Featured Research Project: Minor Migrations

Criticalhabitations is happy to draw your attention to the research project Minor Migrations: Reframing the Discourse around Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children

From the Children Overboard scandal in Australia, to the global response to the image of Aylan Kurdi’s body, to the policy of family separation at the U.S. / Mexico border, contemporary debates about migration often play out around and on children’s bodies and through ideologies of childhood. Such debates highlight the power of children to mobilise moral sentiments in a context that is largely hostile to the arrival of disenfranchised non-white bodies. Yet whilst narratives and images of vulnerable displaced children elicit strong emotions, their framing often reinforces normative ideals of children and childhood, which in turn detracts from the material realities of child displacement. Such idealized representations seldom offer adequate vehicles for ensuring children’s rights or creating ethical and humane migration regimes more generally.

The interest of various actors – politicians, humanitarians, activists, journalists, migrants themselves – in framing discussion of human mobility around child migrants builds on a long tradition of using images and narratives of children for specific national projects. Central to this tradition is the equation of children with the “universal” ideas of childhood-as-potential, innocence, goodness, vulnerability and helplessness that work as powerful vehicles of community and consensus building. As embodiments of our future, Sharon Stephens (1995) argues, “good” children have been seen as “at risk,” their protection contingent on their role within projects of nation building. At the same time, she claims, “bad” children are seen “as risks,” or threats to “our” sense of community and identity, deserving not rescue but disciplinary interventions. Such simultaneity of images of threatened and threatening, deserving and undeserving children, writes Bhabha (2014), testifies to the ambivalence concerning displaced children in the West.

In the context of migration, these archetypes contribute to ambivalent perceptions and configurations of children who migrate alone as, for example, victims or as threats to national security. And whilst they ensure visibility, humanitarian frameworks that frame children as “at risk” and rely on patrons and experts to plead their cause provide actual children with few opportunities for expressing their own opinions as agents of migration in their own right (Bhabha 2014). Resulting conceptions of the child migrant – and specifically the child refugee, as we seek to show – thus tend to reflect at an extreme the practices of silencing, dehistoricization and depoliticization that Liisa Malkki (1996) identified in Western discourses about refugee populations more broadly.

Recently, overlapping fields of study have come ever more strongly to problematize pervailing discursive practices around both childhood and forced migration. From the side of childhood studies, childhood has emerged as a site of contested social and cultural meanings and political agendas (James and James 2004). With the turn to the “politics of childhood,” the concepts of innocence, vulnerability, lack of agency, and dependency are associated with normative visions of childhood, mobilised in the pursuit of political and ideological agendas (Stephens 1995). Furthermore, a growing body of work critiques the equation of childhood with innocence (Stockton 2009; Faulkner 2011; Ticktin 2016), highlighting how normative ideas about childhood discipline and/or exclude “unchildlike” children (Aitkin 2001; Brown 2011). From migration studies, the “autonomy of migration approach” (see Nyers 2015) draws attention away from modes of state control and expert knowledge to forms of migrant agency, putting the actions and aspirations of migrants themselves at the centre of investigation, including those of children. Similarly, critical refugee studies have re-centred refugee storytelling and communities as vital sources of knowledge and agency while insisting on the importance of reconstructing imperial histories behind roots and routes of dislocation (Espiritu 2006).

In this project on ‘minor migrations’, our “child-centered approach” examines the conjunction of politics, history and migrant children in different national and transnational contexts. We chart the heightened visibility of displaced children and explore how the figure of the migrant child becomes a carrier of political meanings, configuring political debates both within and beyond national spaces. Drawing on the fields of postcolonial and cultural studies, childhood and forced migration studies, we aim to bring new perspectives to the contemporary discussion on child migration. With its attentiveness to power dynamics, our interdisciplinary framework highlights the kinds of imperial histories and practices that undergird child/related politics and policies of migration. Simultaneously we are concerned with creating “spaces of enunciation” (Woolley 2017), in which children’s voices become audible. Focusing on refugees and asylum-seekers, but also on illegalized minors crossing borders for economic reasons, we explore intersections between the politics of age and the politics of movement, between child-protection regimes and national economies, between humanitarian sentiments and human rights, between the politics of childhood and the politics of asylum.

