SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

African and Asian Diasporas. Migration, Space, Identity (UG)

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

What is migration? Is this the “age of migration”? What is Diaspora and what challenges do diasporic communities bring to modern political constructions such as the nation-state, national “imagined” communities, citizenship and their associated metaphysics of sedentarism? This course will explore these issues by critically engaging with the ways in which migration and diaspora have been understood historically and in modern and contemporary times. Different theories, approaches, and disciplinary angles will be introduced and discussed. We will also consider what de-colonising approaches to migration and diaspora might look like.

By drawing on established and less charted bodies of work on migration studies, diaspora and identity, postcolonial and de-colonial studies the course offers an interdisciplinary approach to the emergence of diasporas, the reformulation of 'home' and the simultaneous instability and reinforcement of nation-states. The second part of the course offers ethnographic explorations of borders and of the governmentalities of migration. We will examine how the bio-political control of migration is practiced at borders and on bodies, shaping migrant and refugee journeys and subjectivities. Ethnographies of migration and diaspora will offer a lens into wider lived and embodied experiences of time, space and identities in the contemporary times.


  • Students enrol via the online Module Sign-Up system.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Aims and Objectives:
  • To critically examine important areas of contemporary social theory which deals with issues of migration, globalisation, the postcolonial world, and cultural transformations;
  • To ground students in the historical basis of these issues;
  • To explore ideas of representation in relation to identity and experience
Learning Outcomes:
  • Understand the parameters of analysis and stakes involved in migration and diaspora theories and their applicability.
  • Use interdisciplinary approaches to analyse the past and present phenomenon of migration and the formation of diasporic communities.
  • Apply increased analytical and research skills to contemporary topics related to migration and diaspora.
  • Read texts closely and critically.
  • Reflect critically and in nuanced ways on the politics of knowledge production involved in representing migrant and diasporas in academic and non-academic literature

Scope and syllabus

The course aims to ground students in a theoretical understanding of the literature, and of the historical and political background to contemporary debates. These issues will be contextualised through ethnographies, based, amongst others, on the Caribbean, U.S.A, Mauritius and East and Southern Africa and South Asia, covering themes such as migration, refugees, transnational identity, religious transformations, consumption practices, film, music and the media. 

Topics include:

Week 1: Introduction to Migration and Diaspora studies: map and outline of the course
Week 2: The politics and semantics of displacement. "Migrants" and "Refugees"
Week 3: Migration and “Race”: Decolonising Knowledge/Power
Week 4: Between Stuckedness and Hypermobility. The promises and pitfalls of time-space compression
Week 5: Let die and make die (or kill). Bodies, Borders and the racial necro-politics of im/mobility
Week 6: Humanitarian Lives. Temporalities and spatialities of protracted displacement in the Global South.
Week 7: Border-lands: Crossing, Inhabiting, Resisting
Week 8: Citizenship, deportability and ‘illegality’.
Week 9: Disrupted intimacies and gendered topographies of mobility
Week 10: Insurgent citizens. Contestations, political activism and disobedience

In addition to academic texts, students will also be taught using film and fiction.

Lectures will incorporate a broad theoretical and historical perspective as well as specific anthropological examples. The course will also compliment the core third year theory course, Contemporary Trends in the Study of Society.

Suggested reading

Core Readings:

Appadurai, A. (2006) Fear of small numbers: An essay on the geography of anger. Durham, N.C.; London: Duke University Press.

Ioanide, P. (2015) The emotional politics of racism: How feelings trump facts in an era of colorblindness. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Anderson B. (2013) Us and Them? The Dangerous Politics of Immigration Control, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Introduction.

Crawley, H., Skleparis, D. (2018) Refugees, Migrants, Neither, Both: Categorical Fetishism and the Politics of Bounding in Europe’s ‘Migration Crisis.’ Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 44, 48–64.

Fassin, D. (2011) “Policing Borders, Producing Boundaries. The Governmentality of Immigration in Dark Times”. Annual Review of Anthropology, 40, 213-226.

De Genova, N. and N. Peutz (2010) The Deportation Regime: sovereignty, space and the freedom of movement. Duke University Press. Introduction.

Rosa, J. & Bonilla, Y. (2017) Deprovincializing Trump, decolonizing diversity, and unsettling anthropology. American Ethnologist, 44, 201–208.

Khosravi, S. (2010) “Illegal Traveller”: an auto-ethnography of borders.Palgrave Macmillan.

Iosif, K. and Robins, S. (2017) “Missing migrants: deaths at sea and unidentified bodies in Lesbos” in: Madeleine Hurd, Hastings Donnan and Carolin Leutloff-Grandits, eds., Migrating Borders and Moving Times: Temporality and the Crossing of Borders in Europe (pp. 157-175). Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Salih, R. (2017). 'Bodies that walk, bodies that talk, bodies that love. Palestinian women refugees, affectivity and the politics of the ordinary.' Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, 49 (3). pp. 742-760.

Navaro-Yashin, Y. (2008) “Life Is Dead Here”: Sensing the Political in “No Man’s Land”. In Panourgiá N. & Marcus G. (Eds.), Ethnographica Moralia: Experiments in Interpretive Anthropology (pp. 168-187). New York: Fordham University.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules