Research

The Zolberg Institute’s research currently focuses on the following areas:

  1. Mobility and Immobility Through Design, Media and Technology
  2. New Geographies of Migration, Politics and Governance
  3. Migration and Mobility within the Global South

1. Mobility and Immobility Through Design, Media and Technology
Technology, design and material culture play an increasingly important role in the new geographies and politics of migration. While there are development projects in place to address the reasons that people migrate, and humanitarian projects that work to address the effects of displacement, migrants and their allies are engaging in new ways with their predicaments, and in particular, they are making use of and developing new technologies.  But this is also true for those who want to contain the movement of people; regimes of security and militarization have expanded drastically in recent years for this purpose.  Zolberg Institute research focuses on the formation of new political subjects as part of larger socio-technical assemblages. How do technologies – both in the larger Foucaultian sense of political technologies and the smaller sense of control and surveillance technologies ‒ shape and challenge the formation of migrants, for instance, as political subjects versus as humanitarian subjects?  How do these new technologies transform space, creating new models of camps and detention centers as well as new types of community? How do they construct places of memory that enable new political formations? These types of technology and design are creating new forms of global knowledge, activated by and for migrants, and yet subsequently circulating more broadly; how are they transforming our political and economic landscapes?

2. New Geographies of Migration, Politics and Governance

State-diaspora relations
Migration research in the past decade has increasingly focused on migrants’ home states and their role in migration governance, including policies to control outward flows and to engage their diasporas in other countries.  This growing area of research challenges conventional assumptions about the lack of interest or ability of countries of origin to maintain ties with their populations abroad, extend political and economic rights, and exercise controls over their movement or activities.  It also raises key questions regarding traditional notions of sovereignty and citizenship.  Despite growing research in this field, questions remain about why states are interested in engaging their diasporas, what type of policies they are willing to adopt in order to do so, and the effects of these policies. The Institute’s research focuses on the need to theorize such policies and generate a deeper and comparative understanding of state-diaspora relations and their role in economic development, integration and global migration governance.

Rethinking transnational engagement, citizenship and belonging
In addition to new governance strategies, if we look “from below” we see that migrants are themselves creating new ways of living, new forms of organizing, new forms of engagement with their communities of origin, and new ideas about belonging.  For instance, ideas of citizenship are being reworked by undocumented migrants, grounded on residency rather than nationality.  Similarly, for better or worse, migrants are increasingly using their bodies as currency in their quest for papers and rights.  The Zolberg Institute examines these movements, exchanges, theories and imaginaries.

3. Migration and Mobility within the Global South
As anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff argue in their recent book, Theory from the South, theories and practices developed in the global South are increasingly remaking the North.  This perspective can help us to think in new ways about patterns of mobility and immobility, resource distribution, inequality, and globalization.  For example, there are new training regimes in refugee law developed by the UN, tailored for countries of the global South –especially border countries between “North” and “South,” (e.g. countries in northern Africa), to teach them how to grant asylum (“outsourcing asylum”), thereby stopping asylum seekers before they reach Europe.  What are the effects of relying on countries such as Morocco or Algeria to manage flows of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia moving north, or from Mexico and Central America to the United States and Canada, when they themselves are struggling with high rates of poverty and unemployment?  There is also a tense and changing relationship between migrants and citizens in places with higher rates of poverty, where citizens have begun to occupy the same precarious status as immigrants. What do studies from the global South tell us about new models of citizenship and belonging, models that are likely to be relevant globally? A focus on South-South migration also leads us to new ways of thinking about migration and how it produces global knowledge.