Some notes from the Migration and the Humanities conference

This weekend, we took part in the “Migration and the Humanities – Critical Challenges” conference organized by the Moore Institute at NUI Galway in collaboration with the Irish Research Council and the Irish Humanities Alliance. The conference brought together scholars and activists from all Irish universities and various disciplines: geography, social sciences, history, literary studies, linguistics, ethno-musicology…

migration and the humanities poster

It was a very valuable chance to discuss the questions raised by migration, recent and less recent, outbound and inbound, in Ireland. Anne O’Connor and I talked about “My Story – My Words” as part of the panel on “Experience of Migrants in Ireland”, together with Regina Donlon (Maynooth), Mary Gilmartin (Maynooth), T.J. Hughes (NUI Galway), Valerie Ledwith (NUI Galway), Piaras Mac Éinrí (UCC) and Orla McGarry (UCC). As we talked about our plans to research migrant agency through individual narratives and experiences of translation, we had a chance to discuss with scholars who are tackling many of the same issues from the point of view of human geography and sociology. That made for a very proficuous exchange of points of view – which made it evident how, if we wish to address questions of inclusion, agency and representation, one discipline is not enough. And, as Debbie Lisle (QUB) said in another panel, it is not enough to be interdisciplinary, but rather transdisciplinary. That is to say, it is not enough to consult different disciplines and then retreat safely into our own discipline, but it is necessary to create moments of contact that transform all the disciplines involved in the dialogue.

The discussion surpassed individual frameworks to discuss the present situation, and what we can do to inform policy as migration scholars. The issue of direct provision, that was recently in the news, came up again and again – also through strong testimonies, coming from Lucky Kahmbule and Vukasin Nedeljkovic (who narrated the experience of asylum seekers both as a researcher and a visual artist).

Another recurring issue, that is particularly interesting from the perspective of our work in “My Story” was the question of migrant agency and authorship. That came up in presentations by Charlotte McIvor (NUIG), Patrick Crowley (UCC), Aileen Dillane (UL), Anne Mulhall (UCD), where not only we heard about many instances of art and creativity inspired by migration; but also about the role that this may play in society, and our role as scholars as we open up spaces for representation. With a reiterated call to not just wait for migrant art to happen, but analyze it and engage with it as it happens, as it is being made, it was evident how much we need to concentrate on the very socio-cultural instances that make art possible, and visible to the general public. It is an issue that we will take into account in the few months of “My Story – My Words”, as we collect migrant narratives together with the staff at the Immigrant Council and reflect on how to make them visible and appreciated. A consequence of this, and a challenge for us, is to open spaces of representation, within our research, for the migrant individuals who participate in it and give their point of view. Few areas of research benefit from a bottom-up approach as migration studies.

As the participants discussed policy, and the issues of inclusiveness and racism, and the future of migration in years to come, this conference was also very importantly a reminder of why we research and reflect on migration: to have an impact in society, to make migrant lives easier and more visible, to make pleas understood and received.

We thank Daniel Carey, director of the Moore Institute, for organizing this interesting, stimulating and very useful conference, and for inviting us. And we thank all the speakers for their very interesting ideas.

Since Aileen Dillane played one of their songs at the conference, and they are a very fresh and interesting example of how migration opened up spaces of creativity that challenge and enrich the fabric of Irish society, I would like to conclude with a video from Limerick-based hip-hop collective Rusangano Family:

 

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