Their name is unimportant. They is often called a second generation immigrant in their home country. For two years, they was an expat in in the US, where their mother grew up. They is quite mobile, travelling and residing part of the year in a major European city (because they like it) and in a global city of the Global South, because their partner left the city as a refugee (and thinks it is a fantastic city). They works in academia, traveling 500 km (in non-covid-19 times) between their home city, where they reside five nights and four days a week, and their workplace in another city, where they stay two nights and three days a week.
The above paragraph is a description that for many of us creates pictures of who this person is and how they look, although these might be conflicting pictures. I have left out gender from this equation (using the gender-neutral singular pronoun ‘they’), not because it is unimportant, but because there is no space in this short blog post to address is sufficiently. I will return to this in a later blog post. Instead I would like to focus on mobility that lies at the intersection between class (they has an academic occupation, travels substantially, and has various places to reside) and the phenomenon of this blog: “Migrants and solidarities: Negotiating deservingness in welfare micropublics”.
Migration, mobility, moving are all words that describe something similar. Likewise, expats (Kunz 2020), emigrants, immigrants, migrants, settlers, asylum-seekers, refugees (Crawley and Skleparis 2017), and tourist are all terms describing those in motion. However, these words are filled with different meanings that create different representations of those we talk about.
The terms and concepts mentioned above are all used by researchers, officials and in everyday life. As with many of words used in research there are problems, which I will return shortly, but they do make sense in different contexts. However, some words are definitely wrong, I argue. Take the often-used words of second generation (im)migrant and immigrant languages (Brune 2004). The term second generation (im)migrant (which I heard used by a researcher a few days ago) is used for persons that never have (im)migrated, and thus distorts reality, and instead becomes a way of marking children born in a country not belong in that country. A similar problem occurs with ‘immigrant languages’. Statistics Canada uses the term to refer “to languages (other than English, French and Aboriginal languages) whose presence in Canada is originally due to immigration”. This term reduces languages to (im)migrant status instead of recognising them as the “real” languages they are. In the Canadian perspective it becomes more ironic: English and French are not seen as (im)migrant languages when they definitely are, following colonial settlement for the establishment of today’s Canada. Thus, some terms are misrepresentations without any benefit for understanding the world beyond those using the terms.
However, most of the terms we use do represent a part of reality, but we often load additional ideas and perceptions onto them. Let us play around with terms I introduced above. Do we perceive people as the same type of characters when we use migrating, mobility or moving (which are in many ways are synonymous)? Migration (even without clarification of “international”) is generally linked to immigrants, migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees, and they are generally perceived as those coming from the “South” or “East”. Mobility, in contrast, is often linked to expats, tourists and perhaps settlers. Here the use and often our perceptions go in another direction, representing people of the “North” or “West”. And when we talk about moving, we are mostly talking about people in close proximity to us: family, friends, and neighbours.
What I am trying to get at is that there is a lot “in a word”. We use words in chains of association and while it is to some extent necessary, we also need to stop and reflect. Some words are wrong and should not be used if we do not want to misrepresent reality. However, most terms are useful in representing partial realities, but they are problematic for two reasons. Firstly, because they can never be more than partial representations, and secondly because they produce associations that often lead us to create an image of the person represented that contributes to defining an “us” and the “Others”.
An inspiration in understanding these processes lies in Robert Miles definition of racialization, a process that has always been linked to the terms I discussed above. He writes:
”…in certain historical conjunctures and under specific material conditions, human beings attribute certain biological [I often add “and cultural”] characteristics with meaning in order to differentiate, to exclude and to dominate: reproducing the idea of ‘race’, they create a racialised Other and simultaneously they racialise themselves.” (Miles 1993:44)
The research that we recently started has the project title “Migrants and solidarities: Negotiating deservingness in welfare micropublics”. It focusses on one of the partial representations I discussed above using the general term of migrants and associating it to issues of solidarities and deservingness in Denmark, Sweden, and the UK. I hope you follow us on this research journey, and our struggles in representing the humans who are generous to participate in this research. At the core is our idea of the difficulties but also possibilities in forging solidarities.
Words and words – what is “really” in a word?