Migration and Dance

Amyaz Moledina and Rachel Lau ’19

Migration is a subject of great debate the world over. Perhaps the reason for controversy and debate has to do with how movement, which is central to migration, has been conceptualized and associated with imagined concepts like “home” and “host” which is further confused with the imagined community of nations. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Ghana discussing Liberian refugees, in Jordan talking about Palestinians, or in India discussing Hindu’s, Muslims or Kashmir, we are surrounded by narratives of difference. There is plenty of (scientific) evidence that suggests that difference is perhaps the wrong way to understand humanity. After all, Spencer Wells and plenty of other scientists, not to mention humanists, have shown we are all related. We have more in common than we care to admit. How does one bring people to this realization? Ribeiro and Fonseca (2011) write that: “Dance, an activity endowed with intentional expressivity and intrinsic affectivity” can be used to stimulate empathy. “When dancers improvise, they understand each other’s motor intentions and emotions. Thus, the dancers share decision making and build an ephemeral movement structure.”

Peter Pucci, an accomplished choreographer and the founder and director of Peter Pucci Plus Dancers, first investigated the intersection between migration and dance after hearing about the work of geneticist Spencer Wells on the history of migration in the world. Through research into DNA sequencing, Wells concluded that all modern-day humans share a common ancestor. Thus, individuals are not only 99.9% similar in terms of their DNA, but also have been in contact through historical movement of peoples over millennia. Pucci’s fascination with the relationship between migration and human relatedness became the driving force of his creation “Migration.” First performed in 2018 in Baltimore, “Migration” brought together 50 dancers consisting a mix of professionals and local high school and college students to “move together.”

Meanwhile, a group of faculty members at The College of Wooster formed after the Faculty College of Mobility and Movement in 2018 were working on reconceptualizing migration. They were interested in building community and bridging divides. A body of research indicates that the use of dance and movement can be used to develop social bonds and mutual understanding. Sheppard and Broughton (2020) argue that dance participation improves social well-being, and Yamamoto (2015) shows that positive social change can be attributed to arts education. The Social Impact of the Arts Project (2002) demonstrates that community arts activities can reinvigorate communities. Moreover, Ribeiro and Fonseca (2010) explore how dance improvisation enables certain neurological processes allowing empathy among individuals. Given the potential of dance as a tool for community building, the collective energy of Laura Sirot, Amyaz Moledina, and Kim Tritt, later joined by Mareike Herrmann and Niklas Manz, proposed a kinetic experience to bring different groups closer together. Their goal was to merge perspectives and the movement of seemingly unrelated bodies in an collectively choregraphed ephemeral movement. The generous support from The College of Wooster’s President’s Office using funds from a Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant brought about the Migration and Dance project at The College of Wooster from September 6th to 14th in 2019.

Peter Pucci was invited to facilitate the week-long event given his interest in migration and movement along with his experience working with diverse groups of people of various ages and backgrounds. As Pucci puts it, “Inevitably, everyone that you’re working with is from somewhere else.” Just as you have an eclectic group of artists working together for the same production, from directors, performers, to light, set, and costumer designers, you have people from varying social-economic, political, and religious backgrounds working together in any given time no matter where you go. Everyone is constantly collaborating with everyone else.

In an interview with a student participant of the program, Sam Powers remarks that “A great way to get to know people is to move together.” Powers’ comment captures the sentiment of Migration and Dance as an interdisciplinary kinetic learning experience. 

A diverse group of individuals were involved in the project. Participants included a group of volunteers and students and faculty of three different classes, including the Choreography class taught by professor Kim Tritt from the Theatre & Dance department, the Transnational Migration in Germany class taught by professor Mareike Herrmann of both the Film Studies and German & Russian Studies departments, and a First-Year-Seminar class taught by professor Niklas Manz from the Physics department. The collaborative efforts resulting from this event were showcased on the main stage of McGaw Chapel in an informal workshop performance on Saturday, September 14, 2019. The show featured the performance of nine movement pieces that were collaboratively choreographed over a week of rehearsals. Ending the showcase was an improvised piece titled “Migration Mashup” where all the participants spontaneously and organically choreographed their movements into a collective performance. While the audience enjoyed the performances on the stage, they also had the opportunity to learn about the work and the thought process that went into the performances through an open discussion with the performers.

In interviews with the participants during the event, the value of setting the stage for cross-disciplinary collaboration became evident (see video above). As Pucci mentions, “Everyone feels empowered… and connected to the process.” While Migration and Dance examined migration through movement, the event also went further. Themes that came up in the student reflections showcased in the video above echo the insights from the body of research on dance, empathy, and social well-being. For example, Ethan Samangy and Lijiayi Wang’s comments about “fun” and “friendships” reinforce Sheppard and Broughton’s (2020) argument that dance can improve social well-being. Crystal Sermon in her reflection mentions how she was able to explore other people’s natural movements and how this pushed her chorographically. Sermon’s point echoes Ribeiro and Fonseca’s (2010) idea that “In contemporary dance improvisation, dancers are simultaneously their own choreographers and their partners’ spectators. The dancers have to be aware of themselves and of their partners.” Jack Doughty reflects… “I don’t usually work too well with others necessarily; Or don’t open-myself-up like that, especially with dancing…At the end of the day, its pretty cool how you can spend so much time prepping for something… and turn it into something that is short, concise, and beautiful!” This illustrates Ribeiro and Fonseca’s point about overcoming (imaginary) limitations to create an ephemeral movement structure. Ensleigh Hollon also reflects, “Everyone is a dancer, even if they don’t think they are…. And can come together.” She points out, “Those different movements are our common denominator”. The takeaways from this kinetic learning experience were not only academic, but apply to everyday life. Perhaps, empathy built through movement is the key to move towards an imagined community that we all belong to, regardless of where we were born, how we look, or the place we call “home”.

Mobility and Migration in Graphic Novels and Graphic Journalism

By Amyaz Moledina

Wooster will be hosting Thi Bui, in September. Her book, The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir on Abrams ComicArts has been chosen as the 2019 Summer reading. The graphic novel is an exciting genre. I thought I would put together a quick list of resources to help any of you that will teach her book. I also add some other graphic novels that discuss various aspects of mobility and migration.

