Discussing the “refugee crisis” at the 21st ASN Convention

In 2015/16 we ran our conference funding for Early Career Researchers scheme for the second time. In this series of posts, some of the winners report from the conferences they attended with our support. 

By Marco Mogiani

In October 2015, I had just come back to London after having carried out my fieldwork in Greece. Throughout the 10 months I spent there, I had the chance to meet with and talk to the migrants and refugees trapped in the western part of the country, in Patras, from whose port passenger and cargo ships they departed for Italy. Moreover, I had formal encounters with local and national government representatives and, during the last weeks of my fieldwork, I also went to the small village of Idomeni, located on the border with Macedonia, where hundreds of migrants were allowed (at that time) to continue their journey through the Balkans. It was with such information, images and experiences vivid in my mind, that I decided to answer the call for papers launched by the Association for the Studies of Nationalities.

The ASN Convention, which celebrated its 21st edition this year, is the largest multidisciplinary conference on a wide range of topics, such as nationalism, ethnicity, ethnic conflict and national identity in regional sections, as well as thematic sections on Nationalism and Migration/Diasporas. This edition also welcomed paper and panels related, among others, to the so-called “migrant and refugee crisis”: the perfect outlet for my research. It offered an opportunity to critically engage with other researchers and scholars with similar research interests from all over the world; share the findings and insights from my research with a wider and variegated audience; and the chance to integrate constructive feedback and fresh ideas into my future works.

The Convention was held at Columbia University, New York, from 14th to 16th April 2016. There were more than 150 panels on all regions of the former Communist world and Eurasia, special panels on the conflict in Ukraine and Russia, and cross-listed panels about the issue of migration. More than 400 scholars from 50 different countries were delivering papers, while dedicated panels were also set up for the presentation and discussion of monographs and documentaries.

On Friday afternoon, I presented my paper, “Refugees welcome? Re-bordering practices behind the new European discourses and policies”, in the panel about “Challenges of Immigration in Central Europe”. The paper discussed the unfolding of the so-called “refugee crisis”, critically analysing the role of European countries in progressively securitising their borders after an initial period of opening. As part of that, the paper examined the implementation of the new Greek Asylum Service, with its economic and operational problems that have serious repercussions on the lives of migrants and asylum seekers.

The discussion that followed was really compelling, with interesting feedback especially on my theoretical framework. Both the discussant and the chair made pertinent comments about the more pervasive proliferation of borders in contemporary societies, constituted not simply by walls and fences, but also by more subtle policies and practices. The relatively small yet engaged audience raised questions about the concept of sovereignty, which is actually widely debated (and contested), but overlooked in my research. The final discussion helpfully and supportively highlighted the shortcomings in my analysis, and point at some themes that I could further develop.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Sociological Review Foundation for the Conference Grant. As a self-funded Early Career Researcher, the grant has represented an important economic support, without which I would have not been able to take part in this Convention. Thanks to the SRFL, I was able to participate in an amazing event, present my research, and grow my professional network.

Originally posted 25th May 2016.

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