P 63

Beyond Public Debate – Empirical Approaches to the Study of Transnational and Transcontinental Migration

Panel abstract
Public debate on migration is subject to volatile political discourses and periodic election campaigns and inevitably connected to questions of cultural integration, security issues, and national economy. Academic discourse is certainly not free from political interest; nevertheless, it has to meet its own standards: Refugee and migration studies have to be founded on thoroughly gathered empirical data and aim beyond simplistic answers – particularly if researchers do not want their results to naïvely support restrictive policies.
This panel discusses papers on innovative methodological approaches to migration inside Africa and beyond in its diverse forms and alongside its various itineraries. Field access and migration’s inherent risk, mobility, and informality are typical research problems: So, how to represent people acting under stress and duress without prejudice and harm? How to properly document motivations and cultural imaginaries, social communication, and exchange within local migrant milieus as well as across long distances? How to deal with transit’s usual waithood and deceleration – and the sudden dynamics of new options and passages? How to grasp historicity and political context of contemporary migration from Africa to Europe and elsewhere? And how to perceive migrants’ personal changes and transformations under these circumstances?

Time: Friday, 29/06/2018, 2 - 4 pm
Venue: Hörsaalgebäude, HS 16

Magnus Treiber (University of Munich)
Hartmut Quehl (Felsberg Institute for Education and Academic Research)

Noa Levy (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel)
Luisa Enria (University of Bath, UK)
Joelma Almeida (ISCTE – University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal)
Thaddeus Ejiofor Eze (University of Münster)


Paper abstracts

Noa Levy
Borders Love Migrants: Deconstructing Migration Discourse Through the Study of Borders

The attempt to regulate human movements expresses one of the most volatile collisions between human beings and modern institutions. The ongoing battle between the nation-state and migration shapes migration debates to be policy oriented. As migration researchers who live within the nation-state paradigm, even in the academy the contemporary tensions are often portrayed as migration crises, while the nation-state as an institution stays protected, unquestioned, and unharmed. Nevertheless, there is a great distance between policy-oriented migration debates and migration research on the ground. Some of us who research migration experience constant discomfort as we feel that these ongoing debates do not touch the heart of the matter as we experience it. Borders embody the very essence of this colossal collision. They force the various actors to face one another, in a space where nothing can shield them from the consequences of this encounter. Whoever faces migration at the borders, whether it is the migrant, the border-control officer, the transporter, and even the researcher –we all have to live with the numerous moral and practical contradictions between two massive forces. Nevertheless, there might be an academic value to the endless confrontations that exist in the borders. Since we are continuously confronted with borders’ complexity, they might provide us with what we need in order to reframe, reassess, and re-conceptualize migration and state dynamics. Studying borders may prove to be more than a choice of space, but a choice of resistance to the state-discourse and to the state-conceptualization that we, as researchers, often strive to but rarely succeed in deconstructing.

Luisa Enria
Temple Run: Dreams of Migration and the Political Imagination Amongst Freetown Youth

In the addictive mega-hit mobile phone game, Temple Run, ‘you have to run for your life to escape the Evil Demon Monkeys nipping at your heels.’ This involves jumping walls of fire, swimming through treacherous waters and flying across collapsing bridges. For young people in Freetown, Temple Run has become code for the perilous journey that an increasing number of young Sierra Leoneans are making to Europe via Libya. This paper discusses how dreams of migration and in particular the new realities of the migrant ‘crisis’, including the images of boats crossing the Mediterranean, have entered urban youth culture in Freetown. Drawing on extensive ethnographic work with young people in Freetown, the paper first considers how new waves of migration appear in the consciousness and idioms of those who stay in a variety of ways. Secondly, it discusses how these new forms of migration, and the economies that underpin them, are intertwined with long and short historical memories, from the slave trade to refugee displacement during the civil war. Finally, the paper considers how cultural representations of migration amongst the young people who stay put in Freetown can be seen as articulations of ideas of citizenship and a political imagination rooted in the city. Dreams of a ‘Temple Run’, then, can be seen as ways for young people to externalize their demands on government and the ‘big people’ who ought to be taking care of those who cannot or will not leave.

Joelma Almeida
Fostering Knowledge on African Migrations Through Open Research Data

Even after five decades of studies on African migrations, knowledge on inter- or intra-continental African migrations is still fragmented, due to a great extent the methodological choices. Today, literature abounds either on departure and settlement or settlement and repatriation in coerced/forced or non-coerced/voluntary, international or internal, and inter- or intra-continental African migratory caseloads. Case studies have been the preferred method resorted by researchers often pressure by limited [human, financial, and physical] resources and/or deadlines. Unfortunately, the outputs of these studies are in many instances generalized to the migratory phenomenon in or from the continent, misleading the ordinary reader. Understanding on specific migratory caseloads could hardly contribute to knowledge on African migration phenomenon. The comparative analysis could be instrumental to gain a better understanding of such a complex phenomenon. This paper will explore the potentialities of comparative analysis to foster a sound knowledge of African migrations by discussing the output of a longitudinal study on the African violence-induced forced migrations during the Cold War. Drawn on the Open Science paradigm, it re-used different types of data collected over the years from various organizations (UNHCR, World Bank, International Commission of Jurists, and Amnesty International), political analysts (Colin Legum), and researchers (e.g. Harrell-Bond on Ugandan and Kibreab on Eritreans in Sudan), for other purposes than understanding on migration, and in different contexts (e.g. space and time). The possibility to combine data gathered previously was a relevant asset to gain insight of an historical phenomenon.

Thaddeus Ejiofor Eze
Cultural Roots of African Migration: a Case Study of the Igbo in Germany

Life in Igbo society in Nigeria is lived in the context of a system of family and kinship which is informed by particular traditional values. Social life is to partake in different kinds of exchanges that are prescribed by that system. Igbo immigrants in Germany also experience life in the form of a (different) system of exchange. The big question is which form of exchange and value system determine their quotidian engagements and social relationships? Our hypothesis is that Igbo immigrants in Germany live more by the demands of traditional Igbo values and forms of exchange than that of their host society; the economic activities performed here are subservient to the forms of exchange back home. The paper attempts, therefore, to show how the form of exchange in Germany is subservient to, because it serves the possibility of partaking in another form of exchange back home in Nigeria (including social, economic and cosmological exchanges, etc.). With the aid of a long-term ethnographic research among Igbo immigrants in Essen, Germany, this study aims at buttressing the relevance of the cultural perspective in the study of migration and migrant communities –away from the classical (economic) models of push-and-pull factors. Perhaps there are more fundamental drives that keep young Africans on the move, sometimes even at the risk of life and limb.