Background on Vietnam:

  1. Information for First Years from the “First Year Experience” at UCLA.
  2. Bui, Thi. “Reexamining the Refugee Story
  3. Bui, Thi “Precious Time” Illustrated PEN America.
  4. Earle, Harriet E. H. (2018) “A new face for an old fight: Reimagining Vietnam in Vietnamese-American graphic memoirs.” Studies in Comics . Jun2018, Vol. 9 Issue 1, p87-105. 19p.
  5. Chung, Tiffiny “Vietnam: Past is Prologue” Exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum. Till September 2019.
  6. Carruthers, Ashley. Exile and return : Deterritorialising national imaginaries in Vietnam and the diaspora. Oct-2008. University of Sydney.
  7. Lindquist, J., Xiang, B., & Yeoh, B. S. (2012). Opening the black box of migration: Brokers, the organization of transnational mobility and the changing political economy in Asia. Pacific Affairs, 85(1), 7-19.
Other Graphic Novels
  1. Baddawi, Leila. Abdelrazaq, Pen America. https://pen.org/baddawi/
  2. Behan, Teju.. (2018). Drawing From The City. Tara Books, India
  3. Bessora and Barroux, trans. from the French by Sarah Ardizzone.Alpha: Abidjan to Paris Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), (128p) ISBN 978-1-942658-40-5.
  4. Blaufarb, R., & Clarke, L. (2015). Inhuman traffick: The international struggle against the transatlantic slave trade : a graphic history. Oxford University Press.
  5. Caplan, Bryan and Zach Weinersmith (illustrator) Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration. First Second. United States.
  6. Colfer , Eoin and Andrew Donkin, illus. by Giovanni Rigano. Illegal Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, (128p) ISBN 978-1-4926-6214-3.
  7. Fitzgerald, A. (2018). Drawn to Berlin: Comic workshops in refugee shelters and other stories from a new Europe. Seattle, WA : Fantagraphics Books
  8. Kleist, Reinhard. An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar. Self Made Hero. Apr. 2016. 152p. tr. from German by Ivanka Hahnenberger. ISBN 9781910593097.
  9. Kugler, Olivier. Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees. Penn State Univ, (88p) ISBN 978-0-271-08224-0.
  10. Ruillier, Jérôme. trans. from the French by Helge Dascher. The Strange Drawn & Quarterly, (160p) ISBN 978-1-77046-317-2.
  11. Sattouf, Riad The Arab of the future a graphic memoir : a childhood in the Middle East (1978-1984) New York : Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2015
  12. Shyam, B., Rao, S., & Wolf-Sampath, G. (2018). The London Jungle Book. Tara Books, India.
  13. Sulaiman, Hamid, trans. from the French by Francesca Barrie. Freedom Hospital: A Syrian Story. Interlink, (288p) ISBN 978-1-62371-995-1.
  14. Tan, Shaun. (2006) The Arrival. Hodder & Stoughton
  15. Tran, G. B. 1. (2010). Vietnamerica: A family’s journey. New York: Villard Books.
  16. Tonatiuh, Duncan, Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight Abrams ComicArts. Abrams Books. August 7. 2018.
  17. Vann, Michael G. and Liz Clarke (Author) The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empire, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Graphic History Series) 1st Edition. Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2018)

Graphic Journalism
Graphics journalism is a special form of journalism. It uses both words and graphic forms to present information. Merging comic art with journalistic processes, it reconfigures conventional notions of how we should consume news. Here are a few examples that deal with the issue of migration.


See the two websites below for more pedagogy modules and an example of a collaboration between three courses.

Moledina, Amyaz. Leah Mirakhor and Matthew Krain (2015) “Borderlands: An interdisciplinary inquiry into Human Trafficking.

Moledina, Amyaz et al. (2018). “Challenging Borders: Resources for Teaching and Learning.”

Gendered (Im)mobilities at the U.S.-Mexico Border

The US-Mexico border has long served as a point of contention yet also as a meeting point; as both a site of transgression as well as a site of legal regulation and containment. Some scholars refer to the border region as a denationalized space that is less regulated; others focus on how borders areas become highly contested, reterritorialized spaces as a result of immigration and trade laws from agreements such as NAFTA, and related processes of border militarization.poster

You are invited to a public lecture on “Gendered (Im)mobilities at the U.S.-Mexico Border: From 9/11 to the Trump Era“. The talk will take place on Tuesday October 23rd at 7:30pm in Lean Lecture Room, Wishart Hall 303 E. University St. College of Wooster. The event was live-streamed and an archive is here.

Professor Amy Lind, Mary Ellen Heintz Professor and Head of the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati will speak about her most recent book Feminist (Im)mobilities in Fortressing North America. In this discussion Dr. Lind will center poor migrant women’s experiences crossing the border as a way to rescale the discussion. She will take embodied experience into account, and make connections between gender and broader struggles concerning sovereignty, citizenship, national security, and migration.

Faculty College a Success!

Faculty and staff from five GLCA Colleges gathered in Wooster Ohio on May 20-23rd, 2018 to discuss mobility and movement. We hosted five speakers from diverse fields to discuss their research and the so-called “Mobilities turn”. The Faculty College was inspired by the desire to move beyond conventional ways of thinking about migration.

Participants of the Faculty College

More importantly, we wanted to create a network of scholars thinking, learning, and reflecting on the pedagogies of mobility beyond the borders of our institutions and traditional academic scholarship. We seek to “Open Education” and promote other forms of activist scholarship. During the College, faculty and staff brainstormed research projects that we could collaborate on going forward. If you would like to see the lectures, please check out our YouTube Stream.

Following are examples of germinating projects and project leads.

    1. Oral History Project (Brian Miller and Laura Reeck)
    2. Edited Volume. Working Title: “Conceptualizing and Living (Im)mobilities and Bordering Practices”
    3. Mobility of Material Culture and Ideas (Jim Bonk and Margaret Ng).
    4. Walls, Towers, Weapons Wires: Materializing Mobilities and Immobilities (Rebecca Alexander)
    5. Ecology of Mobilities (Katie Holt)
    6. Footsteps through Migration (Laura Sirot and Kim Tritt)

Feminist (im)mobilities and Liquid Fractures: Migration and Mobility in North America and the Mediterranean

For over a year, a diverse group of faculty, staff, and students across the Great Lakes Colleges Association have endeavored to build an interdisciplinary research and learning community between educational institutions. Our goal is to recast limiting notions of migration towards inclusive notions of mobility and movement. Mobility examines the processes, structure, and consequences of the movement of people, resources, commodities, and ideas.

Continuing its commitment to “Challenging Borders” the College of Wooster will host a panel discussion on contemporary issues related to migration and the dynamic relationship between the mobility of people, ideas, and commodities. In this panel, we will focus on two geographies, North America and the Mediterranean. Our central question is how policies, histories, ideas, imaginations, and institutional structures have suppressed the movement of some and facilitated the movement of others. The panel discussion will be held in Wishart Hall, Lean Lecture Room at 7:30pm on April 19th. The event was free and open to the public and was also live-streamed. (The archive is here).

A “mobilities mindset” requires us to ask questions differently. Who gets to move? Who doesn’t move, and why? It asks us recognize (structural) power relationships that give rise to movement and lack of movement.

Movement is rooted in “particular times, places and local cultures” (Greenblatt, 2009). As such, we are focusing the panel discussion on the realities and discourses surrounding two borders, the US-Mexico Border and the (imagined) Mediterranean border between Europe and North Africa. Amy Lind will speak about Feminist (Im)mobilities, NAFTA, and the post-9/11 US-Mexico Border and Maurizio Albahari, will talk about migration via the Mediterranean route.

