‘Transforming Mobility and Immobility: Brexit and Beyond’ IMISCOE Spring Conference

By May 7, 2019Blog

The ‘Transforming Mobility and Immobility: Brexit and Beyond’ IMISCOE Spring Conference took place on 28-29 March 2019 in Sheffield, UK.  It was organised by the Migration Research Group (MRG) at the University of Sheffield in collaboration with the Centre of Migration Research at the University of Warsaw and IMISCOE, and was also supported by the Noble Foundation’s Programme on Modern Poland.

This thought provoking conference consisted of three parts – a PhD Workshop, a Public Discussion and an Academic Conference, all of which were addressing the important themes of mobility, immobility, borders and divisions in the context of ‘Brexit and beyond’.

PhD Workshop

The PhD workshop took place on 28th of March, and welcomed aspiring academics to present their work on migration in the light of Brexit and comparable on-going events in Europe and worldwide.

The first day of the IMISCOE Spring Conference ‘Transforming Mobility and Immobility: Brexit and Beyond’ 28-29 March 2019 organised by the MRG in Sheffield, was devoted to doctoral research. PhD students from UK and other countries were given a chance to present their conceptual frameworks, research plans and emerging findings. Altogether over 40 speakers presented their work in progress in three parallel streams, devoted to such topics as muticulures in place, welfare regimes, future of migration, attitudes towards immigration, borders and residence.

The keynote speech during the day was given by a distinguished scholar of migration in Poland – prof. Pawel Kaczmarczyk, Director of the Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw. In his lecture he reflected on the 15 years of post-enlargement intra-EU mobility, specifically looking at who are Polish immigrants in the UK compared to other European countries, and reflecting on the potential impacts of Brexit for their mobility patterns.

Borders and Divisions: Brexit and Beyond – Public Discussion

The Public discussion took place on 28th of March, at University of Sheffield and was open not only to the participants of the conference, but also to the staff and students of the University as well as the general public. Acknowledging that Brexit cannot be understood in isolation, the event brought together a distinguished panel of migration experts to discuss the implications of on-going events in Europe and worldwide for borders and divisions, especially in the European context. The panel included Professor Feargal Cochrane (University of Kent), Dr Aarti Iyer (University of Sheffield), Professor Pawel Kaczmarczyk (University of Warsaw), Professor Peter Scholten (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Professor Anna Triandafyllidou (European University Institute) and Catherine Woollard (European Council on Refugees and Exiles). The discussion was chaired by Councillor Donatus Anyanwu (London Borough of Lambeth).

The discussion focused on three themes.  First, ‘The Politicisation of Migration: Experiences Elsewhere’. In the 15 years since the 2004 Enlargement, at local and national scales, European countries have experienced seismic shifts associated with increasing intra-EU mobility, the economic crisis, austerity, the so-called ‘refugee crisis’, the rise of far-right and other populist sentiments. Brexit is clearly a notable political landmark in the UK’s more generalised ‘hostile environment’, but internationally it sits alongside many other examples. Pawel Kaczmarczyk, Peter Scholten and Anna Triandafyllidou offered their reflections on the situation elsewhere, including in Poland, Netherlands and Italy.

Second, the panel addressed the theme of ‘Understanding the Causes’. The causes of current contestations over migration, borders and belonging are no doubt multiple and complex and play out differently in particular contexts.  In this discussion, Catherine Woollard, Feargal Cochrane and Aarti Iyer reflected respectively on three issues: the role of the so-called and ongoing ‘refugee crisis’, underlying societal divisions and conflict, and the relationship between migrants and other groups in the host society.

Finally, the panel considered the questions of how these challenges can be addressed.  Each of the speakers offered an example that inspires optimism about the future.

Photos of the event can be viewed in this gallery.

Academic Conference

The Academic Conference took place on 29th of March at the Novotel Hotel in Sheffield. It brought together academics working on migration, to discuss the idea that Brexit cannot be understood in isolation, but must be seen in relation to a geographic, temporal and conceptual ‘beyond’. Following Castles (2010: 1576), Brexit was understood as being bound up in broader processes of social transformation in which ‘existing social patterns are questioned and many are reconfigured’. Through this social transformation lens on migration, researchers were invited to interrogate what is changing in the politics, policies and practices of mobility and immobility, and what this means for our existing theoretical and conceptual frameworks.

64 papers were presented by an international body of scholars spanning the UK, elsewhere in Europe and North America. Themes addressed included:

  • Shifting mobility and migration policy regimes
  • Ordering and re-ordering of (im)mobile subjects in shifting regimes: gendered, classed and racialised implications
  • Rescaling borders and everyday bordering
  • Bottom-up strategies of individuals and groups to negotiate and resist borders
  • Social transformation through migration: countries of origin and countries of living perspectives
  • New and emerging patterns of migration and mobility
  • Multicultures in place and understandings of integration in local contexts
  • Understanding and responding to the politicisation of borders and migration

The Conference started with two plenary lectures. The first, Why Brexit is ‘Breaking Peace’ in Northern Ireland, delivered by Professor Feargal Cochrane of the University of Kent, reflected on the serious challenges posed by the ongoing process of Brexit for the UK’s only land border with the EU, and the Northern Irish Peace Process. Feargal argued that Brexit ‘reinforces ethnopolitical divisions in Northern Ireland, rather than diluting or complicating them’. Thus, in Northern Ireland, 85% of Catholics voted Remain, compared with 40% of Protestants; 88% of nationalists voted Remain, compared with 34% of Unionists; and 87% of those who declare as ‘Irish’ voted Remain, compared with 37% of those who declare as ‘British’. Feargal concluded ‘Brexit undermines the Good Friday Agreement in a number of respects both in the letter and spirit of the agreement’.

The second plenary lecture was delivered by Dr Majella Kilkey and Professor Louise Ryan of the University of Sheffield, and entitled, Unsettling Events’: Understanding migrants’ responses to geopolitical transformative episodes through a life course lens. Majella and Louise troubled the dominant ‘Brexodus’ narrative in the UK in popular and academic commentary – that is, that in the face of Brexit EU migrants in the UK will simply pack-up and leave. Bringing together a number of ESRC-funded studies they have undertaken since the 2004 EU enlargement, they argued that migrants’ responses to Brexit are highly differentiated because migration decision-making is complex, and contingent upon time, place and relationality. Focusing mainly on Polish migrants, they examined responses to three moments of significant change – EU enlargement in 2004, the 2008-09 economic recession and Brexit – which they termed ‘unsettling events’. Majella and Louise concluded by pointing to the need to take account of the situatedness of migrant experiences as lived in particular times (both personal and historical), places and relationships.

The Conference closed with a final plenary, Mobility, Immobility and Everyday Bordering on the way to Brexit, delivered by Professor Nira Yuval-Davis, University of East London. Drawing on her recently published book Bordering (with Georgie Wemyss and Kathryn Cassidy, Polity Press), Nira argued that while controlling national borders has once again become a key concern of contemporary states, it is about much more than patrolling the territorial boundaries of nation states. Instead, border control is multifaceted, taking place on different spatial scales and entailing virtual, as well as physical, practices. It has also permeated everyday life within nation states, happening in our schools, universities, hospitals and workplaces. Nira concluded by arguing that these processes affect all members of society, not just migrants, and gave us all a glimmer of hope by positing that the potential for resistance lies in this very same shared experience.

To have more insights on the debates, please follow the link to the paper abstracts and our Twitter account. If you have any questions, please get in touch by emailing migrationresearch@sheffield.ac.uk