Who We Areposter_crossing_borders_lecture_series_potsdam_uni

“Minor Migrations” is a collaboration between Bard College Berlin and the Department for English and American Studies at the University of Potsdam. Developed by Prof. Kerry Bystrom, Dr. Sunčica Klaas and Dr. Carly McLaughlin, the project brings together international scholars and activists working in the field of child migration.

The project spans a variety of initiatives, such as the international symposium “Shifting Frames: Migrant Children, Politics and History” and the lecture series “Children Crossing Borders.” We are very grateful to the Thyssen Foundation, Bard College and the University of Potsdam for their generous support of the project’s activities. For further information see https://www.uni-potsdam.de/iaa/ and https://berlin.bard.edu.


Works Cited

Aitken, Stuart. “Global Crises of Childhood: Rights, Justice and the Unchildlike Child.” Area 33.2 (2001): 119-127.

Bhabha, Jacqueline. Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Brown, Elizabeth. “The ‘Unchildlike Child’: Making and Marking the Child/Adult Divide in the Juvenile Court.” Children’s Geographies 9.3 (2011): 361–377.

Espiritu, Yên Lê. “Toward a Critical Refugee Study: The Vietnamese Refugee Subject in US Scholarship.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 1.1-2 (2006): 410-433.

Faulkner, Joanne. The Importance of Being Innocent: Why We Worry About Children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

James, Allison and Adrian James. Constructing Childhood: Theory, Policy and Social Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Malkki, Liisa. “Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism and Dehistoricization.” Cultural Anthropology 11.3 (1996): 377-404.

Nyers, Peter. “Migrant Citizenships and Autonomous Mobilities.” Migration, Mobility and Displacement 1.1 (2015): 23-39.

Stephens, Sharon, ed. Children and the Politics of Culture. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Stockton, Kathryn Bond. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009.

Ticktin, Miriam. “Thinking Beyond Humanitarian Borders.” Social Research: An International Quarterly 83.2 (2016): 255–271.

Tyrrell, Naomi.et al. (eds). Transnational Migration and Childhood. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Woolley, Agnes. ‘Narrating the ‘Asylum Story’: Between Literary and Legal Storytelling’, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 19.3 (2017): 376-394.


Exhibition: Rencontres Improbables

Rencontres Improbables 
(The Secret Encounters Of Kusama Kalthoum)
kuratiert von Jayce Salloum und Mireille Kassar

3. September 2016 bis 1. Oktober 2016
Eröffnung | Samstag 3. September 2016 | 19 Uhr

Walaa Al Alawi, Syria/ Jordan | Tina-Maria Al Jabri, Beirut | Samirah Alkassim, Washington, DC | Nadim Asfar, Paris/Beirut | Sonny Assu, unceded Ligwildaʼx̱w territory (Campbell River, BC) | Uriel Barthélémi, Paris | Dominique Lacloche + Thomas Bottini, Paris | Gaye Chan, Kaneohe, Hawai’i | New BC Indian Art and Welfare Society Collective, Canada (is on Indigenous land) | Anita Dube, New Delhi | Ayumi Goto, Kelowna, BC | Stacey Ho, Vancouver | Amélie Legrand, Berlin | Henrick Plenge Jacobsen, Copenhagen | Mireille Kassar, Paris/Beirut | Jeneen Frei Njootli, Vancouver | Bernadette Phan, Vancouver | Thi Tam Phan, Vancouver | Emilio Rojas, Mexico City/Chicago | Jayce Salloum, Vancouver | Wilfred Sampson, Vancouver | Sumugan Sivanesan, Sydney/Berlin + Tessa Zettel, Sydney/Paris | Chris Turo, Vancouver | Jin-me Yoon, Vancouver | Lisa Schmidt-Colinet + Alexander Schmoeger, Vienna + Florian Zeyfang, Berlin


Jayce Salloum (Kanada) & Mireille Kassar (Frankreich) kollaborieren mit internationalen Künstler*innen.
Die gezeigten Arbeiten überschreiten ihre Spezifik und werden Teil einer eigenständigen Geschichte, die sich über die Ausstellung hinaus immer weiter schreiben wird.


