In France and Belgium, residence permits issued to migrants from the global south married to French or Belgian citizens have consistently risen since the mid-1990s. These unions – depicted as a legal loophole that give migrants cover to secure residency, sometimes by taking advantage of unsuspecting citizens, and as fuel for ‘ethnic separatism’ when migrants marry citizens of migration background – have been targeted by law reforms in the 2000s designed to discourage them and hurdle consequent applications for temporary and permanent residence, and citizenship acquisitions.
My Identities article, ‘Family rights-claiming as act of citizenship: an intersectional perspective on the performance of intimate citizenship’, examines the enforcement of such provisions and its climate from the standpoint of French and Belgian citizens who want to marry or are already married to non-European migrants. Precisely, it draws on the experiences of national partners who, seeking legal help from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), participate in their advocacy actions. Some partners wish to overcome minute, intrusive and discretionary migration controls and administrative blockages for marrying or applying for residence, while others seek the annulment of their marriage claiming to have been cheated by their migrant partners. Although diametrically opposed, the intimate and administrative experiences of these partners erode the boundaries between their intimacy and citizenship.
I encountered such experiences while observing four NGOs with contrasting approaches to marriage migration. Two NGOs concerned with the administrative mistreatment of partners during marriage and migration formalities demand full respect of private and family rights. Another NGO, concerned with migratory abuse towards national partners, demand more state intervention to protect citizens. Interestingly, an NGO for each type exists both in Belgium and France. In fact, in both countries, bureaucratic practices and public discourses regarding mixed-immigration status unions have overlapping similarities, even though Belgian policies are more restrictive than French policies (e.g. Belgium requires its citizens to comply with the same conditions for migrants for family reunification – namely strict income, housing and social protection over five years – for their migrant spouse to obtain and maintain a residence permit).
In choosing to work with a particular NGO, national partners become aware of their own and/or their couple’s rights. NGOs give voice to their divergent grievances: in one case, to its own state’s unattended scrutiny and, in the other, about state lack of protection. The reformulation of personal and administrative injustice into rights claims led these partners to assert that they fully deserve the rights of citizenship on the basis of or despite their affective choice.
Thanks to these partners’ narratives, I show that citizenship is not just a matter of status and membership, but a practice rooted in individuals’ intimate and private experiences. To put this simply, citizenship is more what individuals do than what individuals have. I demonstrate how the national partners’ experiences of citizenship vary according to their gender and race. White women and partners with migration backgrounds, whether men or women, experience a deterioration of their supposed universal citizenship by the state apparatus. Nationals from migration backgrounds felt like second-class citizens suspected to an open migratory chain; their origin and their affective choice discredit their status and voice. When autochthonous white women are sometimes regarded as either naïve victims or criminals for choosing a black or Arab partner over, for instance, a white American or British partner, they are buried into the racial and social stigma that already affect their partners. Suspected of sham marriages or victims of migratory scam, their state asks them to repent for their inappropriate choice that puts in danger the whiteness of the nation.
Blog post by Laura Odasso, Collège de France, France
Read the full article: Odasso, Laura. Family rights-claiming as act of citizenship: an intersectional perspective on the performance of intimate citizenship. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1723309
Official classification, affirmative action and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China
According to the 2000 census in China, 3.23 percent of married citizens are in an interethnic marriage, and 12 of the 56 officially recognised ethnic groups have an intermarriage rate higher than 50 percent, meaning more than half of married people in these 12 ethnic groups are in an interethnic marriage.
While these statistics suggest that the multiethnic population is not small in China, multiethnic identity options are not officially available in China. All Chinese citizens are registered at birth by their parents with only one official ethnic category, which must be the same as at least one of their parents. This exclusive ethnic identity is presented on the person’s ID card, largely influences their life chances in a wide range of domains, and can hardly be changed. How do people with mixed ethnic backgrounds deal with the limited and exclusive identity choices? Compared to the debates and social movements in western countries, why is the topic of multiethnic identity seldom brought up in China?
In my Identities article, 'Official classification, affirmative action, and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China', I focus on a specific group of people in China who have multiethnic backgrounds – college students who have a Han parent and a Hui parent – and examine how they understand their ethnic identity. Han is the majority ethnic group that constitutes 91.5 percent of the national population. Hui is the fourth largest ethnic group, the largest Muslim group, and the most geographically dispersed minority ethnic group in China. Using interviews with 20 respondents, I investigate whether this group of people experience any discrepancy between their multiethnic backgrounds and their official, single ethnicity, and what their attitudes are towards institutionalising multiethnic identities.
