Second TransMobilities-Development Conference ‘Friction in a mobile world’



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Guest post by Agnieszka Radziwinowiczówna, Assistant Professor at the Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw. Agnieszka works on Mexican migration, with particular focus on deportations from the USA. Agnieszka has also researched social change related to migration and recently co-authored the book ‘Migrants as Agents of Change: Social Remittances in an Enlarged European Union.

There are conferences that not only present high academic level, but also provide interesting research findings worth sharing with a greater audience. The second conference of the TransMobilities Network ‘Friction in a mobile world’ was definitely one of them. It took place at Radboud University in the picturesque town of Ravenstein, Netherlands on June 8th-9th, 2017. The title of the conference refers to Anna Tsing’s concept of friction; that is, the –not always smooth and often unequal– encounters between cultures in a globally connected world. Frictions have creative or performative functions. In fact, it is in contact with and in relation to the Other that migrants, refugees, the receiving society and nations are produced. The aim of the TransMobilities conference was to highlight and explain different frictions performed as people migrate and explore the increasing forces that seek to circumscribe transborder human mobility.

Wind band in Lower Mixteca, Oaxaca (Photo: Agnieszka Radziwinowiczówna)

The conference included seven interesting panels and three plenary sessions on the themes of citizenship, education, climate migration, refugees, materiality of migration, immigration detention, and deportation. The papers highlighted different types of frictions performed in ‘a mobile world’: migration policies, migrants’ identities, relations between ‘locals’ and ‘migrants’ or ‘refugees.’ For example, Thomas Hughes (National University of Ireland), who talked about the Irish Direct Provision system for asylum seekers, argued that the growing securitisation of states leads to a growing insecurity among people, who are forced to live in humiliating conditions. Ben Knight (University of Manchester), drawing upon his own autoethnography, pondered upon frictions in the sometimes unequal relations between asylums seekers and volunteers in drop-in centres in the UK. Similarly, Lieke van der Veer (Radboud University) described the unequal relation between migrants and brokers who intermediate in migrants’ reception in the Netherlands. Joris Schapendonk (Radboud University) presented a paper on the subjectivity of migrants seeking to escape certain places in their mobility strategies, and thereby deliberately performing frictions themselves.

Conference participants also highlighted that not all the encounters in a mobile world adopt the form of a friction. For instance, the documentary ‘When I am there’ by Marjolein Veldman pictured transnational grassroots organisations of Moroccans in the Netherlands who set up development aid for Morocco. Other papers aimed to explain how internationalised education can help to overcome frictions that appear in cross-cultural encounters. In another panel, Hughes explained that social cohesion might be a response to friction: in the face of dehumanisation asylum seekers in Ireland speak with one voice, stay united and self-organise (e.g., for football competitions). Ainul Fajri (Radboud University) and Susanne Bygnes (University of Bergen) presented findings from their research on the relations between locals and refugees in refugee camps and talked about the grounds for solidarity and cooperation. Fajri presented the case of stateless Rohingya refugees from Burma seeking safe haven in a refugee camp in Aceh, Indonesia. In spite of the potential for frictions between local inhabitants and refugees (authorities’ and IOM’s aid given to the latter confronted with insufficient social protection provided to the former), Fajri observed strong solidarity between the two groups, attributed to cultural affinities (same religion and ethnicity) between them. In a similar vein, Bygnes presented evidence from a different part of the world – Norway on how a city and a small town related to the existence of reception centres for refugees in their communities. Drawing on quantitative data she concluded that the smaller community was more welcoming and communicated well with the refugees. Her findings suggest that urban spaces are not necessarily more open to diversity than local communities characterised as ‘traditional’ and ‘closed.’

Market in Bamako (Photo: Susanne U. Schultz)

The panel ‘Deportation as friction’ in particular addressed the problems raised by other articles on this blog, and hence I would like to elaborate more on the papers presented in it. It was convened by Heike Drotbohm (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz) and Nauja Kleist (Danish Institute for International Studies), and included three papers based on ethnographies of deported people in different parts of the world: Mexico, Ghana and Mali.

My paper reconstructed the experience of deportation of Mexicans from the USA. I argued that a deportation is not a short event, but a process consisting of various phases, such as, detection and apprehension by the immigration authorities, detention, immigration court, and state-organised transfer to Mexico. For many, their experience of deportation continues even back in Mexico, when the locals stigmatise them as deportados, deportees. My presentation highlighted the violence and criminalisation that people experience throughout the deportation process. Although many deportees keep trying to cross the US border, former deportees I interviewed in the Mexican state of Oaxaca resigned from returning to the USA, deterred by the experience of deportation.

Nauja Kleist’s paper about deportation to Ghana provided an insight into what happens post-deportation. Kleist talked about deportees’ ambiguous mix of relief of being back in their home country with a sense of embarrassment to come back empty-handed. Sometimes it is impossible to conceal that one was deported, especially for the deportees from other African countries. They arrive in a bad physical condition after an exhausting overland trip back to Ghana. The paper also discussed different post-deportation trajectories. Kleist highlighted the experiences of former deportees, who, post-deportation, became successful entrepreneurs. By way of dress and attitude they often demonstrate their migratory experience, and what they ‘learned’ in the Western countries (for more on this you can read Nauja’s post here).

Susanne U. Schultz from Bielefeld University presented cases of Malians deported from European and African countries. Deportation can generate mistrust and disappointment in the home communities of deportees, and Schultz presented deportees’ strategies of regaining confidence by getting married to a local woman or finding a job in the capital rather than going directly to their hometown and sending money to the family from there. This can make the re-adaptation to life back in Mali smoother.

The papers of this panel and the discussion that followed provided a ground to ponder upon deportation-related frictions. Our ethnographies in very different countries show that – especially in small local communities – deportees cannot conceal the embarrassing reason of their return. Local community members often perceive deportees as criminals, mistrust and stigmatise them, which makes the deportees suffer. Some want to confront this image, by embodied practices and ostentatious hard work, like the Ghanaian entrepreneurs. However, with the increasing use of deportation by destination and transit countries, people in deportees’ hometowns better understand different circumstances that underlie their forced return, different procedures of deportation and nuance the image of a deportee.

Notebook of a Malian deportee documenting his stay in Libya (Photo: Susanne U. Schultz)

Lothar Smith from Radboud University, one of the conference organisers, wrapped up the conference in the hope of future collaboration with all the participants under the third Transmobilities conference. It will certainly be an interesting opportunity to discuss the progress of our individual research projects a year on from now. Conferences like the one in Ravenstein bring migration scholars closer together and consolidate existing connections, all the more important in a world full of frictions.

Note: The author is grateful to Nauja Kleist and Susanne Schultz for their comments on an earlier version of this post and for sharing images from their fieldwork

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Radziwinowiczówna, A. (2017) Second TransMobilities-Development Conference ‘Friction in a mobile world’. Available at: (Accessed [date])

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