PGR-led Seminar Series: Decolonising Forced Migration (Seminar 2)

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PGR-led Seminar Series: Decolonising Forced Migration: Political (Un)-Intelligibility, Reflexivity, & ‘Epistemological Agency’

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Finding Ways through Eurospace: African Movers Re-Viewing Europe from the Inside

26 January 2021, 3pm

Speaker: Dr. Joris Schapendonk


This presentation focuses on the latest work by Dr. Schapendonk entitled Finding Ways Through Eurospace. This book is about migrants, but it is not about migration. It discusses transnational movements, asylum, belonging, and borders, but it is not about migration. As he argues, migration and its related ontological foundations of stasis is not the best analytical starting point to understand the lifeworlds of the African ‘movers’ in Europe that are central to this study. Rather than seeing ‘migrancy’ as the primary marker of my informant’s lives, this book aims to understand how flexible mobilities relate to migratory projects, and how identities change along pathway of movements. By following the mobility processes of Africans, the chapters show how mobility remains central to their being in Europe, despite the existence of harsh mobility regimes that aim to hamper, stop or control their mobilities (Glick-Schiller and Salazar 2013). This book, thus, delves into the ways ‘African movers’ navigate ‘Eurospace’ (Vigh 2009). How they are confronted with borders, but also how they manage to transgress and circumvent them. Such a de-migranticized view (Dahinden 2016) on the im/mobility of people who are generally viewed as migrants sounds like a contradiction in terminus, but he argue that it is highly needed to move away from frameworks that that pin down peoples residences', positions, and imaginaries.


Dr. Joris Schapendonk is Assistant Professor at the Geography, Planning and Environment department of Radboud University and an active member of Nijmegen Centre for Border Research (NCBR). His research concentrates on the im/mobility trajectories of African migrants towards, and within, Europe and the ways these trajectories are shaped by mobility regimes and migration industries. With this work, he seeks to contribute to the reflexive turn in migration studies. In 2014, he received a personal Veni grant from the Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research (ref. number 451-14-011) that allows him to delve into the dynamics of intra-EU mobility of Africans. Besides this, he is attached to the Helping Hands Research Network that investigates everyday border work of European citizens in different European countries (funded by the Danish Research Council 2017-2019) and he is a member of a HERA consortium (2019-2022) that investigates the role of mobile traders in the production of marketplaces as inclusive public spaces.

His work is published in, among others, Annals of the Association of American Geographers (2014), Population, Space and Place (2015), Social Inclusion (2020) Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2018 & 2020) and Geoforum (2018) His latest book Finding Ways in Eurospace (2020) is published by Berghahn Books:

Next in the Series

  • 9 March 2021 - “Culture and humanity” and “The Afrocentric Paradigm as a New Episteme”

This free online seminar series aims to promote critical thinking and creative ways of unpacking the political and epistemological questions in the production and circulation of knowledge on forced migration (i.e. often dominated by researchers in the Global North) and, at the same time, highlight the often muted voices of the people with lived experience.

The series will conclude with an open discussion with scholars of migration, academics, practitioners, and people with lived experience.

The series is organised by PhD researchers from the Universities of Leeds and Glasgow.

Context for the Series:

In a 2019 report, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) indicates that, of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world, 85 percent remain in the developing countries. Furthermore, a report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (2019) indicated that more than 70% of Sub-Saharan African migrants move within the continent. Many, who live in refugee camps, face the prospect of protracted encampment with no hope in sight while those in urban areas live in desolate squalors in the periphery of society. And condemned to life without livelihoods in the ‘modern camp’, which has become the ‘political and juridical hinterland’ (Stonebridge, 2018), they embark on perilous journeys in search of safety and better life opportunities.

With the increase in number, in recent years of Europe bound migration, a great deal of scholarship, policy research and intellectual resource has been invested in understanding and containing the migration movements from the Global South. However, the plethora of existing scholarship, policy debates and knowledge production and circulation on migration studies remain to be largely drawn to and centred in the Global North. In other words, migrants in the Global South continue to be used as ‘materials of knowledge’ for policy response rather than active owners of their lived-experience and their destinies. Likewise, the sending states are devoid of their ‘epistemological agency’, which according to Mamdani (2013), is ‘the key to unlocking the secret of native history’ with scientific research being that which gives access to one’s own history.

This quest for “knowledge” has led to differentiated hierarchies of ‘imaginative geographies’ (Andrucki, 2013) of the “Global North” and “Global South” whereby the former is represented, both in ‘modernity’ and civilizational terms, as the ‘suitable destination’ and a place of ‘ontological security’ (Giddens, 1991) whereas the latter is imagined in the colonial lens of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. This stark contrast between the ‘cartographies of migration’ and the production and circulation of knowledge about the phenomenon of forced migration raises fundamental questions of political intelligibility, ‘epistemological agency’ and ‘ontological security’ of the migrant population in question.

  • Is there a scope for political intelligibility of the increasingly nascent category of involuntarily displaced migrants?
  • How are the precarious states of ‘being’ of the involuntarily displaced migrants represented in political life?
  • How is the phenomenon of ‘forced migration’ constructed and represented in the Global North?
  • How are migrants’ stories, capabilities and resilience as well as vulnerabilities, precarities and carceralities represented in the existing (often Euro-centric) scholarship?
  • Is there a scope for other ways of knowing and imagining the incarcerated, illegalised, exceptionalised and muted figure of the forced migrant?

Engaging with academics, practitioners, policy makers and migrants with ‘embodied knowledge’ and ‘insider status’ in the sociology of migration, this public seminar series aims to ‘interrogate’ the persistency of socio-political, epistemic, and representational inequalities (and fallacies) inherent in the narratives and constructions of forced migration as a ‘threat’ and forced migrants as ‘objects’ of elimination and containment. Moreover, the series aims not only to shed light on the vagaries of the precarious life and ‘biopolitical filtering’ (Salter, 2004, 2008) that forced migrants are subjected to but also their stories, histories, cultures, ways of knowing and unknowing as well as their struggles. In doing so, the seminar series will focus on the following suggested themes:

  • Negotiating integration through the arts and language
  • Beyond volitional(ity) and forcibl(ity): tracking migrants’ agentive roles in negotiating (im)-mobilities
  • ‘Mobile homes’: ‘travelling cultures’, rituals, ‘artefacts’ and filial piety
  • Modes (strategies) of survival in carceral cartographies
  • (De)-silencing and (de)-effacing the refugee: Thinking with migrants, listening to migrant perspectives
  • The ‘villain’ as a ‘hero’: ‘Good smugglers’ as enablers and the state as immobiliser
  • Where to integrate to?: ‘Integration’ as a colonial continuity thesis
  • On ‘decolonisation’ of education: Indigenous methodologies and epistemologies
  • What gets published and who gets published in field of migration?

About the Series Organisers:

Tesfalem Yemane: Tesfalem is a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds, School of Sociology and Social Policy. Building on Joseph Nye’s concept of ‘soft power’, he examines the destination preferences of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in the UK and their post-arrival experiences. In addition, Tesfalem works as an Employment and Education Advisor for RETAS Leeds. He also worked as the Operations Director of Growing Points, a charity that works with migrants across England and Wales. His co-authored book chapter, ‘Steps to Settlement for Refugees: A Case Study’ (2019) traces the refugee journey towards citizenship in the UK. For more information on Tesfalem’s research interests, please visit his university profile.

Kheira Arrouche: Kheira is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds, School of Sociology and Social Policy. Her research explores the mobility pathways sub-Saharan migrants undertake and interplaying forces that shape their (im)mobility experiences. Through her ethnographic research, Kheira aims to contribute to the critical debates about transit migration and im-mobility studies as well as examining the intricate ways the migrants exercise their agency to overcome such experiences. For more details about Kheira’s research interests, please visit her university profile.

Souad Boumechaal: Souad is a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies. Souad’s research examines the ideological discourses around the English language within Algerian higher education with a particularly focus on how global forces such as internationalisation of higher education are shaping the status of language education in postcolonial Algeria. Through the theoretical lens of linguistic imperialism, her research explores how the promotion of the English language at the expense of local languages could be a ‘threat’ to the multilingual nature of Algeria, preventing both teachers and students from taking ownership of their education.

Hyab Yohannes: Hyab is currently a PhD researcher and graduate teaching assistant at the University of Glasgow and holder of the UNESCO RILA PhD Scholarship. He worked formerly for local charities and international organisations in Egypt, including UNHCR, IOM, Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA) and Saint Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS). Hyab is involved in academic and non-academic professional roles in the UK. More details about Hyab’s research interests and professional experience can be found on his student profile and personal website.


For further information or inquiries about the Seminar Series, please contact Kheira Arrouche at

Top Image: Artwork by Zineddine Bessaï

Sub-Saharan migrants stuck in transit, Oran, Algeria; Photo credit: Kheira Arrouche 2019

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