Using an inductive analytical approach, I find that the sole ethnic categorisation principle and preferential policies for ethnic minorities shape the Hui-Han bi-ethnic college students’ ethnic self-identification. While the respondents in my research had very different levels of exposure to Hui culture in their upbringing (and six of them believed that there were no Hui characteristics in their upbringing or lifestyle), they were also registered as Hui by their parents. Most of them identified themselves more strongly as Hui than as multiethnic or Han, and they frequently referred to their ID card, household registration record and the practices of reporting Hui ethnicity on bureaucratic forms when explaining their self-identification.
I also find that college environment plays a role in shaping their experiences of their multiethnic background and official single ethnicity. Students from China’s special 'Minzu University' (university for ethnicities), where the student population is ethnically more diverse and ethnicity is a very salient topic, were more likely to feel frustrated about the discrepancy between their Hui official ethnicity and their multiethnic backgrounds, because they felt their peers and instructors expected them to behave like Hui. Students from regular, Han-dominated universities, on the other hand, tend to see ethnicity as a symbolic label and downplay its salience in their life.
At the end of the interviews, most respondents expressed negative attitudes institutionalising multiethnic identities in China. This may be surprising as they themselves come from multiethnic backgrounds, but is not surprising if we consider that most of them identify themselves more as Hui than as mixed. It is possible that the authoritarian political culture in China makes people more likely to accept official ethnic categories as objective facts. The fact that China has an overwhelming Han population also means that the issue of mixed-ness has not received as much attention as in the Anglophone West.
Blog post by Xiang Lu, New York University, USA
Read the full article: Xiang, Lu. Official classification, affirmative action, and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1757249
A key scene in Danis Tanović’s Academy Award-winning film No Man’s Land (2001) features two soldiers, a Bosnian Muslim (a Bosniak) and a Bosnian Serb, who have gotten stuck in a trench during the 1990s Bosnian War. In their joint effort to escape from this unfortunate situation, they draw closer; they talk about their prewar lives and recognise that they have many things in common, even some common acquaintances. However, it comes as no surprise when, in the firestorm of bombshells, the question arises of who is responsible for the destruction of Yugoslavia, of their lives as they were before the murder and devastation. The two soldiers start to swap accusations until the armed Bosniak points his weapon at his opponent and asks one last time: ‘Who started the war?’
Around the world, conflicting parties engage in self-exculpation and self-victimisation – from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Sri Lanka, from Northern Ireland to South Africa, not to mention the Middle East. Denying one’s own responsibility and guilt and the fight over one’s own victim status seems to be a constitutive part of many conflicts and postwar situations. As socio-psychological and sociological research show, self-victimisation is accompanied by several advantages. It not only contributes to a stabilisation of group boundaries by fostering internal cohesion and outward demarcation, but also promotes feelings of moral superiority. Hence, self-victimisation is politically beneficial and a suitable tool for protecting one’s own we-ideal and with it one’s own I-ideal in the context of collective violence. It is the chosen mean to restore those facets of identity, which have potentially been corrupted or injured by the collective violence. But what happens when people are confronted with conflicting perspectives of reality, with perspectives according to which the respective ethnic in-group is not to be considered only as victim of war but also – or even exclusively – as perpetrator?
Drawing on a reconstructive analysis of in-depth interviews conducted in different regions of postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, I identify several strategies which enable people to cling to their self-image as victims, without having the desire (or the opportunity?) to point a weapon at the opponent. My Identities article, 'Identity, ethnic boundaries, and collective victimhood: analysing strategies of self-victimisation in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina', addresses how these strategies affect the symbolic boundaries between ethnic groups and with it the perception of we-ness. I argue that these strategies can be categorised into dissociative strategies, which conspicuously reproduce the dichotomy of victim and perpetrator along ethnic lines, and associative strategies, which seem to transcend this dichotomy. On closer examination, however, it becomes apparent that these seemingly associative strategies; for instance, the externalisation of guilt on outside third parties (like the international community) or the silencing of the war-torn past in interethnic encounters, do not necessarily contribute to an erosion of ethnic boundaries in postwar Bosnia. I suggest that, ultimately, they even reinforce ethnic boundaries. By avoiding conflicts with members of the ethnic out-group, one’s own narratives about the in-group’s moral and civilisational superiority is sheltered from external reappraisal. As a result, the in-group’s particular perspective on reality, and with it the ethnic boundary, is further consolidated.
