Migrants and objects: Material practices of being and belonging in transnational social fields

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Migrants and objects: Material practices of being and belonging in transnational social fields

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Publication Conference Paper, other
Title Migrants and objects: Material practices of being and belonging in transnational social fields
Author(s) Povrzanovic Frykman, Maja
Date 2008
Editor(s) Gulin Zrnic, Valentina
English abstract
A common way of reasoning about migrants and objects would be that objects signal who they are, and are good to remember with. This paper pursues an interest in how objects constitute the world that migrants experience in its materiality, and how they enable them to be embedded in transnational social fields of their own making. Recognising “the synthetic capability of actual material forms (rather than the interpretive tropes that have arisen around them) to combine perspectives and domains of knowledge” (Geismar and Horst 2004: 6), I suggests one of the possible directions of research in the field of migration that might not only enrich our ethnographic insights, but hopefully lead to new understandings. The impetus for this paper lies in my fieldwork-based insights into the predicaments of the “ethnic lens” which – if forced upon what we can see in the field – limits the possibilities of understanding. Along with researchers, migrants, too, engage in discourses in which ethnicity and national origin loom large – either of “good immigrants” within the multicultural institutions, or of, e.g., “good Croats” within the homeland politics encompassing diasporas. But they also engage in a number of practices that have little or nothing to do with their ethnicity. Whatever people do is sustained by or inscribed in a particular materiality. In order to give those practices an equal chance in our constructions of the field, more attention should be devoted to what people actually do – here with respect to their efforts to keep vital connections among different locations encompassed by their activities. Writing about migrants without relying on the concepts of ethnicity and identity? My effort to step beyond the presumption about ethnicity as a necessary element (often even a basis) of explanations of migrants’ behaviour, convenes with Jean-Pierre Warnier’s claim that material culture is “not only good to think with, to categorize, to signify, to communicate, or to produce identity, but also to move and act upon, against, together, or with” material objects (Warnier 2001: 6). I propose that empirical interest should be directed to objects the migrants acquire and use in different locations of their lives.
Publisher Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research, Zagreb
Host/Issue Challenging Integration: Culture Research and the European Context, International conference marking the 60th anniversary of the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research, Zagreb, 2-4 October 2008
ISBN 978-953-6020-52-2
Pages 23
Language eng (iso)
Subject(s) migrants
transnational social fields
material practices
Humanities/Social Sciences
Handle http://hdl.handle.net/2043/7537 (link to this page)

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