#escapes2021 – panel 1

#escapes2021 International Online Conference

Mediterranean Crossings:
Refusal and Resistance in Uncertain Times

University of Milan, 24 – 26 June 2021

Ethical dilemmas in migration research: beyond protocols and procedures towards a politics of migrants’ voice

Chairs: Monica Massari (University of Milan) and Ombretta Ingrascì (University of Milan)

Call for Papers

Beyond extractivism? On some everyday ethical dilemmas in forced migration research

Milena Belloni (Forum of International and European Research on Immigration-FIERI and Flemish Research Foundation FWO), Pietro Cingolani (FIERI and University of Bologna), Yassin Dia (FIERI), Giuseppe Grimaldi (FIERI and Frontiera Sud) and Ferruccio Pastore (FIERI)

Privacy-related ethical requirements are prioritised in EU programmes funding collaborative research on migration. Much less attention is devoted to the far more actual and widespread damages caused by an extractivist approach to empirical fieldwork with forced migrants and practitioners in the asylum field. In particular, the very tangible problem of over-exploitation of unremunerated primary sources is neglected and financial remuneration of primary sources (in particular migrants) remains a matter of embarassment (and a source of bureaucratic hurdles).

While in some disciplinary areas and in some world regions, remuneration of sources is a pragmatically accepted necessity (e.g. this is routine in social psychological experimental research and it is more frequently practised in North America), in other areas this practice remains a taboo or is radically rejected and condemned as a way to reproduce hegemonic structures.

Various forms of “inclusive methodologies” (ranging from “giving migrants voice” to full-fledged “co-production”) are proposed as an alternative to traditional approaches and also as a specific form of compensation/restitution when financial remuneration is rejected. But while such approaches are ever more often proposed and implemented, they are seldom assessed and, in our experience, they often risk being reduced to forms of ex-post and superficial ethical maquillage.

A more demanding and structural response to power issues in migration research comes from the inclusion of researchers with migrant background (and research partners from migrant-sending countries) in a full capacity since the early research design stage. But this is a long-term endeavour that requires to tackle massive structural inequalities and systemic obstacles. In the short-medium term, even these more radical participatory approaches often fall short of their declared objectives or are even reduced to easy moral alibis for persisting neocolonial approaches.A more explicit and frank discussion of the practical implications of these ethical dilemmas for the everyday professional practice of researchers is needed in order to go beyond merely rhetorical innovation.


Nobody’s voice but ours: the conscious silencing of migrants’ perspectives in smuggling research

Gabriella Sanchez (Independent researcher)

This presentation brings together reflections emerging from participating in a series of studies carried out by international organizations, academic institutions and NGOs within Europe on the topic of migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean. It argues how despite the rhetoric of decolonizing academia, constant discussions on ethics, and the frequent references to intersectionality, scholars and policy makers continue to reproduce research power hierarchies in ways that merely retell –often, quite intentionally – amenable narratives of migrants for European audiences, in the process excluding migrants from academic and policy stages. Drawing from recent experiences assembling research teams in North Africa and the EU, the presentation provides examples of potential paths towards increasing migrant participation and involvement in migration research.


Doing research on migration and borders in a ‘hostile environment’: some ethical dilemmas from a fieldwork in Ceuta and Melilla

Valentina Marconi (University of Urbino)

My doctoral research looks at violence at the EU external and internal borders. By carrying out a multi-sited analysis, I investigate this subject-matter through a series of research questions that focus on three main aspects: 1) the function of violence within the current EU governance of mobility; 2) the multiplicity and the manifestations that violence takes; 3) and how migrant and refugee people perceive them and put in place strategies of individual and collective resistance, if at all. In order to do so, I carried out in-person and online fieldwork in border areas, both before and during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In this paper I reflect on a series of ethical dilemmas I encountered during fieldwork in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which are a site with a hostile politics both towards the migrant and refugee population in transit and the organisations working with them. Navigating this new space posed several dilemmas for a junior researcher such as myself and sometimes the thought of running the risk of putting research participants in danger has been paralysing. In the paper, I show how doing fieldwork in such an environment compelled me to find creative strategies to ensure the respect of ethical research principles, such as ‘doing no harm’; I describe some of the tactics I resorted to in order to circumnavigate these challenges and establish relations of trust and care with the research participants. I argue that a politics of ‘zero risk’ is unrealistic, but efforts should always go in the direction of minimising risk while respecting the agency of those we engage in a dialogue with.

Finally, drawing on my fieldwork experience, I show how -apart from finding creative and practical translations for the rules of ethical protocols – a process of continuous reflexivity on the power differentials of the research relation plays a pivotal role in striving to act in an ethical way while conducting research.


Speaking about the city through migrants’ voice. Writing the city through migrants’ sign

Nausicaa Pezzoni (Politecnico di Milano)

What does it mean exploring the contemporary city by ‘giving voice’ to migrants’ point of view?

Nowadays the project of the city cannot prescind from the spaces inhabited by migrants. Urban planning is called upon to consider the emergence of new city forms through the new way of living that migrants are bringing to urban spaces. However, the new forms and meanings of the city are not contained in technical descriptions, as well as problems and dimensions of contemporary practices are not included in the domain of planning and designing cities.

From these considerations the idea was born of exploring territories inhabited, re-signified and transformed by migrants through a particular device chosen to ‘giving voice’ to the migrants themselves: the drawing of a map, used to give expression to the lived space and to each one’s idea of the city.

The paper presents the methodological issues and the results of this particular way of involving migrants in the fieldwork of urban planning. In this research framework, a specific focus will be addressed on a recent survey carried out with the urban population represented by riders: a category of predominantly migrant workers, which is increasingly numerous and increasingly present in every city. Riders cross and stop inside the urban places, introducing new practices of use and triggering the change, however not finding yet response and proposals, in terms of infrastructures and places to live, from the city they inhabit.

In order to involve in urban planning the contribution of as many subjects as possible, and to narrate migrants’ experiences analyzing the most recent phenomena introduced by migrants themselves into urban realm, the survey was aimed at riders as subjects who today are bringing to the city the newest dynamics, practices of crossing and using of space.

This research is therefore aimed at listening to an emerging category of inhabitants who have entered the urban landscape and which contributes to bringing about change within the contemporary metropolis, despite still remaining unheard.

Through the method introduced, an attempt is made to give voice to this new urban population: 100 riders interviewed in Milan asking them to draw the map of their life and trajectories through the city – life and trajectories which are not yet investigated.

The survey aims at opening a discussion on the ethical dimension of narrating migrants’ experiences by giving them the tool to tell their experience firsthand, as a tool and a method to design a path of citizenship.

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Call for Papers