Blog post by Ana Mijić, University of Vienna, Austria
Read the full article: Mijić, Ana. Identity, ethnic boundaries, and collective victimhood: analysing strategies of self-victimisation in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1748348
The concept of ‘cosmology’ has a long-standing history in anthropology. Derived from the ancient Greek ‘cosmos’ – order, harmony, world – and ‘logos’ – discourse – cosmology was historically intended as the knowledge or study of the structure and shape of the world.
In anthropology, cosmologies are conventionally defined as widespread representations of the world as a hierarchically ordered whole. Traditionally associated with the study of religions, cosmologies have progressively come to refer more generally to systems of classifications, and their related moral and emotional attitudes.
My Identities article, ‘Cosmologies and migration: on worldviews and their influence on mobility and immobility’, shows that this concept can be applied to understanding the hierarchical worldviews of a diasporic population, such as Eritrean migrants and their left behinds. In particular, the article argues that these worldviews are crucial to understand why people are ready to undertake very dangerous and complex journeys to reach their their 'promised land', as suggested by the Eritrean painter Ambasager Welday in his beautiful reinterpretation of the biblical exodus (see the image above).
To escape an undetermined national service, they leave Eritrea without a permit. They face the challenges of living as refugees in Ethiopia and Sudan with limited possibilities to move (out of camps) and prospects to work. Legal avenues to move out of these first asylum countries are also extremely limited: less than 1% of the refugee population worldwide manage to resettle in a third country. If Eritreans manage to reach southern Europe, usually Italy, they have a hard time finding decent housing and jobs that would allow them to achieve some socio-economic and existential stability. Due to the Dublin Regulation, however, many cannot easily move to other European countries. There are huge risks for those who attempt to cross the borders, including detention and harm, but being returned to Italy is often the most feared option among Eritreans.
The idea of cosmologies of destinations point to the specific moral prescriptions about where a migration journey should end and what the person that arrives there should do. The narratives of the many Eritrean refugees whom I met in Italy between 2008 and 2014 well represent these moral prescriptions. While survival in Eritrea becomes increasingly dependent on resources from abroad, Eritreans leave their homes not only to flee political oppression, but also to provide for those left behind. The journey, thus, should end where the migrant is able to fulfil his/her family obligations. ‘We are here for our families, not only for our own sake’, as one refugee living in a shanty town of Rome told me. He had already tried twice to seek asylum in Sweden and was on the verge of trying again.
In this context of transnational obligations, moral worthiness is judged by families and local communities on the basis of the support that migrants are able to offer in many different aspects. The comparison between migrants settled in different countries reproduces not only a hierarchy of moral worthiness among migrants – it also shapes a hierarchical shared imaginary in which some countries are pictured as transit places, such as Italy, and others as desired destinations, such as northern European countries.
Cosmologies of destinations represent crystallised hierarchies of geographic preferences widely shared by the members of a group. Building on previous literature on cultures of migration and geographic imaginaries, cosmologies of destinations point to the connection between imaginaries of places and the moral and symbolic values attached to living there. In doing so, it facilitates the understanding of how migrants can place their desired destinations in a hierarchy of value that motivates them to move on from the good to the better destination.
Blog post by Milena Belloni, The University of Antwerp, Belgium
Read the full article: Belloni, Milena. Cosmologies and migration: on worldviews and their influence on mobility and immobility. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1748357
If migration researchers feel unsafe participating in the public debate, what are the consequences for debate – and research?
I was just out of the TV studio after having finished an interview about a new book about social cohesion and migration that I had edited together with two colleagues. The interview went well, I was tired, it was late and I wanted to get home to sleep. Standing in the lobby of the Danish National Broadcasting Company I checked my email on my smartphone. I could see the headings of all new incoming emails, and the first of these included just one word: 'Liar'.
