On Migration Research, Humanities Education, and Storytelling

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Guest post by Hanna Musiol, Associate Professor of English at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Her research interests include literature, law, curation, and critical pedagogy, with emphasis on storytelling, migration, political ecology, and human rights. She has developed several public humanities and global classroom initiatives in Europe and the US, and she publishes frequently on literary and visual aesthetics and justice. This is the final instalment of Border Criminologies’ themed series on ‘The Memory Politics of Migration at Borderscapes’ organised by Karina Horsti.

Education, Migration, and ‘the Violence of Organized Forgetting’

One of the key functions of education, Henry Giroux reminds us in a recent interview, is to produce not only skilled workers but ‘critical, self-reflective, knowledgeable

That fall Gloria Anzaldúa, Sandro Mezzadra, and Brett Nielsen taught us that borders are not just walls. They divide, but they also connect and generate. And so we focused not only on what the national, economic, linguistic, technological, gender, racial, ethnic, environmental, legal, and disciplinary borders are, but more so on what borders do to us, how they make us into strangers, travelers, tourists, citizens, migrants, fugitives, but also allies of our global moment and specific local space.

Over several months, we focused on ‘doing language’ and storytelling together. We wrote and read a lot; we listened; we debated ideas in class, in digital spaces, and in public; we collaborated; we drew new cartographies of Trondheim, and searched for new bridges and bordercrossings. We translated texts into Norwegian, Arabic, German, Farsi, Czech, finding new words, new ways of seeing and saying things in our mother tongues. (How does one translate Beloved into Farsi, which has no gender-specific pronouns?’, wondered Gulabuddin Sukhanwar. Or, reflect the nuance of Toni Morrison’s tone in German or Nynorsk?, asked other participants.) In the end, we saw cultural, linguistic and transmedia translation as a ‘crucial . . . form of border crossing’ (Rebecca Vollan).

Fourteen weeks of Of Borders and Travelers had not resolved systemic inequalities, of course, but it forced us to recognize that barriers to access to education, research, knowledge-making, public space, and, yes, the future, for some of us and not others, have a history and, often, a colonial architecture. Most important, it forced us to rehearse our social roles as storytellers, listeners, and co-producers of knowledge and theory about our times.

Mahamed Aman, the author of the ‘Return to Lampedusa’ audio-map (Photo: Mario Badagliacca)

The Right to the Future

Current debates about immigration oscillate between the humanitarian and the carceral discourses, both of which seduce their publics with the promise of integration or homogeneity, with little concern for the genealogies of the marginalization of migrant communities, inside and outside of academia. Moreover, such conversations about migration gesture, often in fear, to the great beyond—the ‘future of the nation’, of Europe, of the global economy, the ‘future’ in the aftermath of migration.

It is time that academics and non-academics together claim the right to coexistence, to our futures being tied to each other, and tied, inseparably, to knowledge, research, and storytelling (Arjun Appadurai). And since the right to such a future is tied not just to the right to tell, but also to an obligation to listen and to remember, academic institutions must both acknowledge their complicity in producing migration history amnesia and engage in collaborative, reciprocal, nearly forensic narrative work across borders of nations and disciplines to redress it. Only then can we be more than barometers of impending human rights crises or mournful historians of disasters.

Acknowledgements: Of Borders and Travelers would not have happened without a small army of volunteers and collaborators: Kristen Over, from Northeastern Illinois University Chicago; Gianluca Gatta, from Archivio delle Memorie Migranti; Hannimari Jokinen, the curator of ort_m [migration memory], Hamburg; Adria Sharman, from Trondheim Kommune; Larry Siems, the editor of Guantánamo Diary; The ICORN Trondheim Refugee Writers at Risk; Sebastian Klein, from The Falstad Human Rights Center; and Olga Lehmann, of Trondheim Poetry Nights. First and foremost, however, credit goes to the NTNU students and Trondheim-based refugee academic guests for the extraordinary intellectual work they accomplished across many borders of our world.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Musiol, H. (2017) On Migration Research, Humanities Education, and Storytelling. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2017/06/migration (Accessed [date])

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