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Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas

Moving Matters

The social consequences of the mobility of people and goods are the central focus of the Moving Matters programme group.

We explore migrating people and moving commodities as well as the shifting networks - of solidarity, remittances, knowledge, meaning and power - that result from such practices. These networks may range from the local to the transnational. The approach is sociological and anthropological, with an emphasis on the historical dimension. We are interested in drawing comparisons between cases, periods and networks as well as in analysing relationships at large distances (so-called ‘teleconnections'). We study how mobility and immobility are mediated by constantly changing power relations. Methodologically, we favour fieldwork and an immersion of the researcher in the researched community, locality or network.

The scope of this programme group is global in response to an urgent need to push social-science theorisation beyond the dominance of European and North American area studies. Our research expertise is concentrated in a variety of societies in Asia, Latin America and Africa, though the group welcomes scholars working on social consequences of the increased mobility of people, goods and ideas anywhere in the world.

Examples of specific projects are illegal but licit flows, the effects of remittances on migrants' regions of origin and commodity chains, hegemonic discourses of modernism and development, the formation of states and civil societies, the role of popular intellectuals and social movements.

Programme group leaders

Dr. S. (Shanshan) Lan

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas

Research staff

Our projects

  • The social life of state deportation regimes: A comparative study of the implementation interface

    This is the first anthropological study to compare the implementation process of deportation regimes on a global scale. It is uniquely positioned to examine global trends in convergence/divergence and test the assumption of a “deportation turn” among 21st-century states in response to irregular migration. The project will make an original contribution to the anthropology of the state, by bringing to light the agency of those who exercise discretion in interpreting laws and policies at the “implementation interface”; and it will demonstrate that the territorial sovereignty of states is constantly renegotiated here.

    The aim of this project is to study and compare the actual implementation process of deportation regimes – which compromise deportation policies, procedures and campaigns – in four different states: Israel, Greece, Spain and Equador. The project will generate fine-grained ethnographies of the everyday implementation of deportation regimes by studying two pivotal groups that shape and influence deportation practices on the ground: on the one hand, street-level agents and civil servants (police agents, personnel in detention centres, officials in asylum division, etc.), who are assigned the task of defining, locating, detaining en deporting irregular migrants; on the other hand, civil-society actors (local and international NGOs, grassroots movements, religious organisations, etc.), who assume the role of representing the cause of irregular migrants, protecting their rights, assisting hem and preventing their deportation.

    The project contributes a crucial perspective on irregular migration, which so far has remained unexplored: the interface of street-level state agents and civil-society actors in shaping practices of deportation – the meso level of deportation regime. Furthermore, it goes beyond the dichotomist view of state and non-state actors as occupying opposing ideological stands regarding the implementation of deportation regimes. Instead, this projects champions and understanding of this regime as being carried out by a continuum of actions and organisations on both sides. Close attention is paid to conflicts as well as complementary practices and converging views, in exploring the dynamics of both ‘implementation deficits’ and ‘implementation surpluses’.

    • Funding: European Research Council (ERC)
    • Duration: 01-03-2014 until 28-02-2019
    Dr. B. (Barak) Kalir

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas

  • Securing the local: The role of Non-state Security Groups (NSSGs) in the struggle against extremism in Kenya, Nigeria and Indonesia

    The project will undertake a multi-sited, multi-level comparative exploration of the role played by non-state security groups (NSSGs) in the provision of ‘human security’ in Fragile and Conflict-affected states (FCAS) in contexts of violent religious extremism.

    Violent religious extremism is experienced daily in Kenya, Nigeria and Indonesia, where Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and IS put chronic pressures on local communities. In the absence of effective state interventions, local NSSGs have emerged resisting extremism by deploying defense, policing, governance and development activities. The project seeks to deliver new evidence-based insights into the broader societal support, effect, critique and understanding of such activities by:

    1. Analyzing NSSGs discourse and properties, particularly concerning their potential for violence, in relation to discourses of local community stakeholders
    2. Identifying and characterizing NSSG-government relations, including particular in terms of legitimacy and sovereignty
    3. Analyzing the interplays between local, national and transnational levels of legitimacy, security provision and development
    4. Formulating a dynamic theory of change concerning the developmental role of NSSGs in dealing with extremist threat
    5. Formulating a policy-oriented comparative typologization of NSSG actors, activities and agency, and 6) formulating country-specific policy recommendations for the inclusion of NSSGs in security provision.

    The project will therefore not only add to existing knowledge about NSSGs in both a country-specific and a comparative manner, but will also challenge current mainstream policy assumptions about the necessity to deal with such groups violently, highlighting how their legitimacy and potential for inclusion within security governance arrangements can vary contextually.