The email related to the interview that I had just carried out. At least this person had signed his email with a name that seemed to exist. Someone whom, when I looked him up, participated in discussions on the website of one of Scandinavia’s most radical right-wing organisations. In other instances, where someone – who disagreed beyond strongly with my research results - has sent me an email or even paper letters, there has not been any signature. Just a strong message of ‘you are wrong’.
I am not alone in having these kinds of experiences. In the spring of 2018 I carried out a survey among migration researchers in four Danish universities. The results of the survey are discussed in my Identities article, 'Boundary work: investigating the expert role of Danish migration researchers'. The survey focused on the researchers’ experience with participating in the public debate and experiences in that regard. The survey showed that Danish migration researchers were active participants in the public debate, for example by answering questions from news reporters, communicating research via TV and radio programmes, and writing articles for newspapers. Many researchers saw these activities as their duty; it was a way of contributing to a society that paid for their salary and which they wanted to keep informed and knowledgeable.
Participating in the debate, however, was far from easy. One researcher, to give one example, noted that: 'I have only rarely participated in the debate, and I feel that reporters very often have a story they want confirmed. If you do not confirm this story, I have on several occasions found that [the reporters] twist the story, which has unpleasant consequences for the people that I work with'. Another researcher noted that he/she felt 'burdened' by the public debate, and would rather spend his/her time writing academic articles where he/she could make a difference. And a third researcher noted that he/she was constantly afraid of having his/her research results misused and misinterpreted by journalists and politicians.
One may ask: but is this simply not the name of the game? If you as a researcher choose to work in a highly politicised research field, is someone calling you an idiot or a reporter misrepresenting something you said on a telephone not just something that you must live with – and eventually be thankful for? Is it not actually something that pulls research out of the ivory tower? And is a harsh tone not simply the tone of public debates in our times?
No respondents in the survey of Danish migration researchers had experienced being attacked physically in relation to their work. But a number had experienced threats and verbal abuse. More than half of the respondents felt unsafe participating in the public debate. The pertinent question here is: What are the results of feeling unsafe for researchers’ willingness to participate in public debates? Do researchers hold back certain aspects of their research or do they refrain from participating in the public debate, even when they have research results that are highly relevant? What is the effect on the debate? And what is the effect on research?
As a researcher, I will argue that we need to focus seriously on this problematic issue. And we need to gear our research institutions to handle and help their employees in this situation. As one respondent noted: 'Universities’ HR [human resources] workers are not aware of the problem, and they are not trained to handle it'.
Blog post by Garbi Schmidt, Roskilde University, Denmark
Read the full article: Schmidt, Garbi. Boundary work: investigating the expert role of Danish migration researchers. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1748347
Populists are in power, not because they miraculously solved the overwhelming problems the world faces today but, rather, they have captivating stories to tell. While the recent rise of populism has led to an immense body of academic work — now an industry of its own — this bourgeoning scholarship has focused heavily on social and economic drivers, yet neglected the narrative force of such movements. In fact, if politics is basically about storytelling, populist politicians have perfected the art. An essential question is then: What do populisms narrate?
National (or identitarian) populist leaders simply tell the same stories to their people. If one were to simply hide the names of leaders and national references in the statements of populists, it would be quite difficult to identify whether they belong to US President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán or Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan. They all position themselves to lead their respective nations with honour, well deserved from the past, through the troubled waters of the present, to the shores of a bright(er) future. By that narrative, they weave seemingly unconnected events to make sense of reality.
I address this point in my Identities article, ‘The chronopolitics of national populism’, and argue that, despite their claim for uniqueness, national populisms employ a common narrative template as a familiar and intelligible framework to interpret national and global developments. In the words of Christopher Clark, ‘As gravity bends light, so power bends time’ (2019, 1), as does populist power. National populisms operate by conflating the past, present and future into a single narrative to mobilise mass support. While materialising according to different cultural traditions, the populist template is underlined by an oversimplified grasp of temporality with stories revolving around binary notions: insiders versus outsiders, the people versus the elite. Its gravity and authenticity, however, derive from the emotive and affective capital invested in different temporal categories.
