Return to Article Details Workshop Report on “Vocabularies of Migration: Reflexive Perspectives on Interdisciplinarity, Translation and Language in Migration Research”
Unbenanntes Dokument


Workshop Report on “Vocabularies of Migration: Reflexive Perspectives on Interdisciplinarity, Translation and Language in Migration Research”

A workshop organized by the Chair of Cultural Sociology and International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC)/Research Centre for the Study of Culture (RCSC) in collaboration with Research Network Migration and Human Rights (FMM)

A Report by Morteza Azimi, Melisa Meryem Çiçek, Erzhena Dugarova, Pinar Gümüs Mantu and Anastasiia Marsheva


Justus Liebig University Giessen; International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (Giessen)

How does language mediate the way we produce knowledge on migration? How are concepts, terms, and terminologies translated and transferred within and between the gradually developing multi-/interdisciplinary construction of the field of migration studies? What is lost in translation in migration-related empirical research across several national and linguistic contexts, and what has been constructed anew? Considering its point of departure from this line of analytical critical thinking on language and migration, this workshop project was first designed and conceptualized within the team of Cultural Sociology at Justus Liebig University Giessen, by JÖRN AHRENS (Giessen), PINAR GÜMÜS MANTU (Giessen) and SARITA MONJANE HENRIKSEN (Giessen/Maputo). The main aim of the workshop project was to stimulate a scholarly discussion on migration research with a special focus on how issues of translation, language, and reflexivity are articulated in terms of both methodology and theory within the interdisciplinary field of migration studies. The workshop project was then further developed as embedded in the Emerging Topics Research Group Migration and (De)coloniality at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC) with doctoral members MORTEZA AZIMI (Giessen), MELISA MERYEM ÇIÇEK (Giessen), ERZHENA DUGAROVA (Giessen) and ANASTASIIA MARSHEVA (Giessen) joining the organizing team, and JENS KUGELE (Giessen) supporting the whole process as the Head of Research at the GCSC. The workshop was finalized as a product of collaboration between the Chair of Cultural Sociology and GCSC/RCSC (Research Center for the Study of Culture) and Research Network Migration and Human Rights (FMM). In terms of format, the workshop event was structured as an open space for in-depth discussions of each paper by providing structured feedback with comments and questions in the form of responses, followed by Q&A sessions.

In the workshop, SARITA MONJANE HENRIKSEN presented her keynote lecture titled “The Power of Mainstream Western Media in Influencing Discourses on Migration — Defying the Narrative.” It was held the evening before the workshop as part of the GCSC keynote lecture series and was presented by Jens Kugele and Jörn Ahrens. Henriksen is a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) visiting professor from Mozambique. She started her lecture with these three questions: “Why does language matter in contexts of migration and mobility?”; “Why has the language-migration nexus emerged as significant?” and “What has been the mainstream narrative on migration?” To answer these questions, Henriksen first started with background information on the vital role that is played by language in migration studies. She highlighted the multidisciplinary construction of migration research whilst mentioning theses of important scholars, such as Peter A. Kraus and Giuseppe Sciortino (2013), Suresh Canagarajah (2017), Fabio Mariani (2021), and Ricard Zapata-Barrero (2021). With these academics in mind, Henriksen stated in her very refreshing and light way the key goals of the keynote lecture. By pinpointing the key role played by language, terminology, and translation, which constitute the cornerstone of data collection, documentation, and analyses in shaping society’s views, perceptions, and understandings of migration processes, patterns, trends, figures, and related consequences, Henriksen emphasized the transdisciplinary nature of migration research. Another goal of the lecture was to challenge the common narrative that international migrations are predominately south-to-north and across oceans and to recognize the importance of south-to-south migrations and across land borders as well. The research data considered in this keynote lecture was mainly collected through a review of highly relevant works dealing with migration terminology and concepts. In particular, the Africa Migration Report (2019) was considered, which provided insights into south-to-south migration.

