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Research

Migrancy and Unsettlement

On Dec. 16, 2015, CGT member Rosalind Morris led a brainstorming session for a proposed CGT research project on a rigorous theoretical exploration of the concepts, questions and tasks of responding to the current and short-term future of migrancy. The numbers of people who are presently displaced from their homes ranges from several hundred million to more than a billion. These ‘unsettled’ people may be stateless or without access to the securities that are tied to residency within a single political jurisdiction. Many of the organizing concepts and ‘institutionalities’ through which we have previously addressed questions of migrancy need to be either radically rethought or abandoned. We need to rethink the presumptive oppositions between voluntary and involuntary movement linked to the distinction between political and criminal violence, and between temporary versus permanent migration.

The research project, ‘Dislocation and Unsettlement: Migrancy in the New Millennium,’ would convene a group of scholars in a rigorous theoretical exploration of the concepts, questions and tasks of responding to the current and short-term future of migrancy.

The initial undertaking of the group would be to read and review the major strands of thought that have informed our understanding of migrancy, from across the social sciences and humanities. Once or twice a month, the group would convene with a set of readings, including major theoretical work and contemporary policy documents (such as Arendt on the refugee, and UNHCR reports). The responsibility for each set of readings would fall to a different member, who would provide context, contribute an introduction and provide some intellectual shepherding of the conversation. This ‘reading group’ would be supplemented by occasional (1 per semester), thematic symposia at which case studies would be presented by scholars from a variety of disciplines with long-term and specific engagement with these issues. The symposia might be regional or topical in focus, but in their aggregate they should permit sustained, cross-historical and crossregional comparison so that we are able to distinguish long-term continuities within which new intensities can be grasped. At the same time, we do not want to lose the capacity to distinguish between the different kinds of migrancy associated with different political and economic logics, different legal regimes, and in the context of different histories.

Stage Two of the project could include engagement with more professionally practical dimensions of these issues: in law, architecture and spatial planning, public health, environmental sciences, engineering and the arts, as possible and appropriate. It is not necessary that those engaged in Stage One would be involved in Stage Two of the project in the same degree. Indeed, as the project matures, it will like entail a multiplication and even a splitting of possible activities, and a diversification of partnerships—depending on interest, funding and institutional support. A possible intervention at the interface between these two stages would be the creation of a publication or a series of publications organized around specific problematics. The platform might vary, depending on topic, and the publications would ideally address themselves to a diversity of audiences, via scholarly monographs or edited volumes and special issues, via more provisional, web-based media, via more popular writer formats, such as Global Reports, or in catalogs associated with artistic collaborations and installations.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATORS

Professor of Anthropology
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