Resembling the Golden Age-Decline-Rebirth narrative, common to many nationalisms, the populist template is unique in many ways. It fundamentally narrates a present squeezed between two pasts and two possible futures. Contemporary populisms are neither progressive and futuristic nor reactionary and nostalgic on their own, but are instead centred in the present, opportunistically seeking to preserve its momentum in any way possible. In light of the conception of perpetual victimhood, it is the present when the people become embroiled in an existential struggle in a war against multiple enemies. The present represents an ostensibly unprecedented, exceptional crisis and epitomises the fear, uncertainty and anxiety marked by a primal survival instinct. The social contract to get out of this state of war requires more than cultivating the consent of the people — even more than establishing a Leviathan state. Specifically, it asks for the vigilantism of the citizens, who must unite around the populist leadership to withstand the onslaught.
My Identities article mainly illustrates how this narrative template has operated in Erdoğan’s populism with examples from different cases. His Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) has ruled Turkey for nearly two decades, offering an extensive window through which to observe some durable tenacious in both words and deeds. In addition to Turkey’s neo-imperial power projections for the future, the constant battles between conflicting representations of the past to validate the present and the future make the Turkish case especially noteworthy.
Invocations of the Ottoman past in Erdoğan’s populism serve as not only a source of national pride but also proof that the nation is destined for greatness. Despite the bright picture in the distant past, the recent past epitomises how some corrupt elite forces have disrupted the rightful destiny of the virtuous nation. This variation in the narrative helps explain and bridge the tension between a virtuous past and a degenerate present, placing the blame on extrinsic factors. In the Turkish case, multiple victimhood narratives swim in the same current: a) victimhood of the pious Anatolian people in the secular Kemalist regime, b) victimhood of the Turkish nation under assault by Western imperialist powers, and c) victimhood of the oppressed ummah, encircled by Crusaders and Zionists. Beside the differing narrations of distant and recent pasts, Turkish populism also envisages two opposed scenarios for the future: the total demise — if not extinction — of the people, or the return of the ‘good ol’ days’. That is why Erdoğan, in his speeches, commonly identifies references to the country being both teetering on the edge of the abyss of existential crisis, and walking down the path of a prosperous ‘New Turkey’. Between these two options, the present is driven by crisis and emergency and must be redeemed in Erdoğan’s ‘liberation war’ rhetoric.
The temporal construction of populisms has remained a blind spot in the academic literature. A comparative narrative approach across diverse cases in future research will be a much-needed contribution to the field of populism studies.
Blog post by Hakki Taş, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Germany
Read the full article:
Taş, Hakki. The chronopolitics of national populism. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1735160
'Free Kashmir', reads the placard held by a young Indian woman during an anti-Citizenship Amendment Act agitation at the Gateway of India, Mumbai, on 6 January 2020. That India cannot tolerate such 'separtist sentiments' is central to the outrage over the placard. People in her supporting circle defend it on the grounds that it meant freedom from Internet lockdown imposed since 5 August 2019 across Kashmir. The woman comes out with a statement: 'I was voicing my solidarity for the basic constitutional right'.
As Kashmiris, what does it mean to be shown solidarity with terms and conditions, one that disallows a Kashmiri from envisioning their freedom but dictates its meanings and interpretations for them? In our Identities piece, 'On Solidarity: Reading Love, Loss, and Longing in Kashmir', we engage with the question of solidarity through a critical reading of Sahba Husain’s book Love, Loss, and Longing in Kashmir. The multiple ways in which claims of solidarity are articulated by Indian ‘progressives’ often result in reflecting dominant narratives that obfuscate the lived realities of the occupied Kashmiri people. This is brought forth in the piece through an analysis of how the concepts of disillusionment, alienation, resilience find expression in these works.
Kashmiris have, over the decades, not only witnessed Indian State's war to suppress their aspirations of freedom, but also sugar-coated obfuscation by Indian academia and left-liberal activists of the popular struggle for Right to Self Determination. Quite rarely have Kashmiri voices for azadi been amplified the way Kashmiris articulate it. Most of the reports and works by Indians on Kashmir have otherwise been what Parrey (2019) refers to as ‘fact finding tourism’ – inaccurate and problematic.
