We are living in turbulent times within which the issue of forced migration and the subject of ‘the refugee’ have become deeply symbolic of broader processes of political, economic and social change.
This is reflected in the politicization of migration by countries in both the Global North and South. Against this backdrop, scholars and advocates working with and for refugees and other forced migrants, as well as refugees themselves, are increasingly struggling to get their voices heard and to mobilise effectively. Whilst there are many initiatives globally these have struggled to become more than the sum of their parts. Moreover whilst the objective of decolonising forced migration research remains an important project, it faces significant new challenges, not least the unequal power relations associated with funding made available via the institutions of the Global North for research and practice in the Global South, much of which is orientated towards containment agendas. The current migration research landscape is heavily skewed towards the Global North where existing research is largely designed and led, and where governments and international organisations increasingly fund research to inform policy development. The Global North’s interests shape dominant research themes, producing a disproportionate focus on South-North migration (SNM) and categories of migrant defined in law and policy to make sense of – and increasingly contain – migration flows. Epistemic communities concerned with migration are largely produced and reproduced in and by the Global North: while ODA-recipient countries host a growing number of research centres, most researchers are trained in the Global North. The resulting echo chamber constrains the capacity of many of the poorest countries to analyse the migration issues that affect their communities without outside technical assistance and expertise. This requires us to ask ourselves challenging questions about the focus of our academic endeavours, the ways in which we work together and our engagement with those we want to influence, most notably policy makers, politicians and a wide range of publics.
The title of IASFM18 – ‘Disrupting Theory, Unsettling Practice: Towards Transformative Forced Migration Scholarship and Policy’ – represents an attempt to engage forced migration scholars and others directly in addressing these questions. The conference is organised around a number of key underpinning principles which shape the content of the programme, the nature of the contributions and a range of other activities taking place before and after the conference to ensure that IASFM18 is part of a process rather than a time-limited event:
- Key note and plenary sessions will include the voices and perspectives of scholars, policy makers, artists and displaced people working in the Global South;
- Space will be created within the programme for new and emerging scholars to be heard and for their work to be supported;
Refugees and other displaced populations will be directly involved in the programme design and delivery as scholars, artists and people directly affected by the issues under discussion, including through activities that will be developed with local refugee communities in the period leading up, and beyond IASFM18; and
The format of the conference will allow for a wide range of contributions to be fully included: creative and artistic representations, debates and discussions as well as more ‘traditional’ academic papers.