In her view, in contexts of increasing mobility, displacement, and diversity, language matters for a variety of reasons: to understand the factors leading to displacement and the possible trauma that refugees may have undergone, to inform on the processes of integration, and to notify mobile populations about their rights and duties including host country policies, services, and the conditions available to them. To manage the language barrier and help with the communication gap, the services of translators or other language brokers are often taken into account. This does not make them active citizens, though, Henriksen argued. In response to the second question, she listed a number of terms and expressions coined by different scholars, such as the mobility turn, translanguaging, metrolingualism, transidiomaticity, diaspora, and cosmopolitanism. One term that stood out for Henriksen was superdiversity. It can be traced back to a pioneering article about the concept of superdiversity (Steven Vertovec, “Super-diversity and Its Implications,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30.6 (2007), p. 1024–1054) and helps to understand the changing composition of immigrant groups in a variety of geographical contexts worldwide. Henriksen further mentioned the concept of “linguistic citizenship” (O’Neill, Paul & Massini-Cagliari, Gladis, “Linguistic Prejudice and Discrimination in Brazilian Portuguese and Beyond,” Journal of Language and Discrimination, 3 (2019), p. 32–62). It involves an awareness of the importance of language and implies active participation on the part of speakers to exercise control over their ways of speaking.

Continuing, she stressed that linguistic citizenship cannot be considered separately from the term “linguistic rights,” (May, Stephen, “National and Ethnic Minorities. Language Rights and Recognition,” in: Suresh Canagarajah (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Migration and Language, London 2017). Citing Suwilai Premsrirat and Paul Bruthiaux (2018), Henriksen stated that rights need to be fought for through the acts of linguistic citizenship. She continued to reflect on the mainstream media. She again returned to the Africa Migration Report (2019), where the current narrative on migration gives an impression of the major focus caused by the arrival of refugees and also of how their severe situation is neglected, while a threat from their side is emphasized in the narrative. She continued to elaborate on this topic by mentioning a study on cultural racism (Johnstone, Megan-Jane & Kanitsaki, Olga, “Ethnic Aged Discrimination and Disparities in Health and Social Care: A Question of Social Justice,” Australas J Ageing, 27.3 (2008), p. 110–5). Cultural racism can be defined as a process whereby people who are strongly identified with language groups, religion, group habits, norms, customs, etc., are treated in a prejudicial and discriminatory manner based on these characteristics.

Henriksen dived further into the study by Johnstone and Kanitsaki (2008), also mentioning language euphemisms used to disguise racism, such as cultural factors, cultural differences, language barriers, cultural biases, cultural incompetence, ethnic dissonance, and miscommunication. While Henriksen contested the narrative, she mentioned the importance of dealing with the south-to-south population. She stated that this view is a common practice in the Global South, particularly in Southern Africa.

Henriksen concluded her talk by raising another question: “What should be our role as social science researchers, linguistic or sociolinguistic researchers, the role of those conducting research in the fields of translation, terminology, migration, and others, in informing knowledge production around the language of migration and hence in fighting linguistic prejudice and discrimination?” There is no easy answer to this question, she said, and encouraged more joint and collaborative research work. Henriksen underlined that the study she presented in the keynote lecture was no attempt to bring answers, rather she aimed to trigger a reflection on the issue of vocabularies of migration.

On February 8, the workshop continued with the first session of presentations chaired by Jens Kugele. This session of the workshop was particularly fruitful and inspiring, with intense critical discussions on the terms, terminologies, and concepts of migration research as well as the social, discursive, and scholarly production of those, such as migration background, mobility, immobility, etc..

