Friedemann Yi-Neumann and Hatice Pınar Şenoğuz: a report on the mid-term HOMInG symposium

A report on the mid-term HOMInG Symposium  

Friedemann Yi-Neumann and Hatice Pınar Şenoğuz

(University of Göttingen & University of Osnabrück)


The mid-term symposium of the ERC-StG funded research project HOMInG – The home-migration nexus was a gathering of international and interdisciplinary scholars at Trento University to discuss the preliminary findings from different contexts all around the world on the topic HomING: displacement, suspension, projections and achievements in making home on the move. The HOMInG project, launched in 2016, addresses the central question about “how home works in the life trajectories of those who left it behind, and what the search for home says of immigrant integration and of the influence of mobility on domesticity”.[1] This symposium, however, was convened by the joint efforts of HOMIng and HOASI (Home and Asylum Seekers in Italy) project teams, the latter being a corollary project started in early 2018 with an exclusive focus on the local reception and home views among refugees in Italy. The conveners had made substantial advances and contributions in the current debates on home and migration, framed by Paolo Boccagni’s widely recognized analytical framework Migration and the Search for Home (2017, Palgrave). The two-day symposium fostered fruitful exchanges among scholars from various disciplines and across diverse themes and attested to the growing interest to the home lens on migration.

The introductory remarks by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo (University of Southern California) and Paolo Boccagni offered a critical review of the emergent debates in the home and migration studies and heralded the project-related forthcoming publication Shifting Roofs (by A. Miranda, A. Massa and S. Bonfanti, Bloomsbury Press, 2019). Hondagneu-Sotelo pointed out that at the current moment, where the call for border walls is getting louder and detention centers and new forms of punishments, like isolation camps, emerge, it is important to counter these movements also by engaged and profound migration research. Boccagni being the principal investigator of the project presented an overview of the main assumptions underlying the HOMInG research questions, namely the distinction between homemaking and homing: While homemaking indicates how people engage with the material environment to make it a “special” place, homing is about how people try to attach a sense of home to their conditions. He introduced HOMInG as a large-scale comparative collaborative multi-method project on home and migration. The team members covered the crosscutting themes of the projects by shortly introducing their research.



The first session, What moves and what stays put or behind. Revisiting the portability of home (chaired by Nicholas Harney, University of Windsor), focused on what used to be home and what migrants or refugees literally, metaphorically or virtually can carry along.
Emma Duester (University of Roehampton, London) addressed how the visual, conceptual artists from the Balkans negotiate their movements and belongings in the face of the constraints and compulsions to move due to the larger structures of the global art market. Furthermore, she described the different perspectives and strategies to tackle the issue of constant motilities and also the social consequences of these working conditions.

Miquel Martorell Faus (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) addressed the phenomenon of homing narratives of (im-)mobile children in Barcelona in the context of schools. Here he focused on how children perceive and negotiate multilocality and the centrality of school in their everyday lives. Furthermore, Faus presented in detail the strategies marginalized children develop in order to cope with immobility and exclusion.

This is a home, but it’s not my home was the title of Isobel Ward’s (King’s College London) presentation in which she addressed how people express the possessions of home, in the form of actual enjoyment. In London she conducted research in Tottenham and Kings Cross and investigated how possessing home, also in hostile environments, is possible, when even displacement and poverty can become a form of home.
Plamena Slavova Stoyanova (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) addressed the questions of identity and social interaction of internationals in Bulgaria, such as high-skill employees, their partners, people who wanted to change their life (after a personal crisis), and students. She showed that even when these migrants adapt the language and some elements of Bulgarian culture, most of them remain foreign citizens and do not stay in the country permanently.
The Panel convenor Paolo Boccagni addressed the portability and circulation of home in the context of international migration, drawing on the preliminary results of the HOMInG project. Here, origins (ascribed), places (literal and physical), and settings (conducive to feeling at home) are the three core meanings of home, respectively highly portable, unportable (or portable only by proxy) and partially portable and reproducible characteristics. These forms of home (un)portability may range from an embodied home (individuals being aware or not) to a fixed, untransferrable, or denied home, from an estranged home to a remote-control home.