A significant feature of such liberal, progressive works on Kashmir has also been to either present Kashmiri women as hapless victims, or needing to be saved from societal Islamic patriarchy. Their resistance and resilience is written as a spectacle, as if they have a choice in the matter when their homes and bodies are turned into battlegrounds. However, as Kashmiri women have shown over the years, they are not a spectacle when they are out on streets; they have been a significant presence alongside Kashmiri men demanding azadi. As they found their homes converted into battlefields, the women decided the terms of their participation in challenging the might of the Indian State. From the everyday acts of walking across militarised streets where they are subjected to the masculinist gaze of gun-wielding soldiers, to the institutionalised form of resistance through the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), for example, where personal loss finds expression in regular protests in the public sphere, women have refused to let a militaristic structure determine the form and structure of their resistance.
Despite widespread violence that has resulted in killings, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, torture, mass blinding, unmarked and mass graves, people have found ways to resist, to commit things to memory – every slogan on the street, every date that marks a massacre, form a part of the collective memory. But the State understands this memorialisation as threatening its very existence in Kashmir. In fact, APDP has been prohibited from even constructing a memorial in the memory of the disappeared. A marble plaque they tried to construct in Srinagar in 2002 was destroyed by the police within hours and two of its members were charged with trespassing.
In the years since militarisation of Kashmir, not only have acts of violence by Indian soldiers been perpetrated in the various physical structures of the State machinery including torture centres, camps, police stations, the streets, and even within the apparently safe spaces of homes, but entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed right from the initial days of counter-insurgency to break the will of the people. A news report quoted a retired lieutenant general of the Indian Army as saying that destroying houses has been a part of counter-insurgency, and there is no question of outrage, for ‘you are complicit’. Yet, conditional solidarities are extended to the ‘innocent Kashmiri civilian’ pitched in a binary against the violent Kashmiri other seeking freedom from India. The multi-layered military structure and its violent control necessitating multiple frontiers of resistance is either left out of due engagement or blamed on Kashmiris having been manipulated to commit violence.
When there are claims about solidarity with Kashmiris, it cannot be restricted to the Internet alone. Any genuine attempts at solidarity must understand and acknowledge these multiple layers in which the military occupation works: its physical, psychological, sexual manifestations in the everyday. The violations are a response to the Kashmiris’ demand for freedom from the Indian State, not within its constitutional framework. Therefore, we have argued that for Indians to ally with Kashmir, it is important to persistently re-centre Kashmiris’ articulations of a political imaginary that ensures freedom and a dignified life.
Parrey, A. A. 2019. Fact Finding Tourism. RAIOT, September 20.
Blog post by Mudasir Amin, Jamia Millia Islamia, India and Samreen Mushtaq, Ashoka University, India
Read the full article:
Amin, Mudasir & Mushtaq, Samreen. On Solidarity: Reading Love, Loss, and Longing in Kashmir. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1737405
On 25 February 2020, the Danish newspaper Berlingske had a main story showing how leading party members of the Social Democrats have put pressure on experts critical of the Party’s politics. Both while being in opposition and now forming the minority government, leading politicians have contacted organisations and independent experts (Holst 2020). The newspaper reports how experts and researchers have been contacted by people working for the Social Democrats or from people within the ministries and given warnings. The issues at stake do not all relate to migration research, but some do.
The story therefore connects well to my analysis presented in my Identities article, 'What makes an expert? Doing migration research in Denmark'. In the article, I outline four different types of migration experts who in different ways and with different weight have to navigate within a nexus of academia, the policy arena and the broader public. The first of these types is a positioning of the migration expert as one not offering any real solutions. This discussion stems from an internal debate within academia where a well-esteemed professor argued that a large part of research is becoming decoupled from ‘real politics’ and ‘reality’. The implication for him is a situation where the research community has created a ‘vacuum’, and in the absence of asylum and refugee researchers who can assist the decision-makers the politicians have begun to look for advice elsewhere.
The second positioning of experts has to do with the inclusion of experts outside academia. This tendency perhaps can be related to the first type of expert role, but also has to do with politicians seeking to legitimise policy plans beforehand by drawing on their own understanding of experts. In Denmark we see how the Social Democrats’ immigration plan was developed by a private consultancy firm hired by the Social Democrats and later praised in the media for offering easy understandable and realistic solutions. The consultants have all been working on policy-making in immigration but are not academic experts in a traditional sense. Their recommendations were disputed by experts within academia. Nevertheless, the report serves as a knowledge base for the Party now forming the government and thus in control of developing future migration policies.