The first presentation of the workshop was held by the members of the IMIS (Institute for Migration and Intercultural Studies). Located at the University of Osnabrück, INKEN BARTELS, LAURA STIELIKE, and PHILIPP SCHÄFER held an online presentation titled “Contested Terminologies of Migration. Presenting the ‘Inventar der Migrationsbegriffe.’” As the title suggests, the ‘Inventar der Migrationsbegriffe’ [Inventory of Migration Terms] was the main focus of the presentation and the speakers introduced the index to the audience. The presentation was structured into three parts. Firstly, Schäfer explained reflexivities in migration research. Secondly, Stielike reflected on language and migration as such, and the last part was Bartels’ introduction to the aforementioned index. In the first part, the aims and goals of the research group were clearly presented. The main focus of the research groups was stated as the investigation of the production of knowledge on migration. Schäfer stressed that as one works in the means of knowledge production, one has to maintain a self-reflexive perspective on migration research. When thinking about the interweaving aspect of language and migration, Stielike emphasized that when one questions language, they simultaneously question notions of normality. Further, she mentioned the conceptual history, which focuses on the origin and can be associated with Reinhart Koselleck, continuing with a discourse-analytical-genealogical perspective mentioning Michel Foucault and ending with recent works on language and migration, such as Maribel Casas-Cortes et al., “New Keywords: Migration and Borders,” Cultural Studies, 29.1 (2015), p. 55–87. Stielike ended her part of the presentation with the statement that migration research is part of the social reality since languages, as such, shape social realities. Ending the presentation, Bartels introduced the “Inventar der Migrationsbegriffe,” an open access online publication. The index deals with key concepts and terms of the current debates on migration, integration and diversity and thereby creates a better understanding of the interrelationship between politics, media, and science. Currently, the contributions of the different scholars are only written in German. Finally, Bartels teases a book titled Umkämpfte Begriffe der Migration that will be published this year at the German publishing house transcript. Following the presentation, a response by Melisa M. Çiçek was given, emphasizing the value of the inventory to the research community and how making it open access contributes to the accessibility of research material for everyone. Further, she asked if the inventory would be translated in the near future, and how other scholars/researchers could contribute to the index. The answer to the first question was that at the current state of the project, a translation has not yet been planned, whereas contributions are very welcome and interested scholars could contact the editorial board for potential submission proposals.

The second presentation of the first session, “Critical Reflections on Mobility and Stasis (Immobility),” prepared by ANDREAS GKOLFINOPOULOS (Cologne) and co-authored by SASCHA KRANNICH (Giessen), invited the audience to re-examine the relationship between broadly debated terms of mobility, migration, immobility, and stasis. Building on his work on highly skilled Greek workers residing in Germany and Krannich’s work on indigenous Mexican migrants, Gkolfinopoulos opened a discussion on the intertwined relationship between migration and mobility. He pointed out that the perception that highly skilled migrant workers are highly mobile often obscures the experiences of those who migrate involuntarily or encounter problems commonly faced by migrants, such as bureaucratic procedures in the host country or language barriers. To elaborate, it can be added that mobility is often portrayed as overly positive and equated with the autonomy of the migrants from the Global North. And as a result, highly skilled migrants can be overlooked as the category of analysis in migration research. Conversely, as illustrated by the example of transnational indigenous Mexican migrants in the US, people who are commonly referred to as migrants can experience high mobility during their migration journeys through cross-border activities, circular mobility, transfer of knowledge, or social, economic, and political transactions. The presentation, thus, demonstrated that experiences of migration and mobility are not rigidly straightforward and are often mutually inclusive. The key message the presentation brought to the fore was that closer attention must be paid to the intrinsic characteristics of migration stories — migrant experiences can be disguised as mobility experiences, whereas highly mobile conditions can entail migratory aspects. The second point of discussion addressed by Gkolfinopoulos was the nature of the term stasis and its better suitability for certain immobilized states during migration. Bringing up stasis as an analytical category in migration studies encourages not only questioning why people move, but also why they choose to remain in one place. By rephrasing the question, we learn to understand that the choices of people who stay in their home countries are not devoid of active and deliberate decision-making. Gkolfinopoulos persuasively argued that stasis, being a dynamic term, serves as a better lens for analyzing certain forms of immobilization. The very nature of the word stasis suggests a prospect of further movement and/or can be expressed as a “statement” or even as “resistance” to social or political factors. Krannich and Gkolfinopoulos believe that using the term stasis can, in certain situations, be preferential to immobility, as it can better reflect the deliberate decisions of those who choose not to migrate and can create a more effective connection between the phenomena of immobility and transnational mobility. In a broader picture, the presentation invited the audience to ponder the role of stasis in overcoming the prevalence of the “mobility bias” in migration research, which often overproblematizes the reasons and consequences of migration at the expense of the social, economic, or political causes and motives of the immobilized states (see Schewel, Kerilyn, “Understanding Immobility: Moving Beyond the Mobility Bias in Migration Studies,” International Migration Review, 54.2 (2020), p. 328–355). As a respondent, Erzhena Dugarova provided a brief summary of the main points from the presentation and offered discussion questions, particularly for further elaboration on the potential applicability of the term stasis to various forms of migration experiences.

