Migration, Logistics and Unequal Citizens in Contemporary Global Context

“Coast Guard interdicts 67 migrants northeast of Haiti” by Coast Guard News is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Rapidly increasing international migrations have radically changed the outlook of contemporary 21st-century societies, producing cases of massive displaced and precarious lives, and bring various impacts upon local communities. These emerging phenomena have attracted critical scholarship both in the humanities and social sciences in recent years.

This CHCI-Mellon Global Humanities Institute (GHI) on “Migration, Logistics and Unequal Citizens in Contemporary Global Context” invite applications from early career researchers and advanced graduate students from the interdisciplinary humanities and social science studies, including but not limited to literature, history, philosophy, film, audio-visual arts, performing arts, law, anthropology, sociology, journalism, social media, digital platform, and other forms of practitioners.

Through the analysis of documentaries, films, literature, interviews, archives, governmental policies, and cooperation with NGOs/CBOs and artist groups, this intensive program foregrounds the subjective experiences and perspectives of migrants, the violation of the migrants’ fundamental human rights, the citizen’s attitude against them, as well as the government malfunctioning in dealing with these migrants.

The issues of migration and unequal citizens highlight the logistical continuum of biopolitics and governmentality from the colonial to the post-colonial state, from the Cold War Era to the post-Cold War Era, as well as the operation of geopolitical and geo-economic apparatus and zoning politics. Critical logistics can orient the inquiry by emphasizing how the government of populations reaches beyond statistical measure to make new connections between life and work, technology and mobility, and politics and economy in and beyond any region. Logistics organizes the movement of people and goods and asserts its logic across the entire circuit of production, distribution, and consumption. Logistics has also remade the domain of global space and territory, through the operation of zoning politics, such as corridors, digital networks, extraction enclaves, financial districts, and other areas of transfer and exchange. Examining the nexus of migration and logistics offers ways of rethinking the politics of human mobility and the question of unequal citizens that not only reach beyond the logic of integration and identity but also question the standard analysis of post-war area studies.

This GHI will take place from 1st to 10th June 2021 at the International Center for Cultural Studies, NCTU, in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

Lines of Research 

1. Conditions of Migration and Precarious Lives

Our GHI encourages researchers to study and analyze the reality of the forms of life of the international migrants, refugees, and stateless people in contemporary societies. We welcome analytic inquiries and theoretical engagements of cases of documentaries, films, literature, interviews, archives, governmental policies, NGOs/CBOs, and artist groups, in but not limited to Asia, on the following issues:

  1. The experience and the emotions of migrant workers, refugees or stateless people in their working and living environments in the receiving societies;
  2. The role of social identities such as gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, legal status in conditioning migrant workers’ precarious lives;
  3. How states manage labor migration import and repatriation/deportation as part of the development projects of the state, requiring explicit legal exclusion from residency and citizenship and migrant labor exploitation in the context of different countries, including the national evolution of legal framework concerning this issue;
  4. The operations of the broker agency, the development of workforce agencies, regimes of brokerage that commodifies migrants into healthy bodies that are labor ready to be supplied abroad;
  5. The support system offered by trade unions, local NGOs/CBOs, shelters, migrant centers, or resettlement plans at host societies; alliance-making among different groups (e.g. different migrant groups from different countries, women’s groups, labor unions, etc.) as well as the internal support system within the migrant communities;
  6. How the increase in the numbers, relative visibility, and designation as an abject foreigner of migrant workers has led to new forms of Asian racism and xenophobia;
  7. Ambiguities of migrant entrepreneurship: self-employment as a low-paid activity, forced self-employment (“quasi-self-employment”), and self-employment as an opportunity for professional advancement;
  8. International student mobility/unpaid labor and its regulation through visa regimes, market mechanisms, university rankings, and labor statuses;
  9. transnational human trafficking of women and children for prostitution and forced marriage and labor.

2. Logistics, Geo-economics, Zoning Politics, and Local Infrastructure Initiatives

Our GHI encourages research projects on politico-economic logistics and the logic of migration. We welcome analytic inquiries and theoretical engagements on the following issues:

  1. Whether and how the colonial past and the Cold War regime still have their traces on the countries in and beyond Asia in the 21st century, such as the ASEAN regional policies of trade agreements and economic security control, the US-China trade war, and so on?
  2. How can we use critical thought on logistics to rethink issues of labor and migration particularly in the Asian region (or in what ways is migration increasingly functioning logistically)?
  3. How do foreign direct investment, labor, and migration in the Asian region link to logistical initiatives such as zoning, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, etc.?
  4. How do global and local logistical initiatives impact directly or indirectly on local societies, such as governmental corruptions, public xenophobic reactions, extraction by dispossession, and so on?
  5. How is digitalization transforming labor and mobility, including questions of virtual migration, platform labor, and the use of digital technologies for migration control and freedom of movement?
  6. How do logistics and migration in and beyond Asia reorganize relations of reproduction of labor power and society?
  7. The transformation of the land question, the military-industrial complex, and mobility regime.
  8. Regarding the historical processes, ruptures and continuities in the organization and practice of migration in and beyond Asia, do logistics offer a means of understanding historical migration, or is it specific to the present moment? How do layered histories of migration continue to shape present movements?
  9. The nexus of logistics, displacement, and violence. The discourse of who is “native” and who is “migrant” is prevalent in many countries; at the extreme, this discourse can lead to communal fissures and even violence. Can a logistical approach help us productively think through ideas of “indigeneity/native” vs. “migrants/foreigner” and unpack this socially constructed dichotomy?