Dr. Lind is Mary Ellen Heintz Professor and Head of the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of Gendered Paradoxes: Women’s Movements, State Restructuring, and Global Development in Ecuador (Penn State University Press, 2005), and editor of four volumes, including Feminist (Im)mobilities in Fortress(ing) North America: Rights, Citizenships and Identities in Transnational Perspective (Ashgate Publishing, 2013). This work engaged feminist scholars/activists from Mexico, Canada and the US, she will discuss how NAFTA has resulted in “mobile bodies” but immobile citizenships. Her work has been motivated by knowledge that “until recently, feminist knowledge production itself has often occurred through a nationalist lens which sometimes propagates, rather than questions, state power and global hegemonies”. (Runyan, Lind et al, 2016)

Maurizio Albahari is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, where he is also concurrent Associate Professor in the Keough School of Global Affairs. He is the author of Crimes of Peace: Mediterranean Migrations at the World’s Deadliest Border (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). His articles and editorials on refugee mobility and related civic engagement in the Euro-Mediterranean context have appeared in interdisciplinary and news media venues including the Journal on Migration and Human Security, Social Research, Humanity, Anthropological Quarterly, History News Network, openDemocracy, Perspektif Magazine, Fox News, and CNN.

Dr. Albahari, in “After the Shipwreck..” argues that “Entrenched contradictions are likely to resurface in the Mediterranean.” When it comes to the European and global regulation of mobility (rather than commodities), the “neofeudal” dimension grasped by Carens (2012) is an especially apt qualifier. The neofeudal regime can only be implemented through the infrastructure of mass detention and removal,” amongst other political agreements and structures.(page 280). Albahari, like Lind, also questions his own position in the tragedies he reports on in the Mediterranean. “Through my research, I know that in order to unsettle civic apathy I need to represent migrants as they are, not as they are expected to be, which is often trafficked victims to be saved or grateful recipients of charity. How can I summon the memory of drowned lives in a way that goes beyond moral denunciation and personally redeeming gestures?

Please join us for what promises to be a provocative panel on April 19th, 2018. We thank our sponsors: the Cultural Events Committee, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Global and International Studies, and the GLCA Challenging Borders Project.

Albahari, Maurizio. 2016. “After the Shipwreck: Mourning and Citizenship in the Mediterranean, Our Sea.” Social Research 83(2): 275–94.
Carens, J. H. (2014). An overview of the ethics of immigration. Critical Review Of International Social & Political Philosophy, 17(5), 538-559
Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. 2010. Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Runyan, Anne Sisson, Amy Lind, and Marianne Marchand, eds. 2013. Feminist (Im)Mobilities in Fortress(Ing) North America: Rights, Citizenships, and Identities in Transnational Perspective. Farnham, Surrey ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Permanent Transients: Gendering the Narratives of Iraqi Women Refugees in Jordan

By Isis Nusair

This post is based on extensive ethnographic research conducted between 2007-2011 with Iraqi women refugees in Jordan and with representatives of the United Nations and national and international aid organizations. The majority of the women I interviewed arrived in Jordan after the 2003 United States-led invasion of Iraq, with most arriving between 2005-2006. The women’s age ranged from 18 to 72 and I deliberately chose to interview women who came from different parts of Iraq, and who had different economic, educational, ethnic, political and religious backgrounds. My research is informed by feminist participatory research methodology and educational theory. I am very aware of the need for relational/reflective approaches and historicization of the women’s context. Throughout my work, I privilege an ethnographic approach in which the voices of the women frame my conceptual understanding and analysis of their situation. Rather than apply theoretical frameworks to their narratives and in this way hem in and constrain the meaning I might derive, I instead reflect on the multiple layers of meaning in what the women reveal. I then consider what theoretical insights can help deepen my understanding of their discourses and shifting, lived experiences.

Fixed Temporality
The politics of being a refugee has as much to do with the cultural expectation of certain qualities and behaviors that are demonstrative of “authentic” refugeeness (e.g., silence, passivity, victimhood) as it does with legal definitions of regulations (Nyers, 2006: xv). I refrain from using the term “guests” to describe Iraqi refugees in Jordan. “Guests” is the official term used in Jordan to connote hospitality and the temporary nature of the Iraqi refugees’ presence in the country. Many refugees referred directly to this contradiction and explained the lack of rights associated with the term “guests” and the fact that many of them have been “guests” in Jordan for a number of years (see Chatelard). The majority described their presence in Jordan as temporary and explained that the main reason behind their leaving Iraq was to seek safety and protect their children from violence.

Hana, a widow in her fifties, described the situation as up in the air, “we do not know our destiny. The Jordanian government might ask us to leave at any moment…There is no rest for a guest. It is heavy, if we were to work, the situation could have been better…I am responsible for the house and the kids. The responsibility of a daughter and a disabled child is on me.” An artist couple in their forties said, “There is no guarantee for us and for our children here…We are like prisoners, like the torn album thrown in the wind…We are not refugees because we do not have rights as refugees…We are dispersed and not refugees.” Suad, a woman in her early sixties whose house was broken into and who was kidnapped in Iraq in 2006 added, “There is no stability. Our living in Amman is temporary as they might ask us to leave at any moment. If it were not for my kids, I would not be here.” She concluded by saying that the situation in her country will take a long time to resolve and that her extended family is dispersed in the Arab Gulf states and in Europe.

This sense of no return was reiterated by the majority of the women I interviewed. Sameera, born in 1958, has been in Jordan since 2007. She came to Jordan with her children following the assassination of her husband in 2007. Sameera is not registered with the United Nations. She described how she does not have any ambition to go back to Iraq, and that not much is left of this life. She concluded by saying, “We have seen a lot.” Nadia, an Iraqi painter in her early seventies, described how people were afraid to say a word under the Ba’th regime, and how she does not interact much with the Jordanian society. “Nothing is left…Our group [family] is dispersed. This is our situation, some are in Qatar, New Zealand, and Sweden…When they [the Americans] occupied us, they did not bring a democratic life and the situation became worse. Now we miss the Saddam days…Many families do not have money to go back and visit their homes. This is a long-term stay for us for where could we go?” Nadia, as did many women interviewed, was steadfast and emphasized that life continues despite the cruelty of the situation. “We are still better than others…I do not have hope that Iraq will return. At times, my husband and I say, ‘What have they done to us?’ We have lost a lot.”

Contesting Terminology
Nyers argues that “the refugees’ relationship to the political can be described as a kind of ‘inclusive exclusion.’ Refugees are included in the discourse of ‘normality’ and ‘order’ only by virtue of their exclusion from the normal identities and ordered spaces of the sovereign state (xiii).” Sama, an Iraqi performance artist in her early fifties started the interview by saying, “I do not like the word refuge. I prefer shelter…There is no security and if it was not for my son, I would not have left…I do not like to philosophize. Before we were able to dream and work to achieve our dreams. Today we only have one dream and we are even afraid to dream it.” She described how in the last five years she has been unable to perform despite the proposals she receives. “I feel that I cannot reflect what the country [Iraq] is going through.” This sense of paralysis was echoed by many women refugees who were traumatized by what they went through before their arrival in Jordan (see Dahl, 2005). They expressed the limits on their space and the contradictions they live through, especially that they came to Jordan seeking security and found instability instead. This instability is a product of the temporality of their presence in the country as they have to constantly pay fees to renew their visas and avoid deportation.

Sana, a woman in her late twenties said, “We sacrificed everything for security…The main thing is to feel stable and to be respected as human beings. If there is work, no one is incapable.” Rabiha, a journalist in her late fifties, described this contradiction between visibility and invisibility when talking about her job. She publishes daily and weekly articles in a major Jordanian newspaper and her articles are translated regularly into different languages. Although she is a well-known journalist in the region, she was granted residency in Jordan through her son’s work permit and not through her credentials as a journalist. She says, “The person that does not have a country does not have protection. Iraqis are not treated well because no one protects them and defends their rights. This was also the case during the sanctions regime…There is no security and the poor suffer the most. If the situation remains as is, we will all be poor.”

