SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

724 Migration, Borders and Space: Decolonial Approaches

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
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 decolonising approaches to migration and diaspora might look like.

By drawing on established and less charted bodies of work on migration studies, diaspora and identity, transnationalism, 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, sovereignties and 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.

Representative lecture topics from recent years include:

  • The politics and semantics of displacement - 'Migrants' and 'Refugees'
  • Migration and 'Race' - Decolonising Knowledge/Power
  • Between Stuckedness and Hypermobility - The promises and pitfalls of time-space compression
  • Let die and make die (or kill) - Bodies, Borders and the racial necro-politics of im/mobility
  • Humanitarian Lives - Temporalities and spatialities of protracted displacement in the Global South
  • Border-lands - Crossing, Inhabiting, Resisting
  • Citizenship, deportability and 'illegality'
  • Disrupted intimacies and gendered topographies of mobility
  • Insurgent citizens - Contestations, political activism and disobedience


    Compulsory module for all students on:

    • MA Migration & Diaspora Studies
    • MA Migration & Diaspora Studies + Intensive Language

    Guided option for students on:

    • MA Anthropology of Food
    • MA Anthropology of Food + Intensive Language
    • MA Anthropology of Global Futures and Sustainability
    • MA Medical Anthropology and Mental Health
    • MRes Social Anthropology
    • MRes Social Anthropology + Intensive Language

    This module is also a School-wide Open Option. No prerequisites.

    • Note: Combination of 724 Migration, Borders and Space and 725 Asian and African Diasporas: Culture, Politics, Identities is open only to students on the MA Migration and Diaspora Studies and the MRes Social Anthropology. All other MA students may take either 724 or 725 as an option, but not both.

    Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

    On successful completion of this module, a student will be able to:

    • Understand the parameters of analysis and stakes involved in migration and diaspora theories and their applicability.
    • Use interdisciplinary approaches to analyze 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.
    • Understand how "migration" is a lens to analyse wider issues including: governmentality, borders meaning and making, nationalism and the formation and evolution of racial capitalist systems.
    • Acquire theoretical skills enabling social and political change.

    Suggested reading

    Representative readings:

    • Anderson, B. 2013. Us and Them? The Dangerous Politics of Immigration Control. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Appadurai, A. 2006. Fear of small numbers: An essay on the geography of anger. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
    • Bucholtz, M. 2019 The public life of white affects. Journal of Sociolinguistics. 23: 485–504.
    • 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.
    • De Genova, N. and N. Peutz. 2010. The Deportation Regime: Sovereignty, space and the freedom of movement. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. 
    • Fassin, D. 2011. Policing Borders, Producing Boundaries: The Governmentality of Immigration in Dark Times. Annual Review of Anthropology 40: 213-226.
    • Fassin, D. 2013. On Resentment and Ressentiment: The Politics and Ethics of Moral Emotions. Current Anthropology 54:3, 249-267.
    • Ioanide, P. 2015. The emotional politics of racism: How feelings trump facts in an era of colorblindness. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
    • 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 Migrating Borders and Moving Times: Temporality and the Crossing of Borders in Europe (pp. 157-175)
    • 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 Press.
    • Rosa, J., & Bonilla, Y. 2017. Deprovincializing Trump, decolonizing diversity, and unsettling anthropology. American Ethnologist: 44: 201–208.
    • 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): 742-760.
    • Salih R. 2018. 'Refugees and cathartic politics: From human rights to the right to be human.' South Atlantic Quarterly 117(1): 135-155.
    • Vertovec, S. 2018. The public understanding of migration. Max Planck Society Newsroom.


    Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules