareness, he inscribes himself in the new social environments, such as the Italian branch of the brotherhood he belongs to, where he arrives in 2001 following his need for a job. Drawing on all his experiences and on the new configuration of his subjectivity, he establishes his authority and emplaces himself among the Italian brothers, creatively confronting his economic dependence and his social exclusion. By teaching the religious rituals he subverts the Italians' body codes and undermines the Italians' knowledge of Islam and, as a consequence, he re-orients his position within the social hierarchy of power in the local branch.

Bodies of resistance: "border-experiences" at the crossroads of migration and social movements

Author: Michael Westrich (Humboldt University Berlin)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper focuses on subjectivity, creativity and resistance amongst migration fluxes. Therefore, it draws on embodied experiences and social practices of migrants and social movements at the EU’s exterior borders by examining a place in Algeciras, Spain, where “illegal” refugees are given shelter by political activists.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on embodied experiences of migration. Therefore, it follows a phenomenological approach looking after experiences of the sentient body of "illegal" travellers and asks for creativity and resistance through processes of subjectivization amongst migration fluxes. This has two implications.

1. Theoretically: Searching for migrants' experiences, I turn towards the highly contested borders between Spain and Morocco, where the "social sorting" of mobilities by the EU (and the nation state) encounter dense processes of subjectivization through personal struggles. The focus on migrants' "border-experiences" can be a mirror of the situation at the border (Haller 2000), and they direct the attention toward the migrants' creative intercourse with daily life, but also towards their protests and/or artistic practices (often together with or even lead by transnational social movements). This will be object to an empirical exploration during an extended case study in Algeciras. In the centre of the ethnographic research (starting in November 2010) will be a place where "illegal" migrants is given shelter by political activists.

2. Methodologically: Embodied experiences are coined by sensual impressions such as smells, fear, hunger, abuse, happiness etc. To explore them and develop a "history from below", it needs a "sensuous scholarship, combining text and body, analysis and sensibility" (Stoller 1997: 48). As claimed by scholars of visual anthropology (as e.g. MacDougall 2006; Pink 2006), this ethnography will try to engage the senses by also using audiovisual recordings.

Until the end of oil: the elusive futures of migrant work

Author: Samuli Schielke (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO))  email
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Short Abstract

In this paper, which is based on fieldwork among mainly Egyptian migrant workers in Vienna, Austria and Doha, Qatar, I take up their reflection about their situation to think about the ambiguities and contradictions evolved in the social practice of imagining a better future.

Long Abstract

In this paper, which is based on fieldwork among mainly Egyptian migrant workers in Vienna, Austria and Doha, Qatar, I take up their reflection about their situation to think about the ambiguities and contradictions evolved in the social practice of imagining a better future. Instead of being able to collect a fortune and return home to live a life in relative comfort, migrants commonly find themselves in the circuit of working to send home money on which entire families depend for their daily needs. And instead of being able to live a fuller life of more choices, labour migrants commonly face an extremely narrow life in which both possible choices as well as the rhythm of everyday become extremely limited. A key moment of this experience is its uncertain temporality, shifting between the hope to return next year, and the realisation that one may have to stay for a lifetime. This is an experience that is often explicitly voiced by migrants themselves who struggle to find dreams they can believe in and to develop acceptable ways to live in dignity, well knowing that these dreams themselves are partly responsible for their sense of wasting the best years of their life. This tragic sense of hope articulated by migrant workers is telling of the ambiguous power of the social practice of imagination to provide hope and a real sense of possibility while at the same time causing despair and making it extremely difficult to come up with serious alternatives.

Sensing mobility: place of time and distance on migration

Author: Simone Frangella (Institute of Social Sciences - University of Lisbon)  email
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Short Abstract

This work discusses how diverse movements and temporalities intertwine and influence migrants' perceptions of migratory projects. Based on an ongoing research on Brazilian emigrants coming to Europe, I explore the effects of mobility on way they define their transnational condition.

Long Abstract

The present work aims to reflect upon how migrating involve different forms of dislocation, marked also by different temporalities: the frequency and speed of information exchanged through new media, the preparation to travel, the waiting times in airports, the continuous search for work, the strategies of insertion in destination countries and the different personal and emotional histories that come out of that. All this create a visible thread between the context of origin and the one of reception; however, the mobility that connects these places is itself a place where the migration project is re-signified, changed, or intensified. That is, the dislocation that characterises the migration phenomena seems to have a fundamental role in the construction of the subjectivity of these migrants.

Taking as basis for the reflection my ongoing research on migrants coming from Brazil to Europe (particularly Portugal and UK), I intend to see - through their life histories and social practices - how narrations of their movements in the whole process of transnational dislocation showed their influence in creating or transforming images about the reception context, about their family and individual projections, about belonging feelings. The research shows that the crossing of different temporalities of actions and processes involved in this mobility also affects these migrant's personal and social perceptions about their future, their network of relations, and their identity narratives.

Bitterness and nostalgia in Cairo: ambiguous narratives of migration to the Gulf

Author: Lucile Gruntz (EHESS )  email
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Short Abstract

On the basis on return migrants' life stories, this paper will deal with the emotional consequences of circular migration between Egypt and the Gulf for Cairene returnees. Then, it will address the impact of these equivoque feelings on the representations and practices of returnees.

Long Abstract

Since the opening of national borders at the beginning of the 1970s, Egypt has become an emigration country, with millions of labourers setting off each year for the neighbouring countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. However, difficulties to settle in there together with the density of migrants' transnational networks push Egyptians to return to their home country. Migrants' experiences all along their round-trips are knitted within a dense structure of institutional and social constraints. Based on a two years' ethnographic fieldwork in Cairo, my contribution will focus on return migrants' narratives, which convey both bitterness and nostalgia, and dreams of success offshore. Insisting on the strict "material" change that migration have triggered in their lives, returnees do partly legitimize the ambitious social expectations linked with emigration back home. Nevertheless, ethnographic data also helps illuminate the ordeals and sufferings resulting from discrimination and exploitation, as well as the huge disruption of routine and certitude that travel entails. How do they manage to combine these apparent paradoxes in their life narratives? What is the social impact of these cognitive and practical changes at the collective level? Such are the interrogations to be addressed in this contribution.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.