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Narrative of Migration

Rates are the same for both online and in person attendance. Participants will only need to register once to attend any panel.


Narratives are an important part of migration policy, as they are used to convey a position, create legitimacy or justify a means to an end. All migration narratives are essentially political. Some concentrate more on who we are as a society and who we want to be − or who belongs and who does not. Others focus on policy choices that both directly and indirectly construct insider and outsider criteria for who is considered an integrated migrant.

Narratives do not emerge naturally, nor are they fully the products of political engineering ex nihilo. They are usually forged through a long process that incorporates existing dominant discourses about a nation and its immigration and emigration history, privileging certain explanations and prescriptions for action. Narratives are also influenced by transnational discourses and broader hegemonic views on migration and its governance.

Deconstructing narratives offers a means of uncovering power relations, showing how migration is an inherently political process and demonstrating that a national interest on migration does not exist. Rather, there are competing visions and interests, and beyond any demonstration of what works and what does not, it is important to understand how and who promotes specific explanations and legitimizes in specific ways dominant and alternative views on migration and integration.

Such critical inquiry is particularly important today because of the potential of advanced communication technologies (and their pitfalls too, of course). All narratives, particularly those related to migration, travel much faster today on the Internet and via social media. The latter offers new methods of engagement and can democratize dominant narratives, as it gives average citizens a platform from which to speak up and raise their voices. At the same time, as we all know, social media is particularly dangerous, as it easily forms echo chambers in which people only listen to those who agree with them. While media studies have long shown that people tend to read or listen to views they agree with, the Internet has brought this insularity to new levels both because of how easy it is for people to remain isolated and how simple it is to go online and forge transnational social or political communities.

We are also particularly aware that narratives of migration have been dominated by those constructed in the destination countries of Europe, North America and, to an extent, Oceania. Much less attention has been paid to the emigration, immigration or transit-migrant narratives of other countries and world regions. There is a need, therefore, to decentre our understanding of migration narratives in terms of the above geographies and in terms of actors as well: Whose voices are heard most? Who shapes the narratives?


May 10, 9:30 - 11AM EDT Session 1: Migration narratives in settler colonial nations 

Chair: John Carlaw, CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University

Migration narratives in settler colonial states emerge from transnational dynamics rooted in global histories and contemporary realties that feature, challenge, justify and/or (re)produce complex and shifting hierarchies of membership among and between Indigenous, settler, racialized and so-called migrant members of these societies. In these states, migration narratives can be thought of as coming from above, and they often attempt to legitimize or conceal these states’ origins and contemporary relations to Indigenous peoples. These ostensible nations of immigrants also simultaneously express xenophilic and xenophobic discourses and policies that offer forms of inclusion for some migrants while excluding and disciplining others. While some settler narratives, such as those of multiculturalism, often celebrate immigrants and their contributions, contemporary narratives also frequently feature racialized categories, such as the asylum seeker or refugee, the foreign worker, the economic migrant or the security threat. Such labels and narratives materially contribute to the levels of opportunity, social inclusion and political or economic freedom (or unfreedom) experienced by those to whom they are applied. This panel will consider the contemporary state of both cross-cutting and country-specific migration narratives in these states.

The complex and competing narratives concerning migration and migrants in settler colonial states: The case of the CANZ (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) states | Paul Spoonley, Massey University PDF fileAbstract

Power, migration narratives and the elimination of the native: Citizenship and belonging in Canada, Australia and the United States | Yasmeen Abu-Laban, University of Alberta PDF fileAbstract

Incarcerated stories: Indigenous women and violence in the settler capitalist state  | Shannon Speed (Chickasaw), University of California, Los Angeles PDF fileAbstract

May 10, 11:30 PM - 1 PM EDT Session 2: Migration narratives in the era of social media

Chair: Stein Monteiro, CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University

Social media has allowed for global conversations and the sharing of personal opinions in a variety of new spaces. It is distinct from traditional outlets like radio, television, print media and public rallies because of its wide reach, intense decentralization, high level of interactions and the ability it gives users to personalize the type of information they receive. Social media is constantly transforming. Emerging platforms and functions allow migrants and non-migrants to represent migration processes and migrants themselves. For instance, newcomers are represented in online discussion forums and Twitter conversations as essential workers, contributing citizens and resilient communities. However, xenophobic and discriminatory views on migrants are rampant as well, such as the closed Facebook group Stand up for Sweden (Stå upp för Sverige). In this session, participants will talk about the salience of migration narratives on social media and their effect on public discourse, actors in the physical world and even migration policies.