Sana, age twenty-five, has been living in Jordan since 1994. She elaborated on the contradiction in her life of being an Iraqi refugee in Jordan by saying, “we are breaking the law, there are no permits for work and no stability…You feel like a stranger…it is important that the situation becomes stable, and salaries need to increase. There needs to be security, and you need to be strong, otherwise you could be exploited.” Sana acknowledged throughout the interview that her family’s situation in Jordan will not improve and that it is better that they return to Iraq. Yet, she emphasized that as long as the situation does not improve in Iraq then they will be afraid to go back. She concluded by saying, “we live in exile, and there is no stability or security…there is no stability from the inside. We always feel that there is something missing…You speak two languages, Iraqi inside the house and Jordanian outside. The psychology of it all is hard and the way people treat you is hard as well. The situation is normal now as a result of what we went through. We laugh despite the circumstances.”

The Limits of the Research Process
The humanitarian discourse around refugees is dominated by a problem-solving mentality that defines refugee movement as a technical problem in need of rapid solutions. Humanitarian solutions to the phenomenon of the refugee enact a spatial reversal of the binary citizen-refugee to transform the refugee’s lack into a positive presence (Nyers, 2006). These solutions take the form of restoring statist identities and communities to refugees (settlement in a third country or repatriation). Since these options are mostly unavailable for Iraqi refugees in Jordan, what is needed are perspectives that are open to the possibility of political and ethical engagements that do not reproduce the sovereign codes that doom refugees to the status of “speechless emissaries” (14).

In a context where many refugee women are in dire need of aid, it was imperative for me to emphasize that the research I was carrying out will help expose the issues but not necessarily resolve the problems. This challenge exposed the limits of the research process itself in affecting meaningful change in the life of the refugees (see Bloch et al., 2000). The women were well aware of this limitation. Suha said, “Iraqis are tired and need solutions and not surveys and application forms. We need tangible things.” Many women emphasized that despite these limitations they had a need to make their stories heard. Hajdukowski-Ahmed et al. (2008) argue that through voice and voicing, agency and power are reclaimed by marginalized groups. Yet Olujc (as quoted in Hajdukowski-Ahmed) reminds us that we may give voice to the victims of violence but we can never restore their lives (19). Many of the aid workers I interviewed emphasized how difficult it was to provide psychological aid to Iraqi refugees who have other stressing material needs.

I was constantly reminded as I conducted the interviews of the need to be attentive to the complexity embedded in the women’s narratives and their coping mechanisms. The majority of the women did not elaborate or provide graphic details of what they went through before leaving Iraq. They positioned their experiences as part of a larger collective, and made clear connections between the hardships they had to endure while living under the Ba’th regime and sanctions, and in the aftermath of the U.S. led invasion in 2003 (See Ismael & Ismael, 2000; Al-Ali, 2007; Al-Jawaheri 2008; Al-Ali & Pratt, 2009). Zeina, a medical doctor who was kidnapped and severely harassed for five days in 2004, said that she came to Jordan to overcome the shock that she went through. “I need security to go back. We are thankful to Jordan but the prospect of return worsens by the day…There was a loss of security, and everything collapsed.”

References to trauma as well as paralyses were particularly present in the narratives of younger women as they were still navigating a personal and professional path for themselves. Nadine, a woman in her early twenties who studied Computer Science in Iraq said, “My life passes me by, stops, like a machine that has not been used for a long time. I need to get out of this paralysis that I am in…Sometimes I see my future as black, that my life will end here with no chance to advance, and that the situation will become worse…[we are] like refugees with no past, present or future. All this could be overcome as long as I have my family with me and I feel settled and comfortable where I live. Work [in Jordan] is a waste of time, and you cannot advance.” Nadine described how she was followed by a car with militia men while in Iraq and how she had to flee with her mother to Amman as her father and brother remained behind. She emphasized throughout the interview that if her country were to return to the way it was, she would immediately go back. For her, the Iraq she knew and grew up in, is no longer there. Nadine described how she has been unable to work or develop in her field and that work conditions for Iraqi refugees in Jordan are exploitative. This was echoed by Hanan and Zeina, two sisters who fled to Jordan with their dad and other sister as their mother and brothers remained behind. They fled because of threats made against the older sister, Hanan, who worked as a translator with the Americans. Zeina, a school teacher by training, described how depressed she feels and how she gained weight as she stays mostly at home cooking and watching TV. She described her two-year experience of working in a factory in Amman as exploitative with no opportunity for advancement. “They would not pay for work permits or health insurance. There is no stability, no stability. I feel like an intruder, I am not for this place and nothing in it connects me to it…We as Iraqis hope that they will give us asylum and a place to settle. There is no security, neither here nor there. Everything is hanging.” Hanan, on the other hand, described her inability to politically organize for Iraqi refugee rights in Jordan and how the Moukhabarat (Jordanian Intelligence Agency) called her for questioning about her activities.

Suha, a divorced woman in her late thirties with three children (one of them is disabled) described how she felt alienated and denied identity. “There are lots of people without families. They do not have self-confidence and they have no confidence in others…Iraqis are tormented…I am alone and my burden is heavy…I need a home where I could settle down…The hope is to leave. That is how we could get our rights and feel secure. We are supposed to be refugees but not here. Here is temporary…Despite the Saddam regime, Iraq was our country…the situation today is barbaric…We got used to exile and difficulties, yet change might help make things better.” She concluded the interview by saying, “maybe it will be better in a foreign country…Things will not improve in Iraq even after ten years…It is hard to see the country fall apart in front of your eyes. This is what hurts. I live in constant worry yet I am optimistic and won’t despair…My hope is to gain independence and immigrate.” Suha’s persistence in sustaining her presence as a woman and as an Iraqi is illustrated in her wish, “I want to be able to say in the future that this is my home, I do not want people to control me.”

Nyers (2006) argues that refugee situations should be understood as complex and multidimensional sites of identity. Within this context a crisis situation is a contested social construction involving a variety of competing political, cultural and identity practices. He warns against emptying all notions of political agency from refugee subjectivity, especially that the prevailing attitude in conventional analyses of refugee movements is one that provides no place for refugees to articulate their experiences and struggles or to assert their (often collectively conceived) political agency. The open-ended nature of the interviews where the focus was on the causes that prompted the women to leave Iraq and the transition and challenges they currently face as Iraqi women refugees in Jordan, opened a space for the women to reflect on their experiences and construct a narrative that analyzed their situation and visions for the future. Hardgrove (2009) argues that as families work to balance demands with capabilities, they are constantly in the process of interpreting their circumstances by assigning meanings to themselves and their context (484). Relating to the refugee experience as a politicized process of contestation and becoming emphasizes the connection and continuum between their life before and after their arrival in Jordan.

