Welcome to our network “Responding to Crisis: Forced Migration and the Humanities in the Twenty-First Century”

A project funded by the AHRC (Research Networking)

Paz y libertad

Aims and Objectives:

The overarching aim of the project is to develop urgent and adequate cultural and material responses to the ‘necropolitical’ context of migration today, in Europe and around the world, by foregrounding the role of the humanities. Our network will provide a forum for interdisciplinary dialogue between academics, policy makers, activists, artists and practitioners to address the current crisis. The specific objectives outlined below, which will be addressed during the workshops, will contribute to a better understanding of the nature of the current crisis and will enable the development of effective and collaborative forms of response:

  1. Impact positively on migrants’ lives by deploying the arts and humanities to transform public attitudes and inform policies
  2. Facilitate a dialogue between different disciplines and stakeholders on the ‘necropolitics’ of migration, drawing on interconnections between postcolonial studies and social praxis
  3. Analyse the place of the Mediterranean as a visible site of current failure(s) (geo-political, cultural and ethical-human.
  4. Develop collaborative ‘response’ as a methodological mode which draws on the creative energies of interdisciplinary working, including new creative work.
  5. Build capacity in the research area by facilitating the involvement of PhD students in the project


Amnesty International reports that ‘23,000 are believed to have lost their lives trying to reach Europe since 2000’. Most recently, in September 2014, over 500 people died attempting to reach Europe from North Africa and in the same year Spanish police were filmed shooting rubber bullets at African migrants swimming to Spanish territory from Morocco. This deathly turn in contemporary migration to Europe results in both literal and social deaths. It provides an emerging site of what Achille Mbembe describes as ‘necropower’, defined as the creation of ‘death-worlds’: ‘new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead.’ Disciplinary responses to the proliferation of unrecognised and unaccounted for deaths at Europe’s borders have so far been fragmented and largely dominated by the political and social sciences, refugee studies and policy making. However, as the emerging attention to asylum issues within postcolonial studies suggests, the humanities have a crucial part to play in interrogating the crisis of values arising from the disaster unfolding at Europe’s borders, which is, in part, a legacy of European histories of colonisation. Indeed, the humanities are well placed to offer a counter narrative able to reaffirm the political and social subjectivity of border crossers. This project aims to rejuvenate the historically strong links between postcolonial studies and social praxis, deploying them usefully in the area of forced migration to alter the terms of policy debate. Our aim is to foster a productive dialogue between academic work and policy making, and to generate creative outputs that address contemporary forced migration.

At once material, ethical and representational, the contemporary crisis in forced migration demands a response not just from advocacy groups, political organisations and governments, but also from those concerned with narrative and representation. In analysing the ways we approach forced migration through aesthetic practice, the humanities enhances our understanding of this phenomenon and informs current practices in politics and policy-making. As re-evaluations of humanism (and humanitarianism) continue, we need to find new ways of responding to the proliferating deaths of migrants seeking asylum in Europe and the deathly stasis of lives lived out on its borders. Placing the humanities at the heart of this ‘live’ area of research, and fostering a dialogue between the UK, Europe and other global contexts, this project works across geographical, disciplinary and methodological boundaries through three unique workshops, incorporating creative, activist and academic responses to contemporary migration. As our collaboration with L’Orientale, Naples, indicates, this project focuses on the Mediterranean as a paradigmatic site of the contemporary migration crisis, while also acknowledging other sea-crossing contexts, such as Australia, the Atlantic and the Cuban passage.

Taking Giorgio Agamben’s injunction to ‘perceive the darkness’ within the light of the contemporary as a starting point, a key aim of the project is to examine the idea of ‘responsiveness’: what it means to take action on migration now. The fast pace of change in the legal and socio-political context of migration challenges existing structures of response, requiring the development of timely and effective strategies from all disciplines in line with the demands of the contemporary. Thus, the title word ‘Responding’ refers to three aspects of the project: a conceptual context, a methodology, and an outcome. The proposed network will bring to bear a rigorous interdisciplinary dialogue between diverse stakeholders on the problem of contemporary forced migration. It not only seeks to connect different scholarly disciplines, but also to explore methodological responses from a variety of sectors. By foregrounding the differing ways in which creative, academic and activist responses interpellate their audiences, the network aims to bring about transformation of material possibilities through a heightened awareness of representational acts.