Rethinking Knowledge Production in Migration Research

Add to Google Calendar
from: 15:00
to: 16:15

This Webinar will discuss approaches that aim to overcome methodological nationalism and the Eurocentric system of knowledge production in migration studies.

There has been an increasing shift to evidence-based policy in public service and government in the past decades. Migration management also strongly relies on data on transnational movement, and policy makers have to some extent relied on input by migration scholars to make their positions appear more reasonable and legitimate. Migration scholarship has also increasingly challenged political narratives about the causes and effects of migration. The policy world in turn has also often driven categories and concepts in migration studies. Migration scholars are thus not mere observers of migration, as producers of knowledge about migration and shaping understanding about migration instead they can be viewed as migration governance players alongside others. Consequently, we have seen increasing reflection within migration scholarship about concepts, categories and perspectives employed in the field of migration studies. In the past years in Europe this reflexive turn was also complemented with a rise in claims for a decolonial approach, highlighting the necessity to focus on processes of racialisation and their continuities. Contributing to these efforts of reflection, this webinar discusses approaches, that aim to overcome methodological nationalism and the Eurocentric system of knowledge production in migration studies.


Decolonising African Migration Studies, by Kudakwashe Vanyoro, University of Witwatersrand


Decolonisation has assumed central importance and relevance in global discussions about levelling the academic playing field, transforming the curriculum as well as challenging Western, hegemonic canons of knowledge. Concerns over what decolonisation means in the context of migration studies have, however, only recently began to proliferate. Some explicitly call for decolonial approaches that decentre the Global North, while others make calls to recentre the Global South, albeit these engage less with decolonial theory and praxis. Recentring rarely moves beyond problematising power asymmetries between Global North and South and of local researchers with participants to address the pertinent question of possibly breaking away with a migration lens altogether. At the same time, it appears untenable to formulate an approach in which migration studies as a Eurocentric system of knowledge can be decentred without recentring Africa. Considering these conundrums, the discussion falters at the intersections of criticisms of the limits of both approaches. Conceptual tools for decolonial praxis are thus relatively absent in any approach to African migration studies. This input mainly presents a critique of approaches to decolonising the field in Africa that treat both as distinct, rather than constitutive processes towards the epistemic decolonisation of migration theory and praxis. By expanding on pre-existing critiques of migration studies, the intervention argues that the idea of ‘chronopolitics’ can be a heuristic for a decolonial migration theory and praxis that justifiably recentres Africa to the point that it can carry forward the decentring efforts needed for doing away with labelling the people crossing the Mediterranean and regional borders as ‘migrants’. Such an approach could engage with the multiple mobilities of African people and break away from the perpetual coloniality they have been subjected to as objects of research, criminalisation, and cataclysmic humanitarian interventions.


Who is a Migrant? Abandoning the Nation-state Point of View in the Study of Migration, by Martina Tazzioli, Goldsmiths University (also on behalf of her co-author Stephan Scheel)


This presentation develops an alternative definition of a migrant that embraces the perspective of mobility. Starting from the observation that the term ‘migrant’ has become a stigmatising label that problematises the mobility or the residency of people designated as such, we investigate the implications of nation-state centred conceptions of migration which define migration as movement from nation-state A to nation-state B. By asking ‘Who is a migrant in Europe today?’ we show that nation-state centred understandings of migration rest on a deeply entrenched methodological nationalism and implicate three epistemological traps that continue to shape much of the research on migration: first, the naturalisation of the international nation-state order that results, secondly, in the ontologisation of ‘migrants’ as ready-available objects of research, while facilitating, thirdly, the framing of migration as problem of government. To overcome these epistemological traps, we develop an alternative conception of migration that, inspired by the autonomy of migration approach, adopts the perspective of mobility while highlighting the constitutive role that nation-states’ bordering practices play in the enactment of some people as migrants. Importantly, this definition allows to turn the study of instances of migrantisation into an analytical lens for investigating transformations in contemporary border and citizenship regimes.


‘Addressing complex hegemonies, power and reflexivities within migration studies: Ways forward?’, by Janine Dahinden, University of Neuchâtel


Ground-breaking work has, without any doubt, provided important insights into patterns of knowledge production and power within migration studies. Yet, there are still significant blind spots when it comes to grasping fully the challenges we as researchers are confronted with. In my short talk, I attempt to shortly outline three possible ways forward (of course there are others): First, different strands of critical literature can be identified which all point to processes how migration studies run the risk of reproducing hegemonic forms of exclusion and power (i.e., by reproducing a nation-state logic, ignoring colonial legacies and racism, patriarchal forms of knowledge production, a binary heteronormativity). However, each of these important strands puts the emphasis on another aspect and I propose to bring them into dialogue. This could allow to better understand the mechanisms of knowledge production, both in their structuring effects on societies and in their capacity to shape the academic field and scientific positionalities of its researchers. Second, there exists a long tradition within the social sciences of thinking about reflexivity, power, and knowledge production. However, the existing critical literature in the field of migration studies is at times not sufficiently anchored in this rigorous theoretical scrutiny of knowledge production and power regimes and could profit from doing so. Finally, I identify a need to zoom in more closely to the effects of processes of categorisations in view of questions of knowledge production and power. I will make a plea for a more reflexive approach to categories within migration studies by considering their emergence and embeddedness in local histories, discursive repertoires, and power configurations.


Chair: Leila Hadj Abdou, MPC, EUI