The majority of Iraqi women interviewed described the militarization of their lives and the continuities between the past and present, their current status in Jordan and their living through the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), the Gulf War (1990) and life under the sanctions regime (1990-2003). Sama vividly recalled living under the Ba’th regime. She said, “terror was implanted even among the members of the same family…When I remember it now, I feel the bitterness more than when we lived it. We live in exile, we flee from the unknown.” She spoke about the impact of the Iran-Iraq war, “it was then that things started to deteriorate. We lived as if suffocated and pretended to be living…I used to walk by the wall [to protect herself from the Ba’th regime] and if my death would have made a difference I would have sacrificed myself.” Suha recalled how under the sanctions regime, they were unable to achieve anything. “You were unable to develop; only sleep and eat.” These were the same words that many women refugees used to describe their situation in Jordan. Suha added, “the war [with Iran] started when we were children. We grew up with war and bombing, and something died inside. We lived from one war to another; we were barely living.”

I conducted the research with a firm political engagement to analyze the gendered nature of Iraqi refugee experience in Jordan. This engagement raised questions about where research ends and intervention begins. Recognizing my location, complicity and distance, identification and personal involvement were constant reminders of power differentials and the need to pay attention to issues of subjectivity and accountability. My activist background and academic training in feminist analysis push me to link theory with practice and think of research as a space for social change. The invisibility of the consequences of the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, particularly its impact on population displacement, raises questions about the impact of the war on the day to day lives of Iraqis in general and refugees in particular.

My analysis focuses on how Iraqi women refugees constructed meanings and practices to deal with the challenges they face on a daily basis as women refugees in Jordan. I wonder about the consequences of the transient nature of displacement and the impact on the physical and mental health of Iraqi women refugees. Could women refugees (especially those from the lower classes) rely on aid for decades to come, and what is the impact of this prolonged state of displacement on social networks and communal support systems? Women refugees from East Amman and Zarqa relied on social networks to exchange information about aid agencies and the variety of resources available that could help in addressing the health and educational needs of their children. For the majority of women from the lower and upper classes, being around Iraqi refugees sustained a sense of community and a feeling of home, even if a limited one.

The longer refugees remain in exile, the more difficult and complicated it may be to return (see Bloch et al., 2000). Since the prospects of local integration or return for Iraqi refugees are not foreseeable in the near future, most of the Iraqi women I spoke with were interested in repatriation into a third country. Since viable options were almost entirely outside the realm of the control of refugee women, they were still resilient and constantly searching for ways to improve their situation. Yet, can they sustain this situation for the short and long term, and could they continue to live for years to come in this third space that grants them no chance to seek asylum, return to Iraq, or settle in Jordan?

Al-Ali, Nadje. Iraqi Women: Untold Stories from 1948 to the Present. London: Zed Books (2007).

Al-Ali Nadje and Nicola Pratt. What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation of Iraq. Berkeley: University of California Press (2009).

Al-Jawaheri, Yasmin Husein. Women in Iraq: The Gender Impact of International Sanctions. London: I.B. Tauris (2008);

Bloch, Berry et al. “Refugee Women in Europe: Some Aspects of the Legal and Policy Dimensions.” International Migration, 38(2) (2000). 20-40.

Chatelard, Géraldine. “The Politics of Population Movements in Contemporary Iraq: A Research Agenda.” In Writing the History of Iraq: Historiographical and Political Challenges. R. Bocco, J. Tejet and P. Sluglett (eds.) London: World Scientific Publishers/Imperial College Press (2011). 359-378.

Dahl, Solveig et al. “Traumatic Effects and Predictive Factors for Posttraumatic Symptoms in Displaced Bosnian Women in a War Zone.” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11(1) (2005). 137-145.

Hajdukowski-Ahmed, Maroussia et al. Not Born a Refugee Woman: Contesting Identities, Rethinking Practices. Oxford: Berghahn Books (2008).

Hardgrove, Abby. “Liberian Refugee Families in Ghana: The Implications of Family Demands and Capabilities for Return to Liberia.” Journal of Refugee Studies. 22(4) (2009). 484-501.

Ismael, Jacqueline, and Shereen Ismael. “Gender and State in Iraq.” In Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East. Joseph Suad (ed.). New York: Syracuse University Press (2000). 185-211.

Nyers, Peter. Rethinking Refugees: Beyond States of Emergency. New York: Routledge (2006).

Senegalese Higher Education and the Challenges of (Im)mobility

By Ibra Sene

In the current knowledge-based economy, a university system, which fosters innovative scholarship, through open and original intellectual inquiry, is crucially important for addressing, in an effective way, many challenges that society faces. A close look at the evolution of higher education in Senegal shows that there have been many impediments to the materialization of this model. Since the 1960s, the Senegalese public universities, especially Université Cheikh Anta Diop, have trained the lion’s share of the national workforce in the private and public sectors. Its alumni have assumed leadership positions in many African countries and a number of international organizations. Also, the Senegalese public universities have served as the incubators of important social movements, which contributed a great deal to the strengthening of democracy in the country. Finally, they have ranked constantly among the best francophone higher education institutions.

That being said, for many years, Senegalese higher education has been going through a complex and multi-faceted crisis that has left long-lasting consequences on our public universities. They have not always done a terrific job at making themselves relevant to the larger society, by catering to its most urgent needs. The effects of the structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have compounded these difficulties. These programs left the Senegalese universities in complete shambles, with a chronic deterioration of the working conditions of teaching, administrative, and technical staff, but also students. All of this has led to mediocre performance in many areas.

To deal with this crisis, the Senegalese government has convened major national consultations since the early 1970s. In 2013, the latest of these meetings, the National Consultation on the Future of Higher Education in Senegal (CNAES), took place. Its objective was to reform the university system to make sure that its follows international standards but also has a curriculum and a research agenda that are more driven by the socio-economic and developmental needs of the taxpayer.

I would like to use the Mobility Studies frame to analyze this situation. I suggest that this concept is the right tool for a better understanding of this latent crisis, but also for charting a way out of the challenges that the Senegalese public universities face.

The postmodern era brought with it a broad sense of skepticism about many categories of knowledge. It also prompted a tendency to nuance and a deep sense of relativism that are mostly driven by the belief that considerations of power always find their sneaky way into the making of many if not all theories of knowledge. Because of that, these theoretical ways of making sense of the human experience should be revisited and given a more inclusive tone. This would break help break the hegemony of some discourses and bring up the perspectives of all groups in society, especially the less powerful ones.

This is, among other things, what led to a new way of thinking about migration. The alternative concept to “migration” is “mobility” and it focuses on the entire “social universe” of migrants.[1] The global movements of people, capital, ideas, goods, and material culture, which are fundamental markers of the twenty-first century played a crucial role in the emergence and expansion of mobility studies.[2] The mobility studies paradigm developed along with different theoretical and methodological tools. It also touches on many areas such as “studies of corporeal movement, transportation and communications infrastructures, capitalist spatial restructuring, migration and immigration, citizenship and transnationalism, and tourism and travel.”[3]

I use mobility not as seen “through the lens of place, roots, spatial order and belonging,” but rather through the optics of “flow, flux and dynamism.”[4] I contend that this is a useful tool for analyzing the situation of universities in Senegal and other parts of Africa. I would like to take a close look at situations of mobility and immobility and how they may play out in the operation of these universities and the fulfillment of their students, faculty, and the larger society.