… „ Wir haben ein engagiertes Projekt geschaffen, dass zu sorgfältigen dialektischen Juxatpositionen anregt, schöpferische Eingriffe, Überlagerungen, Licht wie Spiel vereinigend, Interaktionen hervorruft die sich direkt auf die erfahrbaren Ebenen der Ausstellung auswirken. In diesem vielschichtigen Organismus in Bewegung können hier Dinge erscheinen und verschwinden – ein Geist in den Fasern der Ausstellung; wir müssen die Ideen erneuern, diesen kleinen Ort wie einen nomadischen Ort, das Scheußliche und das Erhabene entlang des Weges erblicken, den Künstler und den Betrachter mit dieser Trennung herausfordern und damit konfrontieren; unter vielfachen Klängen die Wahl treffen; die Architektur, das rohe Material, die Energie, unvorhersehbare Begegnungen zu bezeugen.”  (Jayce Salloum & Mireille Kassar)


…„ Rencontres Improbables is to be considered as a stance, a sort of “pause” belonging to a much more global motion. Making a mark, the proposition is intense rather than merely a sampling, a set of statements of presence and articulations of being. The project is founded upon the idea of “intensity” rather than of “expansion” or “addition”. It is a summation of joint forces. There is no frivolity, or at least if there is, it will be for relief; for moments of plea- sure to counter the weight we feel tasked with, the meanings we are driven to make. These meanings are a matrix of lives, struggles, energies, sculpting the space and engaging the visitor.” (Jayce Salloum & Mireille Kassar)

Waste Matters: Workshop at University of Potsdam, July 8th 2016

Contemporary cities generate waste of various kinds on a scale that is often difficult to imagine and comprehend. Yet cities are also key sites for innovative practices of reuse, recycling and re-purposing. Through such cultures of renewal, waste products not only acquire a new value and function, but they also become entangled in new social relations, material practices and urban forms. Although waste is generally understood as the mundane, worthless, redundant and discarded afterwards of how we live our lives, this project takes as a starting point the fact that we spend a good amount of time in our ‘ordinary’ lives managing waste, and that the problem of how we manage waste is at the heart of environmental crisis and the development of more sustainable futures. Building on research in waste studies, and premised on the analytic importance of exploring that which is rejected, this project recognizes waste as a dynamic category that needs to be understood in relation to the urban contexts in which it is most commonly found and transformed, and the relationships in which it is embedded.

The workshop brings together scholars from Australia and Germany within the fields of cultural and urban studies to investigate the diverse cultural phenomenon that is waste, the urban infrastructures that were designed to eliminate waste in the name of hygiene and technical efficiency but which are now in crisis, and the range of amateur and DIY urbanisms that are retooling waste in new and innovative ways.

For more information, please contact Anja Schwarz.

Workshop “Pluralising Practices”: Linz, June 1st-3rd 2016

We’re happy to announce our third workshop which will take place at the University of Arts and Design, Linz, Austria, June 1st-3rd 2016.
Over the last two decades, increasingly diverse intellectual practices have become subsumed under the heading cultural studies. These engagements speak from different linguistic, regional, national and diasporic contexts, draw on specific local traditions and methodologies, and are forking distinct trajectories, thus making it impossible to speak of a unified cultural studies. This heterogeneity has led to an increasing emphasis on decolonising knowledge and the need for new transcultural approaches that transcend the limitations of regional studies. On the one hand, this development highlights the necessity of translation: of languages, concepts, different academic approaches. On the other, this decolonial momentum reasserts cultural studies as a political project that exceeds academic spaces of knowledge and opens itself to epistemologies that challenge the university’s Eurocentrism, gender and class gaps from the outside. These multiform spaces of knowledge become inhabitable at the intersection of artistic, academic and activist modes of knowledge production, in spaces and via events open to a diverse public. They can be discerned in new models of publishing not exclusively reserved to academia, such as open-access online journals or blogs that utilise the virtual and accessible space of the internet.

This two-day workshop invites to reflect on practices of epistemological translation between diverse knowledge spaces. How can we translate between spaces inside and outside of academia? How can we encourage decolonial agendas when negotiating between institutional and other agents? Furthermore, we invite scholars to reflect on, propose and invent practices of cultural studies in virtual and other spaces. What kinds of practices do we have to create such open spaces? How can we inhabit them?