Thirdly, I identify a position claiming that we are all experts. This position indicates that some decisions are better taken on gut feelings rather than being based on scientific evidence. This has been a trend in Danish policy-making for at least two decades. It makes it possible to ignore other research out there that might or might not speak against political ambitions and motivations and implement more ideologically-driven policies. The much debated ‘ghetto’ policy in Denmark is a good example of this tendency. Although we have strong research indicating what works and what does not, politicians have mainly ignored this research and argued that we sometimes just need to do what feels right.
Lastly, I describe a fourth type of positioning, referring to the non-recognition of experts, especially academics. It is an anti-elitist position, which claims that academics have no idea what reality looks like or what the ‘real’ problems are. Many of those of us working on immigration policy and politics have met this accusation. One journalist who criticised Danish migration research, for instance, wrote a piece arguing that ‘the analysis of the refugee crisis is more true at the sausage vendor than at the university’ (Jespersen 2017).
The article in Berlingske can be seen continuing these forms of questioning what makes an expert. It is a potential problem, which we need to address within academia and bring to the public. If policy-makers – and politicians – want evidence-based research how can we as researchers contribute to this, if our position at the same time is delegitimised?
I will end with the same question that I pose in my Identities article: What is my obligation as a migration researcher? It is using my knowledge and position to engage in critical reflexive knowledge production which may help improve the rights and conditions for the people I study and collaborate with.
Holst, H. K. 2020. Topfolk i Socialdemokratiet har presset kritiske eksperter af partiets politik: »Jeg vil bare advare dig. Christiansborg kan være en krigszone«. Berlingske. 25 February 2020.
Jespersen, N. 2017. Analysen af flygtningekrisen er mere sand ved pølsevognen end på universitetet. Ræson. 11 November 2017.
Blog post by Martin Bak Jørgensen, Aalborg University, Denmark
Read the full article: Jørgensen, Martin Bak. What makes an expert? Doing migration research in Denmark. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1725311
Recent calls to decolonise the university in South Africa culminated in the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the University of Cape Town and breathed new life into student-led campaigns around the world to rethink the curriculum. Challenging the colonial roots and Western biases of universities is, of course, not a twenty-first century phenomenon. However, in its latest iteration, the need to decolonise the university has been more clearly connected to the lived reality of the corporatised university as a distinct feature of the neoliberal era. Bringing debates on neoliberalism into closer conversation with a consideration of how neocolonialism is expressed in institutions of higher education has allowed for closer scrutiny of what ‘transformation’ actually means.
It has become abundantly clear to many of those who work and study in higher education, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. While the language of transformation has been woven into policies that have widened access to previously marginalised groups (including black and minority ethnic groups, women, indigenous and mature students), institutions of higher learning have a long way to go to dismantle the barriers to success that these groups face once inside the institutions.
My Identities article, ‘Rehumanising the university for an alternative future: decolonisation, alternative epistemologies and cognitive justice’, supports the view that substantive transformation of higher education requires an appreciation of other ways of knowing the world beyond Western epistemologies. Following the work of Portuguese sociologist, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, I argue that we need to complicate the lens through which we look at the world in order to reveal alternatives that are hidden in plain sight. Here, I am using the word ‘complicate’ to suggest a more expansive and intricate set of lenses that, when brought into the same frame, allows us to conceive of a reality that cannot be imagined through a single Western paradigm.
Santos speaks of an ‘ecology of knowledges’ to suggest that different approaches to knowing the world are incomplete in different ways and, therefore, potentially complementary. Inspired by this idea, I use the metaphor of a knowledge kaleidoscope, first, to signal the possibilities that come into view with a slight adjustment of the lens through which we look at the world. Second, the idea of a kaleidoscope will hopefully remind readers of being young and filled with excitement at the thought that the slightest turn of the tube reveals a pattern more fascinating and colorful than the last. Ultimately, my article is intended to cast a more optimistic gaze upon the neocolonial, neoliberal university than is presently the case across much scholarly writing on these topics.
If we were to think of language as one lens that we use to understand the world, it follows that the privileging of the English language in academia deprives us all of having access to multiple perspectives on the world. Relying on Fanon’s account of violence in the colonies, I argue that the marginalisation of indigenous and many other languages from the curriculum and scholarship in general is profoundly dehumanising. I ask what might become possible if we had the tools to conceive of reality in different ways.