We ought to gain a better understanding of the crisis that the Senegalese and other African universities have been dealing with for decades now, in order to rethink the mission assigned to higher education and made it more relevant. To do this we need an analytical frame that takes into account the “relational geographies” of these universities, and which approaches the issue from the angle of flow and “movement that produces cultures,” [5] and not just through the frame of fixity and isolation. Stephen Greenblatt’s edited volume, Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto, tackles this issue and suggests that the paradox that one might see between “mobility” and “rootedness” is only apparent, and that “it is impossible to understand mobility without also understanding the glacial weight of what appears bounded and static.”[6] According to Nina Glick Schiller and Noel B. Salazar, challenging the “conceptual orientations built on binaries of difference” is crucial for a good understanding of the interrelationship between mobility and fixity. This is what they termed as “critical mobility thinking.”[7]

Analyzing the problems that Senegalese and other African universities face, with a transregional perspective in mind, is critical, if we are to develop effective strategies to find solutions. The production of knowledge, a fundamental function of the university, and human mobility are closely related, especially given the dynamic nature of the economy, politics, and cultures in Senegal, other regions of the continent, and the African Diaspora.

Over the last ten years, Senegal and many other African countries have been undertaking ambitious reforms geared toward improving the quality of higher education. Among other things, the emphasis of this work has been on how to design and manage academic research for policy impact, with curricula that give ample room to action learning. This is a system that empowers the learner to develop the critical thinking and leadership skills that are needed for finding sustainable solutions to the problems they tackle. For this to happen, the immobility of/in the university systems has to be shaken up.

The commitment to address these social needs should lead to the intentional development of bottom-up strategies that are based on deep understanding of the social fabric and various local knowledge, knowledge creation, and knowledge transmission models. The problems that the Senegalese and West African societies face today could only be understood through an approach that takes into account the local realities, without neglecting the influence of the global context. Therefore, training leaders who understand these interconnections and who are committed to the common good is crucially important.

The needed reflection and theoretical understanding of the challenges that societies face would necessitate that our universities prepare students for a lifetime of personal and professional growth. This is one of the best guaranties for effective practices in the development of entrepreneurship skills, civic engagement, ethical leadership, cultural competency, inclusion, openness, for the positive transformation of our communities. All of this requires the sharing of resources and collaborations across disciplines and academic institutions. However, in many ways these institutions have evolved so long in immobility and within isolated enclaves that these dynamic relationships could not develop naturally.

There are many factors that have made it difficult for this integrative conception of higher education to take roots in Senegal and other West African countries. Most of these factors come in different shapes and forms, but all stem directly or indirectly from the colonial legacy. The complete neglect of the African systems of knowledge creation and transmission, the predominance of European languages such as English, French, and Portuguese as languages of instruction over African languages were among the most serious roadblocks. One of the consequences of this setup has been an enduring elitism that has prevented universities from serving the interest of their students and that of the communities in which they are situated. This is why the system has done a very poor job at promoting social mobility, hence the rapidly increasing number of people who have lost trust in it.

Another big problem is that the borders drawn by and inherited from the colonizer strictly restricted the areas of influence of the universities. They have been designed and have been operating with little to no interaction among themselves. Often times, universities from African countries have developed more partnerships with non-African institutions than with each other. This is true even for neighboring countries such as Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, and Mauritania. In so doing these countries and their respective institutions of higher learning have missed countless opportunities to join forces, mutualize resources, and/or learn from each other’s experience. There is still a lot of neocolonial influence on other key aspects of higher education, such us the curriculum, the funding sources, but also accreditation.

For Senegalese and other African universities to become relevant and regain the capacity to deal efficiently with society’s major preoccupations, they will have to take on the immobility and the fixity that have defined them for quite some time. That is why, the best way to tackle the problems that these institutions face would be to approach them with a transregional perspective in mind and cultivate a culture of institutional accountability. This would allow for the production of useful scholarship and an education that could challenge students enough to transform them into responsible and ethical citizens and leaders. This environment could foster useful and sustainable university partnerships, including working with the diaspora and turning the scourge of brain drain into a significant brain gain.


[1] Jeffrey H. Cohen and Ibrahim Sirkeci, Cultures of Migration, University of Texas Press, 2011.

[2] Regimes of Mobility Across the Globe Nina Glick Schiller and Noel B. Salazar

[3] Kevin Hannam, Mimi Sheller, and John Urry, “Editorial: Mobilities, Immobilities and Moorings,” Mobilities, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1–22, March 2006.

[4] Ole B. Jensen, “Flows of Meaning, Cultures of Movements – Urban Mobility as Meaningful Everyday Life Practice,” Mobilities, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2009, p. 141.

[5] Ole B. Jensen, “Flows of Meaning, Cultures of Movements – Urban Mobility as Meaningful Everyday Life Practice,” Mobilities, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2009, pp. 139–158.

[6] Stephen Greenblatt, ed. Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 250-253.

[7] Regimes of Mobility Across the Globe Nina Glick Schiller and Noel B. Salazar

Global Course Connections

The goal of our project is to create research and pedagogy groups that explore the dynamic relationship between the movement of people, objects, and ideas. This way of looking at movement is distinct from frameworks that just look at the movement of people (typically international migration), and the effect and response of this movement. We hope that as we form our groups, the faculty/staff that are focussed on pedagogy will also consider creating connected courses.

In this post, we identify three GLCA courses that have already explored this boundary and two upcoming courses for the following semester.

Graphic: “Connections” by deargdoom57 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Fall 2017 

Roma, Gypsies, Travelers, Ian MacMillen, Russian and East European Studies, Oberlin College
Bulgarian Government and Politics, Emilia Zankina, Political Science, Amerian University in Bulgaria

Kenyon College’s Community Engaged Learning in a Rural Setting exploring the subject of Latino’s in Rural America.

Migration and Citizenship and Migration and the New Europe,collaboration between ProfessorsTaku Suzuki and Brian Miller

Fall 2018

Migration and Citizenship, Taku Suzuki, International Studies, Denison University
Refugees in the 21st Century, Chryssa Zachou, Sociology, Amerian College of Greece

Worlds of Islam, Marcus Pyka, History, Franklin University Switzerland
History of Islam, Ibra Sene, History and Global & International Studies, The College of Wooster

More information on our pedagogy modules and examples of syllabi that we have created can be found here.

For anyone considering connected courses that are at GLCA/GLAA institutions, please see these helpful resources curated by the GLCA.

Student Research on Mobility Studies

By Katherine Holt

As a Latin Americanist who teaches classes on regional history and culture, themes of diaspora and mobility are central to my courses.

This spring 2017, students in my History 201: Latin American & the United States completed two course modules connected to the Challenging Borders collaboration.  History 201 The Craft of History rubric courses are writing-intensive seminars that emphasize the critical skills of the historian—including the analysis of primary sources, historiography, historical research and writing, and historical argument—but welcome students from a wide array of majors.  Increasingly, I have my students do more digital projects as a way to share their research and analysis with a wider audience.  This helps them think carefully about information literacy, as well as raising the bar for the quality of their writing.  It also lets us contribute to the content gap in well-researched, reliable online coverage of topics about race, gender, and immigration.

For one of our modules, students investigated their choice of research questions related to class themes, and created an annotated bibliography.  Students have shared some of these annotations to the Challenging Borders Mobility Studies Zotero library.

