Rethinking inclusion, exclusion, and human mobility: the 2018 Oxford Migration Conference

  • Sarah Gilkerson
06 November, 2018

The Oxford Migration Studies Society and the Migration and Mobility Network hosted the annual Oxford Migration Conference over the summer, reflecting on the processes of inclusion and exclusion that accompany human mobility with the aim of generating new inter- and multidisciplinary insights and ideas.

Over 100 students, researchers and faculty members joined us from around the world and from a wide variety of academic disciplines. We invited participants to discuss the ways in which ethnic, cultural, economic and linguistic differences resulting from migration and mobility can be challenging for states, societies, and individuals.

After a very competitive abstract selection process, 25 participants were selected to present their work. Each of the six panels revolved around a different dimension of the processes of inclusion and exclusion, bringing together various case studies and academic perspectives.

Professor Elleke Boehmer (Faculty of English) inaugurated the conference with a keynote speech on ‘Migrants and Migrant Stories’, relating Indian narratives of travel and arrival to the British metropolis at the turn of the 20th century with contemporary migrant storytelling. The first day also featured an exhibition of the artistic work of photographer Thomas Nicolaou. His project ‘Demarcation’ reimagines the border and borderlands of Oxfordshire and Cyprus.

The first panel, The Craft of Belonging, chaired by Dr Nick Van Hear (Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, COMPAS), presented the work of Giselle Bernard, Dana Dabbous, Lion König, and Julia Szivak. They addressed the ideas of nation in the framing of integration programmes; the lack of sensitivity in the school system toward refugee and migrant children; the discursive constructions of border crossing; and the personal displacements of the idea of homeland.

Dr Gunvor Jónsson (ODID) moderated the second panel on Challenging Hospitality. Zoë Jordan, Riccardo Liberatore, Maggie Neil, and Alejandro Olayo-Mendez reflected on the ambiguities of the simultaneous processes of inclusion and exclusion that occur in places of welfare provision: social interaction, refuge, control and restriction: migrant hostels in 1900s Marseilles and Naples; ‘casas de migrantes’ in contemporary Mexico; workplaces and community centres for Sudanese refugees in Jordan; and municipal dynamics of hosting immigrants in Palermo.

The second day of the conference started with the panel Divided along Political Lines, with Associate Professor Dace Dzenovska (COMPAS) as chair. The research by Cristina Blanco Sío-López, Merve Kania, Max Cohen, and Hallam Tuck offered a multi-level perspective on political and policy approaches to migration and immigrants, at the European institutions, the German parliament, the Scottish government and a privately-operated US immigrant detention centre.

Portraying In- and Exclusion, moderated by Associate Professor Ruben Andersson (ODID), examined narratives and counternarratives in literature and the media, and how certain discursive frames, such as securitisation, influence political reactions to migration. Elsa Gomis, Otared Haidar, Denny Pencheva, and Maria Sakellari presented their analyses of images and texts on recent immigrants in the Mediterranean; Levantine displaced writers in the West; Bulgarians and Romanians in the United Kingdom; and climate-change migrants.

Professor Biao Xiang (COMPAS) chaired the panel In/Exclusion on the Labour Market, featuring the work of Marcela F González; Emre Eren Korkmaz; Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes, Esther Arenas-Arroyo and Almudena Sevilla; and Zovanga Kone, Isabel Ruiz and Carlos Vargas-Silva. They discussed how the various immigrant legal statuses, visas, and legal capacities lead to different ports of entry and different positions in the labour market and, in turn, how these incorporations impact the structures and relations of local economies.

The last panel, moderated by Dr Leslie Fesenmyer (COMPAS), looked into Vulnerabilities at the Edge of Inclusion. Angela Remus, Adrienne de Ruiter, Carrie Ryan, and Hyeyun Jeong and Bridget Bryan brought in their studies of immigrants who find more protection in maintaining an undocumented status than in applying for formal asylum; of asylum seekers who experience abuse and lose their sense of value; of elder Angelenos’ loss of independence and control with the mobility change which accompanies losing a driving license in the city; and of North Korean immigrants negotiating their diasporic identity in London.

Lena Rose, the coordinator of the Migration and Mobility Network, conducted the final remarks. Professor Adrian Favell (COMPAS; University of Leeds), Professor Jane Garnett (Faculty of History), and Professor Michael Keith (COMPAS) offered their perspective on the main themes of the panels, connecting the many dimensions of immigrant inclusion and exclusion of our times.

OMSS President, Magda Rodriguez Dehli described the conference as a ‘great team effort between the society and the Migration and Mobility Network to bring together the academic community in Oxford and beyond’. In bringing cutting edge ideas, topics, and discussion to the fore during a critical turning point for migration, the conference addressed its historical moment. Rodriguez Dehli summed it up best, saying that the greatest result of the conference was ‘seeing the hard work crystallized in the panels, the instant chemistry between researchers findings echoes in other’s presentations, and the strong engagement of the audience in our two-day journey crossing borders and disciplines’.

We would like to thank everyone who participated, particularly panellists and chairs, for coming together around the phenomena of migration and mobility from across the arts, the humanities and the social sciences.

The conference took place 17-18 May at the Nazrin Shah Auditorium at Worcester College.

Find out more about the Oxford Migration Studies Society

Find out more about the Migration and Mobility Network

Sarah Gilkerson graduated from the MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies in 2018.

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Sarah Gilkerson