Some brief and personal impressions of the 14th IMISCOE Annual Conference (28-30th June 2017, Rotterdam)

14th IMISCOE Annual conference: a brief and personal impression photo_2017-07-07_10-10-52

IMISCOE annual conference has traditionally been a venue to network and for researchers working on European projects to join and talk, rather than a place to present the latest developments in the field of Migration Studies.  However, this year I could feel some changes coming in. It seems as if new approaches are opening up amidst the more quantitative, policy-driven presentations. There were still some, in my view, highly questionable panels. For instance, there was a panel titled “Refugee crisis”. I find that wording extremely problematic, more so if we consider than even in some progressive media the expression has been questioned. The fact that migration scholars still use such term seems to me largely unacceptable and signals a clear lack of critical reflection on political trends.

However, I would focus on the changes and positive aspects I could glimpse at the conference. As with this kind of large conferences, with lots of parallel sessions and a jam-packed schedule, my impressions are just based on the few panels I was able to attend. In comparison with previous conferences, it felt as if anthropological and other ethnographic approaches are increasingly present. In general the participants (presenters and attendees) to less traditional panels tend to be younger and female. For instance, in the roundtable I co-organized on participatory methodologies in migration studies, except for two young men in the audience, we were a female-only room. I want to highlight two extraordinary panels I attended:

-Ethnographies of urban diversity and inequality, with presentations focusing on the fruitful dialogue between Urban Studies and Migration Studies.

-Diversity and Identification. In particular, research carried out by Talitha Stam on white privilege by white working-class Dutch girls in vocational schools in the Netherlands, was outstanding. Discussion spurred by the presentations in the panel was also interesting, with a tension between researchers on the way we, as academics, name things. On one side, researchers calling for not using race and skin-colour related terms in our research. On the other side (in which I include myself), researchers stating that although it may not be politically acceptable to talk about race, we do practice it a lot. By not naming these categories of differentiation, which are often embodied we are not able to pay attention to social phenomena which do have impact on people’s lives. Particularly with the current emphasis on diversity I am worried about the lack of attention to the body dimension of such construct. In fact, when talking about diversity and interaction in urban spaces we must not overlook the fact that in most of the cases we are talking not about migrants, but about racialized bodies.

I noticed two developments in theory which to me are potentially scary. Given that the conference took place in The Netherlands, they could well be just fashionable trends in that area. The first one is the emphasis on “Digital Migration”. This is part of a more general trend on “digitalization” (digital humanities, society, life, etc.). I very much doubt the emphasis on the digital aspect will provide any relevant theoretical insight beyond those we already have coming from social networks, or research on irregular(ization of) migration, etc. I find it worrying because it focuses researchers’ attention on the “how” (the technologically-mediated element) away from questions on “why”, “whom”, and other power-related issues. For instance, one of the elements repeatedly emphasised was the used of smart phones and other internet resources to collect information by people fleeing violence in Syria in their way to Europe. To me, there is nothing new in this compared with all the theoretical body provided by social networks, except for the virtual (and broader) networks these people can rely on, and it drives attention from the very relevant ethical and political issues involved.

The second aspect was the apparently new established paradigm of the “majority-minority cities”. I said apparently because in my migration research experience (I have been in this field for almost fifteen years now) I was not aware of this, according to some presenters, change of paradigm. This is a term coming from the US which, within the idea of super-diversity, is catching up in some research on migration and cohesion in European large urban settings.

I would like to finish this entry by sharing some preliminary insights into the roundtable on Participation and participatory methods in Migration Research I co-organized together with Sónia Pereira (University of Lisbon) and Concha Maiztegi (Deusto University). Based on five different participatory projects, this gathering provided extremely interesting reflections on the challenges and potentialities of carrying out these types of methodologies. The five projects presented were:

  1. Walking around with our cameras. Con la Cámara a cuestas” (by Concha Maiztegi, University of Deusto)
  2. An investigation of migration in and through a theatre play (by Erica Righard, Malmö University)
  3. Photowalks in the neighbourhood of El Carmel-Barcelona (by Diana Mata Codesal, Pompeu Fabra University)
  4. Minga: Creating spaces of knowledge co-production with migrant women (by Yvonne Riaño, University of Neuchatel)
  5. Local Engagement for Roma Inclusion-LERI (by Sheena Keller, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights)

We are planning to keep on working this under-researched methodological aspect. Most likely publications and other documents will be upload in webpage of the IMISCOE research group which serves as the umbrella space: