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Migration, Nation and Identity


  • Kasongo Kapanga
  • Lidia Radi

The current crisis of Covid-19 has pushed government officials and lawmakers to propose very tough restrictions and regulations to the migratory influx toward the US and other nations around the world. In the US alone, the White House has halted any issuance of legal documents to migrants and asylum seekers for the foreseeable future. The tragic consequences of Covid-19 have created natural walls to many European countries. At the same time, several American and European industries that heavily rely on migrant work, have experienced a troubling shortage of products and supplies that will further worsen the current economic downturn. This clash between a political discourse and an economic urgency will also be part of our conversations around migration, borders, and national identity.

     For the past two years, approximately twelve to fifteen faculty members from five schools and across disciplines took the opportunity to reflect on their work in relation to various issues of migration whether as they deal with them in their courses or their research. This past year, another layer in the form of public display through debates and conferences was added. Even the abrupt shift of the semester forcing all the faculty members to resort to remote teaching could not temper this commonly found interest. In the absence of the face-to-face interactions, we took advantage of the zoom technology and we met remotely. Quite naturally, there was a realization that the past two-year work could result into a common research that could yield an edited volume, if we were awarded a third year of this FLC. The insights, ideas and debates that came out from our meetings, conferences and readings would find fruition in a published work. For example, in the past two years members of our community organized two very successful university-wide symposia, inviting scholars from our own campus, the US and abroad. In the spring 2019, Lidia Radi organized the conference “The Contested Spaces of the Mediterranean”, and in the academic year 2019-2020, our colleagues (Kathrin Bower, Miguel Diaz-Barriga, Michelle Kahn and Margaret Dorsey) invited several panelists on campus to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, and to further conversations around the timely topic of migration both in the US and in other areas of the world. This past year, we met regularly to discuss the research topics of several of our colleagues and members of our FLC. Bob Spires (SPCS), Tara Casey (Law School), Sydney Watts (A&S) were among the colleagues who presented their latest scholarship. We also contributed to the visit of French-Togolese playwright, Michel Djiwonou, who performed on our campus during Black History month, and held several talks and events with our students to discuss colonialism, race, migration and current discourses around transnational works. 

First of all, we would like to continue gathering a vibrant Faculty Learning Community whose research, teaching or service addresses migration, political asylum, nationhood, issues of identity and humanitarian aid from different disciplines from across all schools. We will continue to investigate the multifaceted problem of migration and political asylum in the context of International law, political science, the humanities, arts, business, ethics and environmental studies.

Secondly, the main objective of next year’s FLC debates will be to answer through our individual scholarships some of the questions we explored in the past two years. How can an uprooted individual demand any rights, even basic human rights, in a land that isn’t his/her home? How would those caught in between, such as the generation born in “exile”, define themselves? How is citizenship defined? What weight does International law have in matters of migration and political asylum? What does it mean to be a “climate refugee”, and how will this affect our perspective on migration?  How do migrant writers or artists depict their struggles in their newfound home? What do they teach us about human resilience, courage, altruistic behavior? In which ways do migrants contribute to the economic, social and cultural lives of the countries that adopt them? How can the various local constituencies participate in this debate? What does the Covid-19 situation reveal about borders?  Do borders matter? If so, how? If not, what are some of the lingering questions? 

Thirdly, we propose to edit a collective volume based on our individual scholarly and intellectual answers to the questions above. This venue is designed to respond to two major goals: we plan to organize conversations among our faculty at the highest levels that will yield published work; we will also engage the broader community—Covid-19 allowing—through programs and events such as “Lunches at the library” or Brown Bags in order to discuss our essays and collaborative projects. In other words, the proposed FLC will allow for a structured space in which a highly visible outcome (edited volume) will raise the profile of UR faculty’s expertise within the larger domestic and international debate around migration and its many implications.

In the context of our University’s current strategic plan, whose goal is to become leader in preparing students who can “contribute to and succeed in a complex world; producing knowledge to address the world’s problems,” we couldn’t think of a more important topic than “migration, nation and identity” to engage ourselves collectively and productively. As we mentioned earlier in this proposal, the publication of a volume would significantly enhance our individual and collective profiles.