Call for Papers: Migrant Knowledges: Concepts, Voices, Spaces

Mittwoch, 03. Januar 2018

Bewerbungsschluss: 5. Februar 2018

Date: April 20-21, 2018
Workshop at GHI West, UC Berkeley
Convener: GHI West, the Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute Washington DC

In 2017, the German Historical Institute (GHI) Washington DC opened GHI West, its Pacific Regional Office on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, where it cooperates with the Institute of European Studies (IES). GHI West helps to build intercontinental bridges for historical research in general. Moreover, GHI West invites inter-disciplinary dialogue between history and neighboring fields to develop research on “migrant knowledges”, a conceptual focus that brings together two seemingly disparate fields, migration studies and the history of knowledge. In its multi-faceted meaning, “migrant knowledges” points to the knowledge made and held by migrants, as well as to the knowledge of and for migrants. Last but not least, the notion brings epistemological aspects to the fore: Knowledges differ in kind and form across space, time, and cultures; it is both produced in specific (gendered and class-structured) contexts, and recurrently in transit, translated, forgotten, or questioned.

With particular but not exclusive focus on the inter-area and interdisciplinary history of the Americas from the 19th to the 21st centuries, this workshop seeks to explore the possible methodologies, narratives, and empirics that facilitate a critical engagement with the concept of “migrant knowledges.” Emphasis is put on migrants as producers and conveyors of knowledge. The format of the workshop is intentionally interactive and aims to engender exploratory discussion and debate through three consecutive roundtables. The goal is to develop a set of approaches that enable further research on and analysis of migrant knowledge and its histories. Toward this end, we will request submission of short pre-circulated statements, while the workshop will be dedicated mostly to discussion.

There will be three panels.

Peter Burke, in his 2016 book What is the history of knowledge?, sees, for the past ten years or so, a veritable “epistemological turn” at work in the humanities and social sciences at large. Without labelling themselves as historians of knowledge, many scholars of migration are dealing with the production of knowledge such as categorization, racialization, or legalization of migrants by state officials. They also study migrants’ knowledges and explore the making and impact of memory in transnational communities; cultural enactments and social networks; or instances of intentional forgetting. They analyze the strategies migrants employ in order to enter the labor markets, mobilize for public support, and practice cross-ethnic/cross-racial solidarity. Historians of science or intellectual history, in turn, have started to take their methods beyond university campuses and state bureaucracies, going beyond (Western) elite or expert knowledge. They explore what and how people know about such diverse things as history, climate change, world economy, democracy, identity politics, or the new media. Moreover, they think about how this knowledge is embedded in and, in turn, feeds into larger systems or infrastructures of knowledge, such as (social) science, popular culture, or religion. 
Relevant questions are: How do we identify and access migrant knowledges from your field of study? How do both fields, the history (and sociology or anthropology) of knowledge, and the broad range of migration studies, imagine each other? What are the ambitions of interlinking both fields of research, methodologically and/ or in terms of subject matter?

As migrants move, so do the knowledges they convey. But just as knowledge production is being framed by cultural patterns and socio-economic structures that reflect sovereignties of interpretation in dispute, this seems also applicable to migrants’ knowledge. Unequal access to knowledge, as well as unequal distribution of concepts and unequal establishment of guiding ideas have their impact on how migrants’ voices and memories can be (made) heard by migrants and others. Moving from one place to another, the ongoing transcultural and multidirectional need to adjust to different cultures and contexts produces a higher probability that continuities are altered, ruptures occur and silences prevail, one might argue. In this panel, we want to analyze the ways in which migrants’ knowledge is framed by a complex set of intersecting markers that more often than not may lead to an invisibilization of migrants’ voices and memories in the Americas and beyond.
Relevant questions are: Under which framing conditions is migrant’s knowledge being produced and distributed? Which impact can migration have on the production of knowledge? Which strategies have migrants used to counter the silencing of their voices and memories and/or, to the contrary, how did they silence others?

Over the past few decades, since the “transnational turn” called into question the strict borders of area studies, we have witnessed a vibrant exploration of alternative conceptual-geographical metaphors, including diaspora, transborder, hemispheric, transpacific, and Spanish Pacific formations. This panel examines how these conceptual-geographical frameworks shape our approach to study and understand migrant circulations and migrant knowledges. For instance, theories of diaspora have facilitated investigations into homeland-diaspora relations and relations among the dispersed diaspora; hemispheric studies have focused our attention on the uneven inter-American dynamics that shape migration across the Americas as well as the ingenious practices engendered by migrants themselves; the transpacific approach turns our attention to the historical as well as the revitalized and emergent circulations and relations forged across the Pacific. In all these instances, migrants activate existing as well as produce new social networks and cultural-political knowledges in order to navigate the ever-shifting conditions they confront. The challenge of this panel is to bring into conversation these different frameworks, to critically assess their particular interventions and overlaps, and to imagine new framing devices that can address, as fully as possible, the complexity of migrant circulations, practices, and knowledges.
Relevant questions are: How to evaluate the utility of a specific conceptual-geographical framework in addressing the study of migration and migrant knowledges? How do specific conceptual-geographical approaches shape our analytical foci on migrant knowledges? Are there potential overlaps of the different frameworks?

The deadline for proposals is February 5, 2018. Please send a statement of one page addressing one set of questions together with a brief academic CV in a single PDF file to Heike Friedman at friedman(at) If you have questions concerning the workshop, please contact Andrea Westermann at westermann(at)

Weitere Informationen & Kontakt

Andrea Westermann
University of California, Berkeley/GHI West, the Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute Washington DC