This first session was followed by a short discussion session titled “From Workshop to Future Prospects and Possibilities” by which the organizers shared their intentions and ideas regarding the next steps for continuing scholarly dialogue following the workshop, referring to several possible formats such as third-party funding applications for networking, publication projects, academic event organizations, etc. Invited speakers, as well as other workshop participants, reflected on the idea of further networking and shared their questions and interests for a commitment to future collaboration. The focus on the cultural study of migration with a critical conceptual, reflexive methodological, and interdisciplinary perspective relating to language and translation would guide these further plans for cooperation and dialogue. Workshop organizers agreed to share initial ideas and to propose a structure for further exchange following the workshop.

After the lunch break, two presentations were held during the second session chaired by Pınar Gümüs Mantu. This second session created the opportunity for the participants to further discuss methodological issues relating to language in the context of migration research and to reflect on the articulations of language use in the case of the representation of migrant identities in media.

“Multilingual Dilemma: Why Should We De-naturalize Language in Migration Research?” by sociologist TETIANA HAVLIN (Siegen) opened the second session. Addressing one of the workshop aims, she offered her methodology-focused critical perspective on the process of knowledge production. Havlin emphasized the significance of de-naturalizing language in empirical migration research and the broader context of knowledge production. In addition to presenting her approach which she had already elaborated on in an article, she also discussed further developments of her arguments during the workshop (see Havlin, Tetiana, “Multilingualism and Translanguaging in Migration Studies: Some Methodological Reflections,” Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 23.1 (2022)). Havlin’s fieldwork in the study on immigrant agency prompted her to reflect on language during her fieldwork. At the beginning of her presentation, she introduced three theses to bring attention to the constructivist approach to language: language is not neutral, language is not static, and subaltern can use language as an instrument. Dealing with language hierarchy is one of the necessary steps of de-naturalizing language. The notion of language hierarchy highlights the non-neutrality of language. Elaborating on the second thesis, Havlin criticized the perspective on language as a static code system and argued for the concept of language as a process — “languaging.” Reflection on language choices which people make in interactions has the potential for sociological insights. One example of language choice is translanguaging, a process of blurring boundaries between languages. The occurrence of this phenomenon may depend on the shared bilingualism of speakers, the space of language use (such as official or familiar), or a specific topic of dialogue. Then she explained the third thesis on language as an instrument of the subaltern. Havlin highlighted cases in which subaltern individuals used the language of their oppressors to meet their own needs. That is how the language of domination becomes the language of resistance. Afterward, she expanded the focus of her discussion to address the de-naturalization of language more broadly. She covered a range of questions that researchers should consider conducting research and producing knowledge, such as “Which hierarchies does a single language carry within?” or “How do we embed language awareness in the research design?” Based on her own research experience, Havlin suggested methodological strategies of language de-naturalization: e.g., multimethod research design or critical approach to researcher positionality and others. Finally, she encouraged researchers to include different aspects such as linguistic, cultural, and migratory biography, education, vocation, gender, class, race, and ethnicity, while reflecting on researcher positionality. The respondent, Anastasiia Marsheva, found Havlin’s constructivist approach to language and her concept of de-naturalizing language thought-provoking and appreciated the suggestions concerning the methodology. To begin the discussion, she asked about the potential limitations of de-naturalizing language relating to researched groups or topics and requested further elaboration on the multimethod research design.