    • Period: September 1, 2016 - August 31, 2019
    • Funding: NWO WOTRO
    Dr. L.G.H. (Laurens) Bakker

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas

    Prof. dr. D.W. (Dennis) Rodgers

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas

  • Conscripted Volunteering: An Ethnographic Study of Community Engagement Schemes in the Israeli Military

    The research project explores the intensive implementation of ‘conscripted volunteering’ in the Israeli military.

    Militaries increasingly engage their soldiers in activities framed as ‘community engagement’ or ‘volunteering’, ranging from facilitating activities for children to delivering food to the needy. ‘Conscripted volunteering’, as I term this phenomenon, is part of a broader ‘moralization’ of contemporary society that glorifies ‘volunteering’ as a prominent route for ethical conduct. Under neoliberalism, ‘volunteering’ becomes an object of intensified political interest and promotion. While ‘volunteering’ that is facilitated by militaries can be considered as a means to enhance their public legitimacy, inspired by corporate techniques of reputation management, I propose to analyse it also as a governmentality technique that reinforces the ideological and ethical adherence of soldiers.

    The proposed research project explores the intensive implementation of ‘conscripted volunteering’ in the Israeli military, a military which is considered a paradigmatic case in studies of armed forces. The project provides a theoretically-informed, in-depth ethnographic account of a phenomenon that has so far been neglected in the literature. It examines why and how ‘conscripted volunteering’ emerged and became widespread in the Israeli military, how these volunteering schemes are assembled, organised and managed, and how this new type of soldiers’ engagement affects their notions of morality, citizenship and subjecthood. These questions are addressed through in-depth interviews, participant observations and content analysis.

    The project uniquely converges the thematic areas of military studies and volunteering research; it brings together the candidate’s expertise in studying the rise of ‘volunteering’ with the host institute’s specialization in anthropology of military and security. The project contributes to the increasing interest in military-civic entanglements, and to the critical analysis of the emergence of ‘volunteering’, and of its causes, meanings and implications.

  • The reconfiguration of whiteness in China - privileges, precariousness, and racialised performances (CHINAWHITE)

    Shanshan Lan examines the multiple and contradictory constructions of whiteness in China as a result of the rapid diversification of white migrants in the country and the shifting power balances between China and the West. Existing literature on white westerners in Asia mainly focuses on transnational elites.

    The rising number of middle- and lower-stratum of white migrants in China deserves special attention due to substantial tensions and discrepancies in their experiences of racial privilege, economic insecurity, and legal vulnerability. Lan will conduct research on daily life encounters between various groups of white migrants and Chinese in five domains:

    1. State policy regarding international migrants in China
    2. The ESL industry (teaching English as a second language)
    3. The media, fashion, and entertainment industries
    4. Transnational business and entrepreneurship
    5. Interracial romance. 

    Three major research questions frame her project.

    First, what are the symbolic and material advantages and disadvantages of being white in China’s thriving market economy and consumer culture? Second, how is whiteness racialised in relation to blackness and other immigrant minority identities? And third, how are multiple versions of whiteness produced, interpreted, negotiated, and performed through daily life interactions between white migrants and Chinese? 

    Dr. S. (Shanshan) Lan

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas

  • Life after lockdown: returning to a changed world in Wuhan, China

    This project investigates experiences of life after lockdown in Wuhan (China) to gain insight into challenges ahead for societies around the world. In this city, where the global COVID-19 pandemic started, people currently return to a changed world after having spent two months in quarantine. This project records people's changed behaviours, experiences of returning to work, engagement with new regulations and technologies, and efforts to prevent “a second wave”.

  • Ecological Community Engagements: Imagining sustainability and the water-energy-food nexus in urban South African environments

    Water, food and energy insecurity and precarity, synthesised as the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus, highlight the need for creative imagining. We take a transdisciplinary approach to engage critically with understandings of these complex problems. To discover and understand the imaginations and innovations that could steer us to a sustainable future, we propose to work in very local, urban contexts, where WEF challenges reflect the legacies of Apartheid and colonialism. Using a case study of systems thinking in practice, we will advance socio-political understandings of responses to complex, interconnected but spatially and temporally dispersed problems, and critique discourses of resilience, sustainability, community engagement and citizen science designed to address them. Working with Citizen Eco-Labs in Johannesburg, Mankweng (Limpopo), and Alice (Eastern Cape), we aim to describe community-based understandings of WEF precarity and understandings, responses and actions to regenerate damaged ecologies, and analyse how ongoing collaborations between community members, community-based organisations and multiple public and private partners enable socially-inclusive, ecocultural responses to the environment. Drawing on local understandings of the WEF-Nexus, through participatory methods of engagement, we will develop best practice methodologies for partnerships that can contribute to improving livelihoods, the environment, and wellbeing. 

    Prof. dr. E.M. (Eileen) Moyer

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Dep. Anthropology