Participants: Anna Artaker (Vienna), Hongwei Bao (Nottingham), Henriette Gunkel (London), Karin Harrasser (Linz), Katrin Köppert (Linz), Anja Michaelsen (Bochum), Sumugan Sivanesan (Berlin), Daniel Winkler (Innsbruck)

Organizers: Alexander Dunst (Paderborn), Elahe Haschemi Yekani (Flensburg), Anja Schwarz (Potsdam), Gudrun Rath (Linz)



Minor Culture: Melbourne, 1st – 3rd December 2015

Cultural Studies Association of Australasia

Minor Culture creates a space for inter-disciplinary dialogues around the study of place, identity and marginality, and addresses research on everyday cultural productions and media texts, cultural policy and discourses of sustainability, digital life and creative industries, and public cultures in the Asia-Pacific region. The conference also invites responses to the following questions:
  • How are minor cultures inhabited? When do minor cultures become uninhabitable?
  • Is the concept of minority still useful in explaining contemporary forms of cultural marginality?
  • How do categories such as indigeneity and Aboriginality, gender and sexuality, class, disability, race and citizenship produce minoritising effects? How might these categories change when mobilised through governmental discourses, newsmedia, and everyday usage?
  • Who narrates experiences of minoritisation? For whom are these narratives produced? How is minoritarianism articulated through film, music, television, literature, performance, and digital cultures?
  • In what ways do practices of government and cultural policy shape relationships between local, national and transnational cultures? To what extent are legal regulations implicated in the formation of minoritarian practices?
  • How do new minor or major cultural formations emerge? Through which means do political practices resist or intervene in these formations?
  • Do minor cultures require novel theoretical tools or research methodologies? What do “experimental” approaches to cultural research look like? What alternative kinds of knowledge could such approaches make available?
  • Is minority a humanist concept? What place could “majority” and “minority” have within post-anthropocentric thinking?
  • And when do minor cultures cease to be minor?

Find more information here.

ACS Institute on “Precarious Futures”, 7-12 December 2015: University of the Free State in Bloemfontein

The Association for Cultural Studies (ACS) is delighted to announce the third ACS Institute, which will be held from 7-12 December 2015 at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The theme of the 2015 Institute is “Precarious Futures.”

More information here.

Workshop: African Cultural Studies, 22-23 January 2015, University of Potsdam / Werkstatt der Kulturen Berlin

Across the African continent, new forms of cultural enquiry are emerging that operate either in parallel or in opposition to Anglo-American and European traditions of cultural studies. Devoted to a critique of the continuing dominance in Africa of the European academic legacy, these African approaches to cultural studies draw on local knowledge traditions and seek to develop a genuinely decolonised approach to thinking culture and understanding the relationship between the local and the global, between tradition and modernity.

Within our European research and teaching contexts, the impulses from African cultural studies make necessary a critical reappraisal of concepts such as indigeneity and the place-bound nature of knowledges that sometimes sit uneasily within our own ways of doing cultural studies. How does one adequately address and make productive the tensions that exist between a research agenda that is presumably shared by all cultural studies scholars alike and the simultaneous insistence on diverse, local traditions?

Tursday, 22nd January, 10 a.m. – 12 noon: African Cultural Studies Master Class University of Potsdam, Campus Am Neuen Palais, house 8, room 75 (“Professorenmensa”)

Join us for a lively discussion during a morning master class with Francis B. Nyamnjoh and Adam Haupt, two leading cultural studies scholars from South Africa.

Francis B. Nyamnjoh is Professor of Anthropology at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cape Town
Adam Haupt is Associate Professor of Media Studies at the Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town

To sign up for the workshop, please contact anja.schwarz@uni-potsdam.de
Preparatory readings will be made available prior to the meeting.

Friday, 23rd January, 3-6 p.m.: Doing African Cultural Studies, Werkstatt der Kulturen Berlin

Bringing together African scholars from the field of cultural studies with Berlin-based colleagues, the workshop aims to generate a dialogue between their diverse practices of thinking culture.

Francis B. Nyamnjoh, Professor of Anthropology, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cape Town
Adam Haupt, Associate Professor of Media Studies, Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town

Elahe Haschemi Yekani, Junior Professor of English Literature, University of Flensburg
James Odhiambo Ogone, Doctoral Student in the Department of English, University of Potsdam
Regina Römhild, Professor of European Ethnology, Humboldt University, Berlin
Anja Schwarz, Junior Professor of Cultural Studies, Univeristy of Potsdam

Book Launch

The workshop is followed by the launch of Postcolonial Piracy: Media Distribution and Cultural Production in the Global South (eds Lars Eckstein and Anja Schwarz). Please join us for a round of celebratory drinks and snacks.