In recent years a small number of studies have sought to realign postcolonial studies with the material realities of disenfranchised, often illegalized modes of migration to the Global North. In his Postcolonial Asylum, David Farrier declared the figure of the asylum seeker a ‘scandal for postcolonial studies’ (1). A scandal first because asylum seekers expose a blindspot in the field, which has tended to understand mobility and displacement as empowering and has paid little heed to the material experience of migration for the politically, socially and economically dispossessed. Scandalous secondly because in their appeal for recognition by the nation-state, asylum-seekers present a challenge to the anti-national, cosmopolitan project of postcolonial studies. Narratives of precarious migrancy therefore require a reading practice that recognizes, as Agnes Woolley has demanded, that ‘refugees and asylum seekers are not metaphors for rootlessness, but socially situated subjects’ (4), and a revisiting of postcolonial concepts such as contact zones, cosmopolitanism and diaspora (Gikandi; McLeod). The forced migrant has thus emerged as a singular figure whose radical otherness requires not only a rethinking of borders – exploring the violence of border regimes, and their construction of illegalized bodies via Giorgio Agamben’s work on the ban and his ideas on bare life, for example (Farrier and Tuitt) – but also of the ethical underpinnings of the Self/Other encounter, as in work that engages with Derrida’s theory of hospitality as a foundation for an ethical relationship between the asylum-seeker and the citizen (Farrier; Rosello; Woolley). This important and timely work has entailed a recognition of the importance of literary narratives of forced migration for exploring and conceptualising the experiences and subjectivities formed in relation to precarious migrancy, as well as their potential to intervene in and reshape public debates on migration and perceptions of asylum seekers and refugees beyond ‘the semiotics of suffering’ (Cox et al. 8) and discourses of border sovereignty and security. It also insists on the continuing relevance of postcolonial studies – despite the current shortcomings of the field (Barthet; Sellman) – to the issue of forced migration.
Following the recent call in social science migration studies to ‘recentre the South’ (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh “Recentering”), this volume invites readings of narratives that depict the varied contexts and conditions of precarious migrancy in the South. It thereby seeks to open up the questions and paradigms that have so far shaped the turn to disenfranchised modes of migration in postcolonial studies. For instance, the focus on discourses of integration, citizenship and belonging, and the close attention to the citizen–migrant relationship, remains tied to how immigration is discursively framed in the Global North. Similarly, we want to suggest that although the focus on border regimes and practices are important for rendering visible the material experience of forced migration to the Global North, this may not be the most important framework for understanding the materiality of precarious migration in the Global South. Our call to centre narratives of migration in the South corresponds to a shift in studies of migration literature from the strictly postcolonial – that is migration from (former) colonies to (former) metropoles – to a framework that is ‘global and postcolonial’ (Sellman 754). That is, one in which ‘domination and inequities are more diffuse and migration patterns less clearly charted, defined as much by points of transit as points of arrival’ (Sellmann 754), but which nevertheless holds that ‘we can’t understand contemporary migrations without understanding slavery and colonialism as their precursor and cause’ (Ahmad xx; see also Grosfoguel et al.). Thus while the postcolonial remains pertinent and crucial, the global opens up trajectories and experiences of migration that fall outside South–North or margin–centre migration flows.
Recognising that literature can be a source of knowledge production about migration (Boochani; Fiddian-Qasmiyeh “Recentering”; Sellman), we want to place a special emphasis on the literary and poetic strategies used, in order to seek out experiences of precarious migrancy which fall out aside the frames that have so far informed analyses of migration narratives. Due to the strong focus on Anglophone narratives so far, we particularly invite contributions on narratives originally published in other languages. In doing so, we ask what other knowledges of migration emerge through experiences of migration that take place outside of the Global North. Our focus on precarious migrancy recognizes that migration exists ‘in a continuum of involuntary to voluntary’ (Ahmad xvi), and that many forms of ‘voluntary’ migration may generate intense vulnerability and extreme precarity. Precarious migrancy, a term that recognizes ‘the ways that the conditions of migrancy often increase vulnerability for migrants’ (Sellman 753) might therefore include some forms of labour migration, as well as refugees and asylum seekers’ experiences in transit, in detention or post-deportation. The shift away from the focus on the Global North, we argue, urges us to look at migration as an experience that begins long before the moment of arrival in the host country, and that is rooted in local circumstances which are always entangled with larger histories. It also opens the narrative space to stories of forced return migration in the form of deportation. Away from the ‘sedentary bias’ (Malkki) of the Global North that frames immigration from the South as crisis and rupture, what mobilities can we trace that might compel us towards a more nuanced understanding of migration? What subject positions do we encounter that unsettle the politico-legal fixity and essentialising force of categories such as ‘refugee’, ‘asylum-seeker’ and ‘economic migrant’? Similarly, we are also interested in other forms of belonging and relationality that emerge in and through the spatial and temporal zones of migration that cannot be accounted for through theories of diasporic belonging or the citizen–migrant binary. In this respect, our interests dovetail once again with recent work in migration studies that has focused on refugee–refugee relations (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh “Refugee”) or networks of care (Rosen et al.) that point to new ‘social ecolog[ies] of identification’ (Gilroy qtd. in Woolley 17) formed in relation to migration. In this respect, we are interested in not just how narratives of migrancy outside of the Global North shed light on different and embodied experiences of migration, but also how those narratives might help us to reimagine borders and modes of being in the world formed in relation to migration.
Possible questions might include:
- What themes and frameworks for representing migration do we find in narratives of migration in the Global South?
- What experiences of migrancy, forms of subjectivity and community do narratives of migration in the South imagine, and how are these positions to be understood intersectionally, traversed as they are by gender, class, race, sexuality and other categories?
- What forms of community and relationality, including intimate relations, do we encounter in literary narratives that are not accounted for by postcolonial theories of diaspora or the citizen–migrant binary?
- What about those journeys that may be aiming for a destination in the Global North, but remain in the Global South? What about those who never arrive, who remain in transit zones, who find no means of migration, or those who are left behind in their home countries?
- What about the journey itself, the experience of travel, the desire—or not—to move or to be on the move?
- What other literary modes of representing migration do we encounter (e.g. the ‘horrific surrealism’ of Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains, the mythic mode of Abu Bakr Khaal, African Titanics, the ‘nightmare realism’ of Hassan Blasim, or the genre of the slave narrative in refugee narratives, as identified by Yogita Goyal)?
- What is the role of the natural world in representations of forced migration? Do they use ‘metaphors of wilderness to stage spaces outside of citizenship’ (Sellman 752) or are there other functions?
- How do these texts narrate affective embodied relationships to places or other sensuous experiences?
- What are the subjectivities engendered by waiting (e.g. to leave the home country, in a migrant or refugee camp, in a transit country, or for an asylum application to be processed) or other temporalities of migration?
- How do these narratives account for and narrate migration experiences beyond the criteria of ‘successful’ or ‘failed’ migration and migrants?
Please submit a detailed 500–800 word abstract by 1st August 2021 to Gigi Adair (email@example.com) and Carly McLaughlin (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will aim to notify you whether your proposal has been accepted ASAP, at the latest by 30th September 2021. Completed articles of ca. 6000 words are due by 1st February 2022. Inquiries welcome.