Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies

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Research Group "The Production of Knowledge on Migration"

Sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation and its funding initiative "Niedersächsisches Vorab"
Duration of the project: 1/2019 12/2023
Research group leaders: N.N.
Researchers: Dr. des. Inken Bartels, Philipp Schäfer, M.A., and Dr. Laura Stielike

German Version


We have organize the international conference "The Moral Economies of Knowledge Production on Migration: Conflicts, Values, Positionalities", 2–4 December 2020, IMIS, University of Osnabrueck. For the programme please visit the conference website.

 The interdisciplinary research group 'The Production of Knowledge on Migration' investigates the production of knowledge on spatial mobilities. As more and more scholars call for a 'reflexive turn' in migration research, the group aims to add to this debate. Its research focuses on the categories, concepts and data that shape representations of spatially mobile people and that inform the various practices of dealing with their mobilities. Inspired by debates in the History, Sociology and Philosophy of Science, the group analyses the production of knowledge as a situated process that involves specific practices, networks and institutions. It puts a particular emphasis on transnational entanglements and actors. Dedicated to a transdisciplinary, collaborative form of research, it brings together young scholars from different disciplines.

By exploring the production and circulation of knowledge on migration, the group seeks to make sense of the ways in which migration is continuously produced and reproduced, both as an object of study and as an object of intervention. It thus hopes to deepen our understanding of how mobilities shape societies (and vice versa), both in the past and in the present.

Research Projects

What counts? The statistical production of knowledge on migration in West Africa

Dr. des. Inken Bartels

Since the so-called migration crisis of 2015, various actors from politics, media and science have called for an increased and improved production of scientific knowledge on global migration. The growing demand for "scientific data" and "facts" indicates a need for comprehensive statistics, measurable indicators and precise predictions of global migration movements. This demand is based on the widespread assumption that on this basis migration could not only be predicted more precisely, but also managed more farsightedly and efficiently in the future. In this context, migration on the African continent is increasingly moving in the center of international attention. The research project investigates the production of the required "facts and figures" on migration movements in and from West Africa. It focuses on two related research questions: Which practices produce statistical knowledge about migration? And how do the data produced become "scientific facts" through the social interaction of different actors and thus effective in other areas of society? In a double sense, the underlying question of the project is therefore: what counts? Theoretically, I examine these questions from praxeological, transnational and postcolonial perspectives. Methodologically, I conduct a qualitative case study on the production and circulation of quantitative knowledge in and from West Africa. In the sense of an "ethnography of statistics", I therefore reconstruct, compare and trace the history and practice of statistical knowledge production in Senegal and Gambia.

Legal Pluralism and the Production of (Non-)Knowledge on Migration in European History

Dr. Isabella Löhr

Being mobile gives rise to conflicts that revolve around claims to validity in a given legal and/or normative order. Those conflicts result from the very fact that being mobile entails legal affiliations to several societies and creates manifold opportunities in which the coexistence of diverse sets of norms and regulations becomes visible – for example, in fields such as the law of inheritance, the law of property, family law or citizenship rights. The research project scrutinizes the very process in which the complex social realities of migratory practices have been subjugated to legal regulations and became an object of normative homogeneity. It examines the production and circulation of legal knowledge on migration in a historical perspective by focusing on the language, terms and categories used to enclose the legal effects of migration and mobility. Moreover, it directs attention to knowledge practices with which legal actors constantly re-asserted their professional expertise and established a boundary between jurisprudence and competing descriptions of migration e.g. in the social sciences. Inspired by a cultural studies perspective on law, scholarship on boundary-work in science and Science and Technology Studies, the research project examines these questions in the context of postcolonial migration to France and Great Britain since the 1960s and with regard to the recruitment of so called ‘guest workers’ in Germany.

Scripting (Dis)Integration: A Multi-Sited History of 'Ethnic', 'Religious' and 'Racial Segregation'

PD. Dr. Christiane Reinecke

In order to make sense of the diversity of cities and the impact of different migratory movements, historical actors in the 20th and 21st century often referred to notions of “ethnic”, “racial”, and “religious difference”. The way in which they categorized and datafied people according to their “race”, “ethnicity”, and “religion” varied from city to city and time to time. Nevertheless, the use of these categories was increasingly influenced by transnational debates, actors, and infrastructures. In my project, I seek to analyse these interchanges between the local and the global with the help of a multi-sited research. Influenced by debates in Science and Technology Studies, I investigate “race”, “ethnicity”, and “religion” as travelling concepts that circulated globally. Mainly by exploring how municipal authorities, academic experts and urban dwellers in 20th-century London, Paris and Cape Town sought to describe and control the “segregation” and “(dis)integration” of different groups, I make suggestions for a multi-sited analysis of the multiple lives and meanings of (social scientific) knowledge that travels globally.

Policing Knowledge. The Contested Production and Circulation of Police Knowledge About Migration

Philipp Schäfer, M.A.

Whether at the border, across borders or within nation states - polices are central actors in the production and circulation of knowledge about migration and migrants. The fact that this knowledge production and circulation are contested and controversial has been demonstrated, among other things, by the turbulent dynamics of the so-called long summer of migration, when the cross-border practices of migrants challenged and changed police institutions, actors and processes almost daily. The project asks how police forces get an idea of the diversified and ever-changing societal conditions. With which actors do they enter more or less conflict-laden constellations, which forms of knowledge are relevant for them, and what significance does scientific expertise have in this context? And vice versa: How do scientific studies integrate and translate police knowledge about migration and which shifts in meaning can we observe and in how far are these conflictuous? The research project traces the contested production and circulation of knowledge about migration from a transnational perspective by means of ethnographic field research in various European and non-European regions. 

Big Data, Migration Governance and the Production of Knowledge

Dr. Laura Stielike

The project explores the recent trend to use big data for the analysis and governance of international migration. Focusing on the emerging transnational network of international organisations‘ data hubs and university based data researchers, it examines how the use of big data transforms the production of knowledge about migration. Through multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork the project analyses how assumptions, categories and values from the big data related technological and business sector are carried into knowledge about migration and translated into migration policy. Thus, the project sheds light on the production and circulation of knowledge about migration at the interface between academia, politics and society and builds on and contributes to migration research, science and technology studies and research on knowledge and public policy.