Another module focused on our joint analysis of a canonical secondary study of U.S. immigration policy.  One of the first books we read for class was Mae Ngai‘s  Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton UP).  Dr. Ngai’s award-winning book examines the history of twentieth century U.S. immigration law.  She details the debates behind the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924‘s attempts to limit the growing influx of Southern and Eastern Europeans, and then looks at how these immigration restrictions created new categories of racial difference.  Later chapters look at how immigration officials applied these policies to colonial subjects like Filipinos, Mexican agricultural workers not covered by the quota system, and Asians ineligible for citizenship.  Pedagogically, the book provided an invaluable historical overview of the construction of race and national identity, while at the same time reinforcing close reading and analysis of secondary sources.

Despite all the scholarly recognition Ngai received for the book, it did not have a Wikipedia page.  I decided to create a new page to facilitate student critical analysis, and the diffusion of our overview of this important work to a wider public. This also let us contribute to our campus Feminist Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon.

Working in teams, students divided up responsibilities for leading classroom discussions of book chapters.  They then wrote up a brief synopsis of their assigned sections, following Wikipedia guidelines for tone, use of evidence, and content.

We finished our work on the page in early March.  Only recently have we received some feedback from the broader Wikipedia community, making some (very fair) critiques that the article would benefit from additional citations and a broader secondary source base.  A contributor removed my students’ timelines earlier this month, noting that “book articles typically do not contain this.”  I’m going to write my students to see how they respond to the wider Wikipedia’s critiques and changes.





Mobility Studies: An inclusive interdisciplinary approach to understanding migration

Written by by Maansi Kumar ’18 and Amyaz Moledina (The College of Wooster)

Mobility Studies is an emergent interdisciplinary field that explains the dynamic relationships between the combined movement of bodies, objects, and ideas. The field emphasizes the ethical dimensions of these mobilities and their associated immobilities. As such, the field focuses on the “embodied practice of movement and their representations, ideologies and meanings attached to both movement and stillness” (Sheller 2011). The field creates a relational ontology between social concerns of inequality, power, and hierarchies, with spatial concerns – territory, borders, scales, in addition to cultural concerns of discourses, representation, and schemas. (Ibid)

Scholars of Mobility Studies acknowledge that movement is not recent or a notable feature of contemporary times. However, recent challenges from forced mobility, the movement of unpredictable risks, climate change, and environmental limits, highlight the need to accurately capture the exchanges occurring due to these movements (Sheller 2003). Since, Migration Studies, emphasizes the quantitative movement of people across political borders it excludes the dynamic relationships between the movement of people, objects, and ideas or any considerations of power or discourses. Although the definition of Migration Studies has expanded to consider whether certain movements are voluntary or involuntary, it is still unable to interrogate who and what is demobilized and remobilized across different scales and spaces and the interconnectedness of mobility and motility (Adey 2010).

In this paper we hope to show that the traditional migration studies frame is limited. It does not acknowledge the impact of history on contemporary mobility and account for the impact of migration on non-movers. We then argue that adopting the Mobility Studies frame can highlight and acknowledge the voice and experiences of those who have been historically underrepresented in migration discourses.

Defining Migration

According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a migrant is defined as “any person who lives temporarily or permanently in a country where he or she was not born, and has acquired some significant social ties to this country”.1However this definition, by UNESCO’s own acknowledgement, is too narrow.2 There are multiple instances where people acquire significant social ties by moving within the boundaries of their birth state. This definition also assumes that migrants have some form of agency or control over their movement. The emphasis on economic migration dominates global discourses. In order to combat the narrow definition, the United Nations has expanded its definition by incorporating the following elements into their understanding of  migration (see Figure 1):

Figure 1: United Nations classification of the different types of migration

Source: The United Nations “Mobility and Migration”, Accessed May 23 2017

Although expanding the definition of migration is a step in the right direction, it still fails to account for many other factors relevant to individuals that do not belong to Western nations, or those outside of the specific socio-economic groups being targeted in this figure.

Example 1: Colonization, identity and movement

The contemporary employment-incentivized patterns of movement were established during the European colonization of Africa (Oliver 2009).3 For many nations in the Global South, migration to other parts of the continent still continue to depend on employment prospects. However, due to a dearth of reliable research, the dynamics of the interconnected patterns of migration remain poorly understood (Bakewell 2009).  It is unclear if the bodies should be the focus of this pattern of movement or the historical flows of goods between the core and periphery. The flows of objects between arbitrary colonial borders, give rise to the demand for labor in different states. The narrow definition of migration fails to acknowledge the impact of history on contemporary mobility. For instance, a large portion of the United States African diaspora is now traveling to the African continent to reclaim their identity (Cohen 2008, Manning 2008). However, the definition of migration understands this movement as a mere number of American citizens travelling to Africa for tourism. Instead, we should shed light on the intricate cultural and historical exchange that ensues. Since Mobility Studies draws from phenomenology4 to encompass the embodied practices of movement, it allows researchers to theorize the relationship between culture, personal identity and migration patterns.

Example 2: Government Policy, Legal Status and Movement

The UNESCO definition of migration also fails to define the status of a large population refugees who have found a permanent way of living within their host countries, despite government policies. For example, in Nairobi, exiled Somalis have established a significant residential and business district in the city (Lindley 2007). Similarly, millions of Afghan refugees first came to North-West Pakistan in the 1980s and have become integrated into the social, economic and political life of the area. Such historical movements have permanently changed the cross-border patterns of mobility for these regions (Blakewell 2009). However, these significant migratory patterns were never studied in relation to the long-term impact due to the lack of framework to do so.

Once again alluding to embodiment and practice of movements, Mobility Studies uses knowledge of the relevant cultural setting, historical background, and political climate to account for movement and non-movement. This field creates a relational ontology between the the social concerns of inequality, power, and hierarchies, with spatial concerns – territory, borders, scales and the cultural concerns of discourses, representation, and schemas.

Defining Mobility Studies

Migration Studies is an academic framework that explains the processes, motivations and consequent impact of human movement. While Migration can be rudimentarily defined as movement of people across borders, Mobility Studies broadens the discourse to include the relational dynamics between people, objects and ideas that are all mobile.

Mobility examines the processes, structure, and consequences of the movement of people, resources, commodities, and ideas. It involves research on the combined movements of people, objects and information in all of their complex relational dynamics (Sheller 2013).  

Mobilities studies is concerned with not only physical movement, but also potential movement, blocked movement, immobilization, dwelling and place-making (Buscher and Urry, 2009). One does not have to be physically mobile or have their body displaced in order to be affected by migration; an individual might not be moving, but the environment around them could be changing as a result of movement. This could in-turn, affect their worldview and consequent actions and interactions with their environment.

Peter Adey, whose preliminary research contributed significantly to Mobility Studies, identifies four sets of concerns within the field (Adey, 2009).