In the last slot of the workshop, “Conflicting Vocabularies: How Home- and Host-state Media Address Turkish Postmigrants?” was the topic of AYDIN BAYAD’s (Bielefeld) presentation. He presented a section of a project he and his colleagues ELIF SANDAL-ÖNAL (Bielefeld), MERAL GEZICI YALÇIN (Bielefeld), N. EKREM DÜZEN (Bielefeld) and ANDREAS ZICK (Bielefeld) are carrying out at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence (Institut für interdisziplinäre Konflikt- und Gewaltforschung, IKG) at the University of Bielefeld. Mainly based in the field of Social Psychology, the project is titled “Transnational Influences, Migrant Identities, and Social Cohesion” (TransMIGZ). Bayad shared the results of the part of the project which dealt with German and Turkish media addressing Turkish postmigrants. He and his colleagues conducted content analysis on the most frequently used media outlets by Turkish postmigrants, such as Der Spiegel, Focus, and Bild, and the Turkish Sabah, Hürriyet, and Sözcü. Media content was chosen from 2010 to 2021. After expert interviews, the team used the terms ‘diaspora’ for Turkish media and ‘Turkish origin’ for German media as keywords for media content search. ‘People,’ ‘Turkey,’ and ‘Germany’ were three categories through which the findings were analyzed. The study method was a qualitative content analysis with the help of MAXQDA software. Bayad noted that the Turkish media follow the Turkish state’s identity narrative while dominantly using ‘members of the nation’ to address the Turkish postmigrants. He explained further that German media underlined the Turkish identity of the postmigrants, while addressing them scarcely with neutral terms such as ‘German-Turks.’ Bayad concluded that home and host states act as “identity entrepreneurs.” While Turkey addresses its people by politicizing their identities, the host country, Germany, insists on adaptation and integration into the mainstream culture. This condition makes Turkish postmigrants find themselves in a dilemma between home and host state identity narratives. The results showed that each state ascribed a pre-given Turkish identity to the Turkish postmigrants in Germany. Morteza Azimi responded to Bayad’s presentation by emphasizing the potential contribution and importance of studying the German identity narrative besides the Turkish identity narrative. He gave an example of the long-term rejection of the EU of Turkey as an EU member state and mentioned this as a cause and effect for identity conflicts between Turkey and Germany, resulting in state identity narratives for Turkish postmigrants. It has also been discussed if findings from newspaper contents could represent the heterogeneity of Turkish postmigrants, while knowing that newspapers have a specific audience.

The workshop aimed to start a collective scholarly exchange bringing together research-based critical perspectives on the migration-language nexus relating to both methodological and conceptual questions. “Vocabularies of Migration” has been a vivid and fruitful discussion, which promised a significant potential for further collaboration and dialogue relating to this theme. It gathered researchers who presented their ways of addressing language in producing knowledge on migration from different disciplinary perspectives, such as sociolinguistics, social psychology, and sociology. The keynote lecture was a great starting point for the workshop and highlighted important themes and discussion fields, such as the representation of migration in the media and the role of the language and a researcher, which was also addressed in the presentations. The focus of the presentations varied from reflections on theories, concepts, and terminologies to methodological questions, tools, and challenges. Overall, the common approach was to build a reflexive perspective towards language as a field of construction of social reality and, relatedly, to scrutinize researchers’ positionality in re/making this social reality while at the same time being part of this context and reality itself. The workshop made it once more clear that interdisciplinary and international collaboration is essential for the future of migration research.


Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Workshop Opening Lecture
Sarita Monjane Henriksen (DAAD Visiting Professor, JLU Department of Sociology): Keynote Lecture “The Power of Mainstream Western Media in Influencing Discourses on Migration — Defying the Narrative.”

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Session 1

Chair: Jens Kugele (GCSC)

Inken Bartels, Laura Stielike, Philipp Schäfer (University of Osnabrück, IMIS — Institute for Migration and Intercultural Studies): “Contested Terminologies of Migration: Presenting the ‘Inventar der Migrationsbegriffe’.”

Response: Melisa Çiçek (GCSC)

Sascha Krannich (Justus Liebig University Giessen), Andreas Gkolfinopoulos (University of Cologne): “Critical Reflections on Mobility and Stasis (Immobility).”

Response: Erzhena Dugarova (GCSC)

Discussion “From Workshop to Future Prospects and Possibilities”

Session 2

Chair: Pinar Gümüs Mantu (JLU Department of Sociology & GCSC)

Heike Greschke (TU Dresden): “How Media(tization) Shapes Migration in Practice and Theory.” (the presentation was canceled due to illness)

Tetiana Havlin (University of Siegen): “Multilingual Dilemma: Why Should We De-naturalize Language in Migration Research?”

Response: Anatasiia Marsheva (GCSC)

Aydın Bayad, Elif Sandal-Önal, Meral Gezici Yalçın, N. Ekrem Düzen, Andreas Zick (Bielefeld University, Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence): “Conflicting Vocabularies: How Home- and Host-state Media Address Turkish Postmigrants?”

Response: Morteza Azimi (GCSC)



Copyright 2023, MORTEZA AZIMI, MELISA MERYEM ÇIÇEK, ERZHENA DUGAROVA, PINAR GÜMÜS MANTU, ANSASTASIIA MARSHEVA. Licensed to the public under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).