In our project we address the complex notion of migration beyond the concept of borders, border regime, practices of bordering and autonomy of migration, which are limiting when it comes to understanding of nature, complexity, and impact of migrations. Our project is informed by some of the latest tendencies in (inter)disciplinary studies of migration, namely “borderscapes, transculturalism, and translanguaging,” which address a shift from the so-called “dark borders” and “dark migration” to more comprehensive understanding of various dividers. The phrases “dark borders” and “dark migration” are our adaptation of Sherry Ortner’s term “dark anthropology” (2016) which the American scholar coined in order to describe the dominant trends in anthropology focusing exclusively on “the harsh dimensions of social life,” while disregarding positive aspects.
The notion of borderscape is central to our approach as it recognises a need to look beyond borders (both the visible and invisible ones) into a more holistic approach in relation to migration in a way that it does not consider migrations as an isolated, and often negatively comprehended phenomenon of people on the move. Instead, it takes into consideration the complexity of specific environments as spaces of contacts between cultures, languages, and communities (e.g. Rovisco, 2009). This concept, as summarized by Chiara Brambilla, offers the opportunity for multilevel critical research i.e. fosters a multi-sited, pluritopical and plurivocal interpretation of borders and organisation of border knowledge.
Besides normative dimension of the border and critical assess to “the ethical, legal and empirical premises and arguments used to justify particular cognitive and experiental regimes on which border policies are articulated (what we can call hegemenoicborderscapes),” the concept employs the counter-perspective and “implies a consideration that borders involve struggles that consist of multiple strategies of resistance against hegemonic discourses and control practices through which they are exercised (what we can call counter-hegemenoicborderscapes)” (Brambilla, 2015: 20). The borderscape concept, initially developed in the area of international border studies (for the genealogy of the concept see Brambilla 2015), has so far found applications in the areas of social science research, especially geopolitics and human geography (Strüver 2005), arts and humanities, specifically representations of different types of migrations and borders in a wide sense in literature and performative arts (e.g. Giudice and Giubilaro, 2014; Schimanski 2015; dell’Agnese and Szary, 2015; Nyman, 2017), and applied linguistics through the concept of translanguaging (Mazzaferro, 2018).
In humanities, it is particularly useful in examination of different aesthetic representations and meanings of migrations within specific environments, their location and their construction, “de- and re-bordering processes, allowing us to move away from all kinds of binaries that usually help to frame the understanding of limits of all kinds” (Agnese and Szary, 2015: 8). However, beyond physical borders, language borders and other invisible yet highly present dividers challenge how newcomers and local communities imagine, understand and negotiate their locations and places of origin (Hirsu and Bryson, 2017).
Focusing on the use of languages, literatures, film and arts in general in classrooms, our initiative aims to address concerns pinpointed in the project, with a view to incorporating the current state of academic research into a more holistic interdisciplinary framework both into the learning and teaching environment of the classroom. To investigate the phenomenon of migration through different notions of “borderscape,” we will explore the role of languages and textual/visual material for children, such as (animation) films, (graphic) novels, and stories, as well as the arts in general.
In this way, we will explore possible applications of the interdisciplinary migration research in the field of education, in particular new and creative methodologies of teaching migrations in multicultural classrooms and different cultural contexts. We propose to do this by looking at borders and migrations broadly beyond the discourse of contrasting identities, separating cultures, and societies towards understanding a broad land/scape of borders as sites (physical and psychological) imbued with shared emotions, histories, spaces, and experiences of people who reside there and those who arrive. Borders, redefined in this way, emphasise the quality of the contact, its meanings, and impact triggered by discovery of the Other (regardless of change happening or not).
Our research addresses the gaps outlined in the recent reports on the global current state of interdisciplinary migration scholarship, such as Thinking Beyond the Borders: A Critical Appraisal of Migration Research in North America (June 2019) and Bridging the Evidence Divide: Critical Reflections on Arts and Social Science Interventions in Global Migration Research (2018) published by the University of London’s International Migration Leadership Team. There reports highlight the research on languages within migration studies “as an underexplored area” (https://www.soas.ac.uk/lidc-mlt/outputs/file141862.pdf, 7). They also suggest a more comprehensive approach to arts in migration research and practice as “art is fundamentally connected to the question of mobility and movement,” and it offers “a more nuanced understanding of the drivers and consequences of migration” (https://www.soas.ac.uk/lidc-mlt/outputs/file136798.pdf, 6).
Our project highlights the role of art in examination of how the theme of migration may be explored through research-informed artistic practices and collaborations between researchers and artists in general, which, as a way of conducting and disseminating research, is becoming an increasingly common practice among younger generations of scholars and ECRs.
As a research and knowledge exchange activity with focus on bringing together academic research and education, our project feeds on the previous internationally run projects such as Connecting Europe Through History: Experiences of Migration in Europe (2011; https://www.euroclio.eu/project/connecting-europe-history/), conducted by a consortium of cross-European associations of history educators and academic organisations, which explored how the topic of migration was approached in school systems across Europe. Findings from Connecting Europe infer that the concept of “dark migration” is still prevalent not only in teaching migration(s) but also in inclusion of this topic to different national curricula, suggesting that the pedagogical approach to migration(s) would benefit from the above-mentioned change of paradigm.
Connecting Europe highlighted issues which our project seeks to address, namely that the theme of migration is still underrepresented in European educational systems due to “the bias towards negative concepts” which “overshadows more casual motives for migration, such as adolescent adventure, trade, studies, family history and exploration” (Connecting Europe on-line report 2011:30), a need for developing novel interpretative frameworks, “including teaching and learning ideas, translation and contextual information” (2011: 30), as well as approaching migration history in a wider and a more comparative way (2011: 30).
One of the challenges noted in the survey was the problem of bias, which has to do with labelling children according to their perceived identity (e.g. children being considered immigrants even after a lengthy period of time in the country), as well as the lack of sensitivity for incorporation of interculturally sensitive approaches to classrooms (2011: 30).
While Connecting Europe focused mainly on sharing approaches to migration within the context of history education in different European school systems, we aim to expand this approach in order to address an interdisciplinary manner adding language, literary, film, and cultural studies to the mix, offering to contribute to development of interdisciplinary interpretative frameworks. All these ideas may be adopted to the level of primary and secondary school curricula, especially when it comes to teaching complex textual and visual narratives of migration.