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Routes, roots, and rumours: Tracing migration and tourism imaginaries

Periodic Report Summary - MIGRATOURIMA (Routes, roots, and rumours: tracing migration and tourism imaginaries)

Europe forms a colourful multicultural patchwork, a population mix that is constantly changing by flows of people coming and going. The general objective of cultural mobilities research is to study the cultural implications of these border-crossing movements. Migratourima is a pilot project in this innovative field of research because it studies how European imaginaries of tourism to and immigration from 'the south' (Africa, Latin America, and Asia) are interlinked and what this tells us about multicultural societies and European representations of 'the other'.

The main hypothesis of the Migratourima project is that prevailing European images and discourses represent travel to and from the south in ways that seem disconnected from the lived present but connected with an imagined past. This proposition is analysed through an in-depth anthropological case study of how people in Brussels, the capital of Europe, imagine and represent tourism to and migration from Indonesia, Tanzania, and Chile. The research employs a mixed-methods approach, involving observation, interviews, archival research, and the collection of images and discourses from secondary sources (TV, advertising, printed press, digital media, cinema, photography, and exhibitions). The ethnographic perspective provides a close-grained analysis of the cultural practices and social relations that (re)produce globally circulating imaginaries of mobility and immobility and the implications this has for people's daily lives.

The Migratourima project adds to existing research in two ways. In the study, imaginaries (unspoken representational systems that mediate reality and form identities) are operationalised as real practices: through the ethnographic method we can assess how imaginary activities, subjects, and social relations are materialised, enacted, and inculcated. Thematically, the research analyses how widespread imaginaries and personal imaginations about mobility are interconnected and contradicting each other. The study links strongly between the social sciences and the humanities, drawing on the need to bring together aspects of anthropology, sociology, psychology, history and geography.

The Migratourima project is timely because it reaffirms that research on tourism and migration - among the fastest growing and most significant global phenomena of our time and, increasingly, issues of public concern - should not be limited to the realm of applied science but can make significant theoretical and methodological contributions to the social sciences in general. At the same time, the theory and findings generated by this case study will inform policy-making, planning, and development within the EU. The explicit focus on the imaginary means a recognition of imaginative power in shaping the way people think and act. The findings will be made publicly available, particularly to those involved in tourism and migration research, policy-making, education, and development.

As many EU member states are looking for viable models to mould their multicultural societies, this study is well timed. Among others, the findings of this research will be used to raise academic and public awareness about the origins and enduring power of stereotypes and representations of 'the other'. The current networking with other European researchers should motivate them to conduct similar studies and set up a collaborative European research network. While the project goals are scholarly, this study is part of the researcher's long-term endeavour to bring mobility-related research more to the centre of the social sciences and to bring academic inquiry closer to the public interest.