HomING in unhomely contexts. Studies from the margins (chaired by Giuseppe Sciortino, University of Trento) was the title of the second panel, in which Chiara Janssen (United Nations University (UNU)-Merit) presented her findings on home-making of Liberian refugees in the Buduburam Camp in Ghana. In this unhomely context of long-term displacement, she addressed the coping mechanisms of (mainly female) dwellers who counter their harsh living conditions by domestic customization, establishing social relations, and distraction; many are not able to create a sense of home.
Yelis Erolova (Bulgarian Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies) addressed how refugees in Bulgaria try to establish a home in the face of strong political counter movements, discrimination, exclusion, legal and economic precarity. The ethnographer conducted research in a refugee detention center, where inmates establish temporal zones of comfort, for instance, by shared meals with food from outside the camp.
Home-making practices of children in their asylum procedures in Bretagne (France) was the topic of the paper by Elise Reslinger (Bath University). This social scientist addressed how infants in these accommodations appropriate space, by decoration, for example, daily routines, and by welcoming and being welcomed by children and families (even from outside the camp) and creating a homely atmosphere despite all constraints, like scarce financial resources and residence obligations.
Hatice Pınar Şenoğuz (University of Osnabrück), drawing on the idea that unhomely (uncanny) places stem from a collapse of the border between world and home (Bhabha 1992) addressed how seeking normalcy emerges as a common everyday strategy among the asylum seeking women in Germany in tackling the lack of ontological security. She offered a nuanced meaning of “unhomely” among refugee women, pointing to the women’s capacities to aspire for the future and homing desire in a German reception center affording a feeling of security. Moreover, she drew attention to the volatile conditions of displacement and asylum threatening these women to turn their camp settings into unhomely (in the sense of uncanny) places again.

The Panel convenors Aurora Massa (IRPPS-CNR) and Milena Belloni (University of Trento), in turn, pointed out that (forced) migration is not simply a process whereby home is first lost and then reestablished. Drawing on their research on Eritrean migrants, they argued that certain macro dynamics lead to a chronic crisis, what can be considered as an ‘accumulation of homelessness’. This concept can provide a new glance on refugee journeys and the transnational conditions which prevent security, familiarity and control, as well as the consequences of these negative accumulations of home.



The third panel Home, Kinship and Sexuality on the Move. Forms of relatedness in times of mobility, chaired by Ester Gallo (University of Trento), focused on the question whether the use of kinship language within refugee/migratory experiences might articulate forms of relatedness or if it makes others invisible.
Olga Tkach (Centre for Independent Social Research (CISR), St. Petersburg) addressed the topic of Student Tenancy in Russia. The social researcher analyzed how this process, and the different forms of homing related to it, are interwoven in different stages of a rite passage from childhood to adulthood. She also provided insights into intra-Russian middle-class mobility and migration.

Karim Zafer (University of Cologne) addressed new forms of social and kin relations of Arab unaccompanied minor and youth refugees in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The anthropologist, by referring to the concept ‘voluntary kin’ (Braithwaite et al., 2010), addressed voluntary engagements in supplement families, and how gender roles and family ties shift in forced migrations, bi-cultural marriage, and family reunifications, and relations with professional case managers.
Thematically related yet in a different context, Angelie Marilla (LAMC, Université Libre de Belgique) addressed how home is renegotiated by the mothering at a distance of transnational Filipino migrant workers in the Czech Republic. She addressed the everyday digital routines yet also issues of remittances and gift circulations. The arrival of a Balikbayan box in a family’s place, for instance, is being seen as a homecoming in this context.
Barbara Bertolani (Independent scholar, Italy) presented how kin-networks are redefined in the case of Indian Punjabis in Italy. She addressed the richness and complexity of Punjabi kinship ties and how social relations are expressed in kinship terms. She showed how lineage, caste, but also geographical origin and neighborhood in India lead people to define themselves as siblings abroad. She also provided insights into diasporic family events.
Sara Bonfanti, who convened the panel with Ilka Vari-Lavoisier (both University of Trento), addressed family relations in the diaspora through the example of Hindustani aunties in Europe. Diasporic aunties inhabit particular shifting social positions, which are characterized by ambivalence, since they are considered to be weavers of social ties but also persons of social control and gossiping; which finds expression an “aunty-mania” in popular culture, in comedy yet also pornography.