3.Theoretical Issues Concerning the Questions of Unequal Citizens

The upsurge of migrant workers, refugees, and human trafficking have changed the composition of the social space and worsen the inequality among the people who live and work in the same social space but do not share equal access to the cities nor exercise political subjectivities where they spent their daily life. While Giorgio Agamben’s concept of the ‘bare life’ has been much cited in Refugee Studies in recent years to describe the condition of the refugee, there has also been a call by scholars to focus on the agency and political life of the refugees grounded in their lived realities. Our GHI also wants to draw researchers’ attention to the newly emerging forms of neo-racism, neo-slavery, and new colonialism. We welcome analytic inquiries and theoretical engagements on the following issues:

  1. How do new forms of exclusion through citizenship and residency rights facilitate the latest developments in today’s formation of uneven late capitalism?
  2. How do traditional colonialism and ongoing forms of new colonialism or internal colonialism shape citizenship regimes in diverse local contexts in Asia and beyond? How did the colonial histories, the process of the post-colonial independent nation through Citizenship Acts, and the current immigrant/migrant worker regulations co-figured the politics of inclusive exclusion and triggered the reality of unequal citizens in contemporary societies?
  3. How do we analyze the structural violence of the statist division between citizen and non-citizen, or differentiated citizens, that causes the violation of fundamental human rights against a particular population?
  4. How do we problematize the concept of the “illegal migrant workers”? How is the illegal social space of the precarious bodies produced legally by governmental sectors and other transnational agencies?
  5. How do we further understand the fear of the transient—the homeless, migrants, refugees? What is the nature of the local xenophobic reactions toward the migrant labor and refugees?
  6. How do theoretical and empirical investigations of citizenship influence understandings of migration in ways different to analytical approaches that stress other kinds of political subjectivity—e.g., social class, the lived experiences or agency of the refugees and stateless people?
  7. To what extent do patterns of migration in the Asian region disarticulate the figure of the citizen from the figure of the worker? What are new and emerging ways of theorizing citizenship and migration that are relevant in various contexts?
  8. In what ways can we theorize the ‘indentured’ as a poetics of relation, for example, through Mauritian poet Khal Torabully’s notion of the ‘coolitude,’ or Martinique philosopher Edouard Glissant’s concept of opacity, or alliance-building against what Laura Ann Stoler characterizes as the persisting imperial durabilities of our time?
  9. What forms of agency and belonging do migrant enact despite legal exclusions, including political participation, economic belonging, trade unionism and migrant/refugee organizing? What forms of differentiated citizenship, exclusion, and belonging shape contemporary migration experiences e.g., indenture, statelessness, residential registration, denizenship, plural citizenships, war and violence?
  10. How do migrants resist exclusionary citizenship regimes and enact new claims- locally and nationally, and transnationally?

New Forms of Knowledge Production to Address the Issues of Migration, Logistics, and Unequal Citizens

Our GHI encourages colleagues and students to conduct various forms of knowledge production to explore the issues of migration, logistics, and unequal citizens through academic papers, artistic works, and digital approaches, to bridge universities and societies, and to link scholars with migrant workers, refugee communities, trans-local NGOs/CBOs, artist groups, filmmakers and journalists. We will create occasions for trans-local advocates and artists groups working on migrants, refugees, and stateless communities to meet and exchange ideas on common concerns and share the tactics from different groups. We will create space to reflect on the various strategies and create new conversations. We hope to facilitate productive discussions and foster knowledge sharing across disciplines and modalities. Also, we will establish a shared transnational online resource documenting innovative approaches in addressing migrant and refugee issues. Some suggested area of focus, but not limited to, are as the following:

  1. Storytelling can be a powerful tool humanizing “the other.” What are the existing innovative projects working with migrants and refugees, using storytelling in different forms—such as theater, poetry recitals, music festival, writing workshops, photography, and film making? What is the impact of these initiatives for the migrant communities and the audience/readers?
  2. Artists have pushed the envelope of artistic forms that paralleled their commitment to discussing the experiences of this global movement of people and the power dynamics engendered by this large-scale mobility. In what ways were modern and contemporary arts a vital avenue for new forms of knowledge production to address issues of unequal citizens and cross-boundary imaginations?
  3. What are new institutional forms created by the interface of migration knowledge practices with formal gallery spaces and museums?
  4. What is the role of digitalization in generating knowledge and strategies to address issues of migration and unequal citizenship?
  5. How are civil conversations and alliance building facilitated across communities? What are some new conversations and narratives that are being shaped in these processes?