PIIRS Supports New Migration Research Community

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

PIIRS has recently launched a new research community on “Migration: People and Cultures Across Borders” led by Sandra Bermann, Cotsen Professor in the Humanities and professor of comparative literature. Funded and supported by PIIRS, the three-year project brings faculty together from across the university to better understand the nature of migration, its representation and the ways in which it shapes the world.

Bermann says she initiated this group for several reasons: her longstanding personal interest in migrant histories – three of her grandparents are first generation migrants; her work as a scholar in comparative literature and translation studies, where the migration of texts, peoples and cultures plays a central role. Above all, she was motivated by the importance of the topic to the understanding of our history and contemporary, globalized world.

Though migration is often studied, Bermann suggests that the historical and geopolitical range, as well as interdisciplinarity of this research community, promise significant new perspectives: “We know that people are migrating in unprecedented numbers,” Bermann says. “The changing nature and numbers of population flows are essential to chart and to understand. It is also essential to understand both national and international regulations, security issues, and human rights. But we also need to explore a number of other questions: For example, what are the various reasons causing people to leave their homes (war and violence, ecological disaster, religious persecution, or desires for economic or educational opportunities)? How do these different rationales affect their futures? Who leaves and who stays behind? Who becomes stateless and why? How have migrants acclimated and contributed to new cultural and linguistic contexts? How might literature and the arts promote this? How do different cultures and economies respond to migrant flows? What are the public and private sectors doing to ensure that migrants become contributing members of their second home?  Above all, what happens as we examine such questions holistically, bringing different disciplinary knowledges together?” 

According to Mark Beissinger, acting director of PIIRS, the Institute wanted to support this research community because of its relevance in today’s geopolitical climate: “The causes and consequences of massive migration are some of the most important issues facing the world today,” he says. “Princeton has an outstanding group of faculty working on these issues across the humanities and the social sciences. What’s been so impressive about the Migration Community is how quickly it was able to pull these people together and put them in conversation with one another — precisely what we are looking for in a PIIRS Research Community.”

The topics Bermann and her community of 22 scholars want to explore include fields as wide- ranging as economics, art, religion, journalism, literature, law, politics, sociology, anthropology, population research, history, public policy and translation. According to Bermann, “Many scholars at Princeton are passionate about the question of migration, and we approach it from remarkably different perspectives; we have so much to learn from one another.  One thing we know is that this is an immensely important topic — not only to researchers, but also to the students we teach.”  

The group will soon incorporate a cohort of graduate and undergraduate fellows, and some of its projects will include the broader Princeton community. In its third year of work, the research community plans an interdisciplinary, team-taught course on migration that will take advantage of the group’s recent research, as well as the topic’s potential for service and civic engagement.

While the community is still developing, it has already outlined several lines of inquiry for the next three years. They include:

  • Narratives of Migration
  • The Ethics and Politics of the Undocumented
  • Terminologies
  • Changing Nationalisms in an Era of Transnationalism
  • Arts in Transit
  • Language Justice  

Each of these groups is chaired by one or more Research community faculty, and several conferences and panels are planned. At least one major collection of essays and an active website will also result from these joint efforts. As Bermann notes, “this collaboration is particularly compelling because migration entails complex issues that can, in fact, best be addressed in interdisciplinary fashion. Yet this rarely happens. The opportunity we have to work together over a three-year period is extraordinary. I’m very optimistic about what we might accomplish.”

The Migration Research Community has invited applications for one to two visiting fellowships and one to two postdoctoral research associate appointments for the 2017–18 year, beginning September 1, 2017. These scholars, recruited from outside the Princeton faculty, will add their voice — and expertise — to the group.

Learn more about the Migration Research Community.