Home and the senses was the subject of the fourth panel of the symposium, which was chaired by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo. The focus was on the sensory, material and affective dimensions of homing.
Ann Cathrin Corrales-Overlid (University of Bergen) provided insight into how Peruvian women entrepreneurs in Southern California negotiate home and belonging. By selling food in their homes to passer-bys they create a particular ethnic atmosphere, which is produced and negotiated in these semi-public homes. Corrales-Overlid showed the intra- and extra-diasporic tensions which arise around Peruvian food cultures and economies and moreover depicted experiences of transnational estrangement.
Ayşe Hilal Tuztaş Horzumlu (Yeditepe University) discussed the sense of home among the Sarıkeçili, a group of pastoral nomads in Anatolia. To feed their cattle, these people move up to 90 days with their herds and shelter themselves in a black tent, made of goat hair, which they set up in ‘Konalgas’, the resting place along their route. Here, geographical locations and cultural beliefs play an important role. The tent becomes a window into the world; the home stays the same and only the world outside changes, as the anthropologist illustrated.
How psychology can contribute to research on home and homemaking, both in migrant and non-migrant contexts, was a question addressed by Ekrem Düzen (University of Bielefeld). In his research sketch, the presenter proposed to understand the feeling of being at home as affect without encounters. Combining psychological approaches with theories of home in social science, he stated that home could be analyzed in similar manners as the self since both highly depend on familiarity and mastery.
Mina Hristova (Bulgarian Academy of Science) portrayed the lifestyle migration of Russians in Bulgaria and its entanglement with geopolitics. Many Russians purchased houses in the seaside of the country and developed a broad diaspora culture. However, this process changed when tensions between Bulgaria and Russia arose over political interventions. This also influences transcultural relations in everyday life.
The Panel convenor Alejandro Miranda-Nieto (University of Trento) outlined his methodological reflections on researching home through the senses in migratory contexts, which he addressed by referring to three case studies in Madrid, Milan, and Amsterdam. Through the example of cooking smell, and how this is related to feeling at home, he outlined the potential of an embodied and multisensory ethnography of home.



Architectures of displacement: material forms of refugee accommodation and its implications was the title of the fifth panel, convenor Daniela Giudici, chaired by Andrea Brighenti (both University of Trento), which addressed asylum seekers’ housing arrangements in contemporary Europe.
Initially, Marco Mogiani (University of Vienna) focused on migrants’ spatial occupations in Patras, Greece, and on the interconnection between settlement, mobility and the European border regimes. In a historical perspective, different forms of housing emerged, from squatting in urban green spaces in the 1990s to the occupation of remote industrial complexes by refugees in 2011. Mogiani talked about the different forms of accommodations that emerged and the struggles of refugee dwellers with local inhabitants, and with authorities.
After that, Laura Ferrero (University of Turin) showed how in a legalized Italian squat, called La Salette, refugees and social operators seek to gain housing stability through collective action. This is in a space inhabited by people from different backgrounds but in similar situations, due to their asylum procedures or residence status. Unlike state institutions, La Salette provides a flexible and reliable shelter for people with specific needs, like seasonal workers, for instance.
Giulia Storato (Franco Demarchi Foundation), Giuliana Sanò (University of Messina and Fondazione Alsos) and Francesco Della Puppa (University of Venice) focused on the relationship between of avant-garde urban architectures and interstitial housing arrangements for refugees in Trento. Refugees and asylums seekers who are out of the reception system seek shelter in different places in the city. Storato and colleagues showed the places in closed factories, underground parkings and in the avant-garde Le Albere quarter, which serve as precarious and transient accommodations at the margins of Trento.
The Salem Palace in Rome was presented by Fabiola Midulla (University of Turin). The author focused on the informal practices of homemaking in this precarious and large-scale squat, which nevertheless allows refugees to exercise self-insuring practices of performativity. Even though the building complex is a result of failed policies, it is also a basis for civic organizations, which provides the squatters access to social welfare, healthcare, and to a sort of urban citizenship.
The ashes of the Balkan Route was the heading of Andrea Mignogna’s (independent photo reporter, Italy) photo presentation. This stems from his travel along the Balkan route between December 2016 and March 2017. The photographer covered the situation of refugees on the Balkan route and requested, by an urgent appeal to the Symposium participants, to speak out publicly against hostile migration policies.



Housing pathways and housing temporalities: homemaking practices through displacement and time was the sixth panel, convened by Enrico Fravega (University of Trento). The panel, chaired by Alejandro Miranda Nieto, addressed the crisscrossing of both linear and cyclic temporalities as well as the connection of different types of home in migratory contexts.

