Being (im)mobile in a world of movement brings together cutting-edge social science research on migration conducted at the University of Manchester by researchers from various disciplines across the faculty of Humanities. Through the visual exploration of migratory experiences and story-telling, we want to convey to the wider public a more grounded sense of what it means to be moving or ‘staying put’ in a world where movement is presented as a universal aspiration. Our exhibition sheds light on how large-scale global economic, political and social processes shape people’s everyday experiences of movement and stillness in different corners of the world: from the UK and Europe to the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Central Asia.
In the past few years, migration and borders have remained a very salient topic of interest in public debates in the UK and everywhere in the world. However, while the highly politicised topics of migration governance, restrictive border regimes and human rights are regularly discussed in the media, there is often little consideration for migration as a set of lived experiences. Policy makers and media representations regularly use the plethora of abstract labels and categories, such as ‘migration flows’, ‘migration crisis’, ‘refugee’ or ‘economic migrant’ to discuss complex and diverse processes which are in fact deeply rooted in personal experiences. These labels portray movement of people as an inevitable, wild force of nature, which needs to be harnessed, managed, and controlled and, in some cases, stopped altogether. The metaphor of ‘flow’ invokes the sense of such movements as fast, unproblematic and uninterrupted. This does not fit very well with the real experiences of those attempting to move.
As researchers we do not take such labels and representations for granted but explore how they are constructed, reproduced and challenged. We do this through establishing and nurturing a variety of social relationships based on trust and mutual respect, and through deploying research tools such as immersive ethnographic explorations and other qualitative methods. Detailed exploration of the lived experiences of migrants, including through collaborative research with migrants themselves, enables us to engage with how migrants articulate their own journeys and the wider processes that shape them. As researchers, the stories we tell about migration provide powerful and compelling counter-narratives to reductive portrayals of migrants in public discourses, where they are often reduced to numbers and statistics. Touching upon various aspects of people’s experiences, we explore the complexities and paradoxes of migrants’ lives going beyond black and white representations of migrants as villains or victims. We show that despite suffering caused by encounters with violent migration regimes there is space for humour, playfulness, hope, and imagining a radically different future.
We hope that our exhibition will help you expose and challenge some of your own assumptions about migration and migrants. We invite you to reflect upon the intersections between movement and stillness in your own lives and share your stories with us. We put together some teaching resources for introducing pre-university students to topics around migration you might also find useful to initiate discussions with your friends and family. We will be very grateful if you could share your ideas about our exhibition and leave us your feedback here.