Figure 2: Adey’s expansion on the interdisciplinary nature of Mobility Studies  

Source: Peter Adey “The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities”, figure created by Maansi Kumar ’18, Source accessed 21 May 2017

Adey argues that Mobility Studies is an umbrella term that actually encompasses multiple ways of knowing to derive a holistic understanding of movement. Using such an interdisciplinary approach, the migration of a Cameroonian individual to France should be placed in a historical context. The lens of Mobility Studies informs the audience that because Cameroon was colonized by the French, Cameroonians would be more likely to migrate to France due to familiarity with language, educational system and culture (Terretta 2017). We could then transition to explaining how such discourses are internalized by Cameroonians or the objects and ideas that transit between these spaces. Walter Nkwi studies the convergence zones of Kom in Cameroon, their customary practices, the apparatus of “newness” from schools and cars to technological advances (Nkwi 2015). Nkwi also focuses on extending scholarship about experiences of indigenous “belonging” and diasporic identity within these communities. He illustrates how these terminologies were conceived and perceived by the Kom people in their social and physical mobilities.

Example 3: Connecting Gender, Movement, and Employment

Recently, the “care-drain”, women migrating from low-to high income countries, has received significant feminist attention. Feminists raise important issues like: who is the primary caregiver in the household of the woman while she works in other people’s houses in the West? Who are the individuals taking care of her children while she is away? What is the consequent impact on the identity, education and health care of her children, given that she is unable to spend time being physically around them?

Mobility Studies would first want to recognize that the “care-drain” is not an international issue. It has existed for centuries on local scales. Consider the case of female domestic workers in India. There are approximately 4.2 million domestic workers in urban India, most of them from rural communities (WEIGO). While we can study the forces that give rise to this movement, we must also address the abuse and exploitation of these workers at different scales (Reshmi 2011). Mobility Studies accounts for those issues, as well as the long-term impact on the communities experiencing this movement.  Understanding “care movements” broadly can be used to advocate for better legal protection of domestic workers, within and between countries.

Mobility studies argues that a person’s agency and the ‘agencement’ of the world is not simply at the bodily level of personal interactions with spatial affordances, it is also very much concerned with larger scales of spatial production, urban form and infrastructural systems (Adey, 2013). We need a far more nuanced view of border-crossings towards the  study  of ‘emotional geographies’.

Migration Studies: Expanding the Existing Literature

Having outlined a few key differences between migration and mobility studies, it is apparent that mobility studies has a much more inclusive framework for representing historically understudied patterns of movement. It provides a language to account for postcolonial trends of migration and movement. As we read the existing literature on Mobility Studies, there are three themes that stand out as the most significant turning points to study movement and mobility. Namely, these are: the concept of temporality, inclusion of feminist critiques of migration, and the Global South perspective.

Mobility Studies and Immobility

As mentioned earlier, Mobility Studies acknowledges that a person does not have to be physically moving to be affected by migration. Mobility Studies opens up avenues to study spatial and temporal movement. The concepts of temporalities of movements and stillness are connected with a larger-scale geography of movement and hence, human navigation (Sheller 2009; Dant 2004, Jensen 2010, Merleau-Ponty 1962). By focusing on stillness, Mobility Studies explores immobility and how movement affects those who are physically immobile at a given point in time. Immobility encompasses mobility in ways pertaining to infrastructure, motility and regimes of mobility (Salazar 2016).

Korpela discusses infrastructure from three angles: the moment of becoming mobile, the time of being mobile, and becoming immobile again (Ibid). Ultimately, this sets up the argument that mobility occurs within the existing infrastructure of each nation-state. This also raises the question of whether there are infrastructures of mobility that function outside of a nation-state’s control. Motility refers to an individual’s potential to move. Studying motility is useful in locations of temporality where mobility appears yet-to-be-realized, yet-to-be-completed or might-never-happen (Hoyer 2016). An instance of this would be a child from a rural community whose mother has migrated to another country, due ‘Care drain’. This child might be more likely to travel themself. If the mother is educated and can support the child, their current state of immobility is not an indicator of their future immobility. Finally, regimes of mobility identify the ways in which (legal) systems regulate mobility. Related approaches reveal the ways in which institutions, technology, ideologies and identities are constructed in relation to mobility. Baker applies this to ethnographic work with undocumented youth to highlight the importance of listening to the immobile rather than idealizing mobility (Salazar 2016). By doing so, Mobility Studies capture the experiences of those without legal documentation to determine whether or not integration into particular societies is even what they desire to begin with, and thereby, better accommodating their needs.

Mobility Studies and Feminist Critiques

Mobility Studies theory incorporates feminist critiques of nomadic theory, pointing out that even contemporarily, migration and movement is grounded in masculine subjectivities (Sheller 2009). This implies that freedom of movement is limited by the gendered production of space, something that migration studies has  failed to account for.

An example of this would be the case of structural violence against Syrian women within refugee communities. While migration studies highlights the sheer numbers of Syrian refugees that are clearly displaced, seeking shelter, and even presents the break-up between women, men and children within refugee camps, it does not shed light on the gendered impact of this trauma on Syrian women nor does it explore the different meanings of “shelter” and sanctuary.

Mobility Studies and the Global South

About 45 percent of total migrants in the world move between South-South nations (Baker 2009). It is absolutely imperative to study these relationships using the voices of the movers  if we are to make any claims about migration patterns. A focus on the Global South, independent of the Global North, is necessary not just because of their history of being colonized, but also because of changing structure of their economies and the routes/methods of movement.

In the Saharan zone, for instance, the recent paving and improvement of road connections have boosted trans- Saharan migration (de Haas 2008a). Beyond the more obvious connection between infrastructure and migration, we need to explore how this spatial connectivity could change the cultural discourses within the Sahara, but also the relationship between ideas and bodies. The need to focus on the Global South also has implications for future migration trends as well as gender equity and labor market accommodations (Ohnmacht 2009).

In this paper, we have highlighted the key disciplinary differences between Migration and Mobility Studies. We argue that Migration has not provided an adequate framework to study a large proportion of global movement. Mobility Studies is key to understanding the complex dynamic between the movement of bodies, objects and ideas as it is interdisciplinary and inclusive of numerous academic fields. This ultimately provides a holistic framework to better understand global movement, placing it in a broader historic, social and economic context. Mobility Studies gives us the an emergent interdisciplinary framework to unpack and radically change oppressive structures by representing nations in the Global South. Highlighting patterns of migration and movement that have always existed, Mobility Studies aims to account for them, given that the academic framework of migration studies has historically proved inadequate to do so.


1. [Migration and Human Rights (2017) Council of Europe – Homepage. Web. ]

2. [ Migrant/Migration (2017) Migrant | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Web.

3. [ Bakewell, Oliver (2009) South-South Migration and Human Development: Reflections on African Experiences. UNDP: Human Development Reports Research Paper (2009/07). ]

4. [Phenomenology: a philosophical movement that describes the formal structure of the objects of awareness and of awareness itself in abstraction from any claims concerning existence (Merriam Webster) ]


Adey, P (2009) Mobility. London and New York: Routledge.   

Adey, Bissell, Hannam, Merriman and Sheller (2013) The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities. London: Routledge.  

Bakewell, Oliver (2009) South-South Migration and Human Development: Reflections on African Experiences. UNDP: Human Development Reports Research Paper (2009/07).  

Domestic Workers in India (2017) | Law and Informality, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). Web.   

Nkwi, Walter Gam (2015) African Modernities and Mobilities: A Historical Ethnography of Kom, Cameroon, C. 1800 – 2008. Bamenda, Cameroon: Langaa Research & Publishing Common Initiative Group

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