For instance, in te reo (the language of New Zealand’s indigenous people), the word for land or territory is whenua. This very same word is used to denote placenta or afterbirth. If, in the Western world, we conceived of the land as a placenta, I wonder whether the ethic of extractivism that fuels the capitalist economy would be so unimaginable as to be absurd. A more considered integration of multiple languages (and the complexity of meaning that these bring) into our theoretical conceptions of social phenomena arguably would go much further in the quest for decolonisation than the occasional sign on a university building or translated email signatures or letterheads.
Questioning whether indigeneity has been side-lined in favour of internationalisation, my article explores the latter as a dimension of neocolonialism. It examines whether internalisation agendas that are being pursued quite aggressively in many universities in New Zealand and elsewhere are exclusively about raising the incomes and global standing of universities or whether – with some input from a wider range of stakeholders, including students – they can be adjusted to respond to the decolonisation imperative.
Blog post by Marcelle C. Dawson, University of Otago, New Zealand
Read the full article: Dawson, Marcelle C. Rehumanising the university for an alternative future: decolonisation, alternative epistemologies and cognitive justice. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1611072
The Domari Gypsy community of Jerusalem is relatively small; estimates suggest it comprises around 111 families. The numbers are larger in Gaza and the West bank, where it is estimated there are 15,000. Many Palestinians and Israelis are not aware that this community lives at the heart of city.
In the Arab world, and East Jerusalem included, Domari people are referred to as 'Nawar', a term which is said to be derived from fire. The Tribal Leader of the Domari in Jerusalem says that the word 'Nawar' (related to Noor or ‘light’ in Arabic) was given to them because they came to Jerusalem with the Muslim fighter Noor Al Din Zenki who fought alongside Salah Al-Din in 1187. Another suggested reason for the name is that many of the Domari worked as blacksmiths who used fire. However, stigma and discrimination against the community has led the name 'Nawar' to be filled with negative connotations; the word has evolved to describe unruly behaviour, as an insult, and is very much in use in conversation today.
I started researching the Domari community in Jerusalem in 2017. Getting members of the community to engage in this research was not easy. Palestinians residing in occupied East Jerusalem, including the Domari community, are in constant fear and suspicion of people asking questions about their lives, due to the fact that they do not have settled citizenship status in Israel and they only have residency permits. Following the occupation of East Jerusalem, Israel granted the Palestinian community and the Domari community living there residency status. With no citizenship status in any other country, their fragile legal status makes them reluctant to share information about their lives, as they fear they risk losing their residency rights.
I managed to reach fifteen Domari women residing in Jerusalem and conducted in-depth interviews with them. Their narratives were analysed through an intersectional lens to expose the multiple oppressions to which they are subject. Their stories reveal high levels of stigma and isolation, which have disempowered members of the community and perpetuated the cycle of their exclusion. Exploring the social prospects and standing of Domari women in East Jerusalem, one needs to understand the power relations and the political and socio-economic hierarchies in the city. In the context of Jerusalem, the hegemonic forces of colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy shape the experiences of people residing in the city.
In my Identities article, 'The social exclusion of the Domari society of Gypsies in Jerusalem: a story narrated by the women of the tribe', I draw on these interviews and offer a description of the institutional discrimination Domari women face in Jerusalem from several aspects: their interaction with governmental institutions, their experiences in the labour market, the social services they receive, and their interaction with their surrounding community and neighbours. My article looks into the women's distinctive unequal and stigmatised social experiences in the city and the intersecting systems of power that create and reproduce their loss of status, and hence their exclusion.
These women's narrated stories reflect a feeling of isolation from both the Palestinian and Israeli communities. The women interviewed resided in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the city. Living under Israeli rule, the socially constructed value of their language, ethnicity and religion is less than that of Jewish Israeli citizens. Their residency status and lack of citizenship disempowers them further, curtailing their life opportunities. Their stigmatised identities as women from an ethnic minority result in several systems of oppression, operating against them simultaneously, denying them access to resources, equal social rights, work opportunities, wealth and power.
Blog post by Rawan Asali Nuseibeh, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Read the full article: Nuseibeh, Rawan Asali. The social exclusion of the Domari society of Gypsies in Jerusalem: a story narrated by the women of the tribe. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1738130