Understanding digital racism and xenophobia: Toward a theoretical model | Mattias Ekman, Stockholm University PDF fileAbstract

Examining anti-social behaviour in online discussions about the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine | Anatoliy Gruzd, Toronto Metropolitan University PDF fileAbstract

“Breadth – depth – back to breadth”: What can we learn about migration narratives among non-elites on Twitter through the application of computational and qualitative social science analytical strategies? | Bindi Shah, University of Southampton PDF fileAbstract

May 10, 2 - 3 PM EDT Round table: Migration and mobility narratives in the arts

Chairs: Anna Triandafyllidou and Orit Kamir, Center for Human Dignity

Short audiovisual clips created by immigrants to narrate their own stories offer wide audiences unmediated encounters with immigrants’ voices, their points of view and their interpretations of their lives. This situates immigrants as subjects, highlighting their human dignity, and each individual story remains a unique part of a mosaic that does not disappear in the overall pattern. Immigrants maintain their singularity, resisting generalizations that can lead to stereotyping. Nevertheless, the usage of film entails pitfalls inherent to the media. For example, when situated as the clips’ protagonists, immigrants are distinguished via convention from the crowd and imbued with a hero’s aura. This solicits identification with them, while others remain blurred. Additionally, immigration-focused short films, like any audiovisual product, are inevitably manipulative yet do not warn their viewers of such manipulation. Audiences, especially young ones, are not well versed in critical thinking. This panel considers how a creative producer could construct messages of immigrants and immigration that are humanistic, pluralistic, respectful, reliable and thought provoking while also encouraging audiences to embrace critical lenses – and use them.

The narratives of migration: Between politics and policies | Cyrus Sundar Singh, CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University PDF fileAbstract

Deconstructing narratives from the narrative maker point of view | Alberto Bougleux, Documentary Filmmaker PDF fileAbstract

Collaborating across disciplines | Bernadette Klausberger, Migration Matters PDF fileAbstract

May 10, 3 - 5 PM EDT Session 3: Narratives of migration in emerging regional powers

Chair: Jérémie Molho, CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University

Contrary to dominant Western media frames and political narratives, a larger proportion of global migration takes place within the Global South and between low- and middle-income countries than from the South to the North. South-South migration plays a crucial role in global remittance flows and relationships between migration and development and other social processes as well as in the political and economic status of emerging regional powers. Countries in the Global South − particularly those emerging as regional powers − adopt their own narratives to make sense of both emigration and immigration, sometimes resisting the dominant perspectives of countries in the Global North and other times acquiescing to and adopting those views. This panel will decentre common narratives framing Global South states as places of origin or transit to the Global North and explore migration-related narratives in emerging powers through cross-regional perspectives from Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia.

Turkey’s migration narratives and strategic temporality | Zeynep Şahin-Mencütek, Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies and CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University PDF fileAbstract

Migration and development in Morocco: A myth! | Mehdi Lahlou, National Institute of Statistics and Applied Economics PDF fileAbstract

Evolving migration narratives in Russia | Andrei V. Korobkov, Middle Tennessee State University PDF fileAbstract

Countering containment and combatting migrant “immoralities” | Loren B. Landau, University of Oxford, University of the Witwatersrand PDF fileAbstract

May 11, 9 - 10:30 AM EDT Session 4: Narratives of migration in city-states

Chair: Richa Shivakoti, CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University

Migration has been an essential feature of many small city-states that have had to rely on migrants to build and sustain their fast-paced development agendas. However, the integration of migrants in city-states can be unequal and restrictive depending on their status and skill levels. Several small city-states have relied on forms of circular labour migration to fill jobs in sectors such as construction and domestic labour while only allowing pathways to permanent residency and citizenship to select groups. These policy choices influence migrants’ narratives and lived experiences related to temporariness, mobility, sense of belonging and access to rights. Challenges and complexities related to such policy choices were especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic and its various lockdowns. This session will highlight the narratives of migration in small city-states in the Persian Gulf region and in Southeast and East Asia. It discusses how narratives influence migration polices in powerful ways by shaping how challenges and solutions are decided in city-states and how migration influences narratives in return.

Migration narratives in Singapore: From economic imperatives to counter-perspectives on ethnicity and age | Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, National University of Singapore PDF fileAbstract

Narrative of governing emigration: A case study in Hong Kong | Eric Fong, University of Hong Kong PDF fileAbstract

Narratives of migrant workers: Belonging and inclusion in Qatar | Zahra Babar, Georgetown University in Qatar PDF fileAbstract

May 11, 11 AM - 12:30 PM EDT Session 5: Regional migration narratives: The cases of West and East Africa

Chair: Oreva Olakpe, CERC Migration, Toronto Metropolitan University

Historically, migration has been fundamental to the subsistence and livelihoods of people all over Africa. However, there are differing perspectives on what the root causes and consequences of migration are in regional contexts. Additionally, migration governance objectives and goals from the Global North – particularly from the European Union − have dominated and overshadowed regional migration narratives and shaped how migrants and migration in these contexts are perceived as well as the related policy, legal and political approaches. A large amount of research focuses on migration narratives from these regions to the Global North, greatly limiting our understanding of the complexity of regional migrations in Africa. To decentre the knowledge of migration narratives, this session looks at West and East Africa to unpack and examine migration narratives from above and below for a better understanding of the key narratives shaping debate and policy, the actors and shapers of different narratives and the consequences of narratives that shape migration governance within these regional contexts.

Confronting migration narratives with aspirations and the ability to move in Ghana | Melissa Mouthaan, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and University of Cambridge PDF fileAbstract

Unpacked narratives on migration governance and gender in West Africa | Mary Boatemaa Setrana, University of Ghana PDF fileAbstract

Narratives on the free movement of people in West Africa | Amanda Bisong, European Centre for Development Policy Management PDF fileAbstract

Regional migration narratives: The case of East Africa | Girmachew Adugna, Center for Forced Displacement and Migration Studies, Addis Ababa University PDF fileAbstract


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