HOMInG away in Frankfurt: new views on home and migration from Germany

HOMInG away in Frankfurt: new views on home and migration from Germany

By Sara Bonfanti

On 13th-14th Dec. 2018, two Homingers had the pleasure to participate as invited speakers in a thematic workshop organized at der Institut für Ethnologie, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main (DE).

Arranged within the “Mobile Worlds” Project www.mobile-welten.org, a venture that combined artistic exhibition, ethnographic research and educational program, this intensive two day workshop, set right in the financial heart of Europe, hosted a global variety of contributors from interdisciplinary migration studies.

Prof. Hans P. Hahn, anthropologist at Goethe University and scholar of material culture, critically introduced the umbrella terms which titled and instigated the event “Lifestyles, Dwelling and Post-migratory Societies”. The cypher of the debates to follow pooled uncannily Heidegger’s notion of inhabiting with the theoretical premise of ‘post migrant societies’, which illustrates Germany’s struggle between a state vision accepting immigration and a society lagging behind its diverse reality.

Prof. Paolo Boccagni, sociologist at Università di Trento (IT), gave the opening lecture “Homing: an emerging conceptual bridge between migration studies and social theory”. Crediting to Chagall’s Remembrance painting his obsession with the home-migration nexus, half-way through the 5-year ERC HOMInG Project, the P.I. emphasized the processual nature of migrant people’s search for (and flops in) a constellation of homes. Seeing home as a category of practice, homing is rather a category of analysis, yet grounded in mobility experiences and people’s everyday lives.


Ph. 1_ Carrying one’s Home while roaming the World

Prof. Iris Levin, urban planner and geographer at Swinburne University (AUS), formerly based in Tel Aviv (IL), gave the key-note speech “A global middle-class house? Cultural capital, taste and Kitsch”. Towards a de-ethnicization of migration research, within the conceptual vessel of ‘migrant house’, it snuggles that of the global middle class home. Studying the settlements of Chinese professionals in Australia, through Bourdieu’s work on habitus and kitsch, housing architectural forms seem to display these global families’ social position, between cross-cultural capital, Asian designer and popular taste.

Besides established academics, a roll of inspiring contributions came from junior ones, with different personal and academic backgrounds.

Marc Hill shed light on the use of irony in post-migrant media representations as an antidote to the reproduction of marginalizing discourses, challenging the obsolete binary migrant vs. native. A provocation lingered: when does a migrant’s arrival end?


Fig.2_Creating new Spaces for alternative Visions about Diversity

Darja Klingenberg recovered philosophical insights from Vilém Flusser, to argue that while one’s homeland is usually considered permanent in the face of ongoing relocatable dwellings, some migrants might instead experience the opposite.

Elena Hopfner startled the audience reporting the narratives of refugees in Berlin which focus on emotive souvenirs of loss that they carried around and she deliberately did not show in pictures.

Sara Bonfanti juggled with the home careers of Indian diasporas, in resettlement and homeland, considering their ghost houses in remittance landscapes as holograms of divergent aspirations for those who leave, are left behind, or wish to return.

Agata Lisiak rendered the reproductive labour of migrant mothers, their porous homes and tacit differences which they learn to navigate as they raise their kids through self-policing in multicultural urban milieus.

Friedemann Neumann argued wryly that, in the translation of home cultures across places and over times, domestic materials might disattend social presuppositions: moving does not always mean loss nor even dramatic change, and things from home may be quite insignificant to some mobile people.

Laura Haddad broke new ground analysing the ambivalent discourses on ‘modest fashion’, the emerging global dress code compliant to Islamic aesthetics that is being developed crosswise social media and public life.

Ozlem Savas, self-engaging with the new politicised Turkish diaspora in Germany, discussed the solidarity ties that bind together translocal social fields, posing that affective dis-placement may not only be the result of migration but also its cause.

Prof. Victoria Bernal, anthropologist at California Irvine (US), now visiting scholar at Université de Louvain (BE), conclusively remarked how ethnographic researches as varied as the ones presented bore evidence to a common finding: the daily ordinariness of postmigrant societies versus the supposed protracted emergency of a migration/refugee crisis in the West.

Overall, echoing the legacy of the Frankfurt School, the term ‘postmigration’ advanced during the event implied a radical critique of today’s social life and its political agendas; not coined by academics, but recently emerged among Berlin artists who resisted being labelled ‘im-migrants’ or targeted by national ‘integration’-policies. Insisting on the variety of life-stories and hybridity of people’s background as a fundamental  condition in contemporary mobile worlds, the case studies debated advocate for fairer interactions among all members of society, and unleashed a critical review of structural inequities. In doing so, the workshop also reaffirmed the social responsibility that researchers owe to their participants and the ethical imperative to disseminate openly the scientific knowledge produced.


Fig.3_The Crew at T. W. Adorno’s desk: Post-migratory Minima Moralia