Livio Amigoni (Università degli Studi di Genova) addressed provisional transit dwellings alongside the French-Italian border. By referring to the case of Ventimiglia informal refugee settlement, he dealt with the agency of camp inhabitance, like smuggling and border crossings, and the reactions of border and humanitarian politics to the formation of this camp by migrants and its societal effects.
The distinction between waiting and homing of asylum seekers waiting for their decision on asylum was covered by Raffaella Greco Tonegutti (Belgium’s Development Agency, Enabel). In her paper, she stated that the loss of home in such times of insecurity produces liquid temporalities which can become even worse than the negative decision itself. However, camp inhabitants also develop poetics of purposeful waiting, whereby they can even unfold their personal agencies and create spaces of familiarity in refugee centers.
How home-making takes place in a context of multigenerational diasporic communities, by Norwegian of Turkish descent, was discussed by Karolina Nikielska-Sekula (Universitetet i Sørøst-Norge) drawing on a situational analysis (Clarke, 2005) and on in-depth interviews. The presenter depicted notions of kinship and food cultures, but also her respondents’ connections with cities in Norway and Turkey and the social contestations and rejection they experience in both countries, which diminishes their sense of belonging.
The subject of transient homes of globally mobile professionals was addressed by Anna Spiegel (Universität Bielefeld) who portrayed how belonging and homemaking is shaped by mobility and by the expiration dates of employment contracts. These transient conditions shape their relations with domestic items and create forms of evacuation (everything can be left behind), nomadic (permanent provisionality), flexible (permanence is irrelevant), and local (as if permanent) homes.

Last, Michael Thompson (University of Leeds) addressed post-Brexit anxieties among the German and Polish Ethnic Minority Communities in the UK who are directly affected by Britain leaving the EU. While there is a long-established link between government agencies and austerity, immigration-related tensions arise in public space. Thompson described this through a counter-topography of anxiety-inducing experiences within these communities.



The last session Lost homes? Investigating homing for refugees in Europe and their families back home, chaired by Giuseppe Sciortino, investigated whether or not the legal, political and social position occupied by refugees in the new country of arrival, with respect to their homelands, has specific implications for their homemaking practices and feelings.

Anna Di Giusto (Independent scholar) presented a case study of homemaking in a refugee shantytown in Puglia, southern Italy. She explored the refugees’ place-making, including places of worships, restaurants, and nightclubs amid indigenous criminal systems, imported mafias of traffickers and exploitation of asylum seekers in the “caporalato” system, based on seasonal and precarious employment in tomato harvesting.

Sahizer Samuk Carignani presented a collective study conducted with her colleagues Derya Acuner, Yesim Tonga Uriarte (IMT, Lucca) on a thematic analysis of an interactive project “Face Forward”. This revealed the attachment to the homeland as a persistent theme, talking to the “rooted mobilities” among the participants.

Meral Gezici Yalçın (Bolu Abant İzzet Baysal University) focused on homing of Syrian refugees in Turkey, drawing on a survey conducted in the southeastern border city of Mardin. The findings pointed to a divided home feeling between the private and public spheres, segregation in the neighborhoods of settlement, and an impasse regarding their right to the city.

Friedemann Yi-Neumann (University of Göttingen) asserted three different forms in which people translate home cultures into refugee camps, with reference to the notion of “disculturalization” (Goffman,1961) and “translation” (Latour, 1999) to explore homemaking as a process of ‘untraining’ and adjustment, as well as event and rearrangement. The three forms of home cultures, namely the translation of arrangements, the translation of domestic and family practices, and the translation of individual skills and practices allow for transient and constrained zones of protection and ‘coziness’ for camp dwellers.

Finally, Milena Belloni and Luis E. Pérez Murcia (University of Trento) offered an alternative conceptual framework for comparative research on home, bridging the gap between the studies on forced migrants and those on labour migrants.



Final remarks by Giuseppe Sciortino, Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, Nicholas Harney, and Paolo Boccagni

The speakers elaborated on the various ways of using of home by the participants, on a wide range and scale, yet pointing to the need to bring these scales up and down together. They also drew attention to the risks of adopting theoretical approaches totalizing the mobility experiences and rather underlined the migrants’ abilities to jump through different places across networks that cannot be read as grid-like state structures. The symposium papers reveal not only homemaking but also dwelling, inhabiting and transiting in uncommon homelike settings. “Home” itself is revealed as an ambivalent notion that captures both positive and negative aspects (Boccagni and Kivisto, 2019). A case can also be made for extending home studies further to newly emergent areas of study, such as migration related to climate change. Moreover, the conference showed that the micro-practices in the domestic sphere are marginal to the debate on homemaking. Affects, sensations, and everyday practices can be understood as the bedrock of research on home. Nevertheless, many scholars who presented in this conference have addressed broader social, political, and economic conditions under which homemaking in the context of (forced) migration takes place. The issue of how homing individuals, families, and groups reconstitute security, familiarity and control needs to be discussed by considering also border and admission policies. As Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo points out, it is necessary to focus on what the utopian home can look like, in order to develop new visions of the future in the face of the global right-wing movements.