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Migration and Modernity: Historical and Cultural Challenges

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MOVES (Migration and Modernity: Historical and Cultural Challenges)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2021-02-28

Today’s world sees masses on the move: across the globe in 2017, there were almost one billion international and internal migrants, more than ever before; at the end of 2016, in the EU alone, there were 57 million residents living outside their country of birth, amounting to over 11% of the EU population. This unprecedented global situation has led the most recent EU policy review on migration research to conclude that migration is a pressing challenge facing the EU today. The ITN MOVES is built around the conviction that this challenge can only be addressed effectively if migration is understood as a historical and cultural phenomenon stretching back deep into the past, rather than as a present-day threat to security, culture, and the integrity of the nation state. Too much of the current debate focuses on the latter aspects and ignores the lessons to be learned from previous migration flows and the socio-political responses they attracted. But only once contemporary social phenomena are seen in historical context and comparison, can leaders decide on the right policies to meet the short-term challenges of migration and to emphasize the longer-term gains and opportunities.

One reason for this lack of a historical and cultural dimension in the current migration debate is that researchers in the social sciences and in history-based disciplines work in parallel tracks rather than in tandem. For this reason, MOVES has been set up as a team of experienced researchers drawn from the disciplines of history, literature, cultural studies, sociology and political science. Together, the team will undertake a comparative study of the social and cultural roots of mass mobility then and now, and provide the urgently needed historical and cultural analysis that can address the so-called migration crisis of the present through an understanding of, and comparison to, the population movements of the past.

The principal objective of the project is a comparative research of social and cultural roots of mass population mobility in modernity and the present time. The project is expected to yield a new knowledge of the process of the formation of modern world and individual migration waves in a historical context. This will contribute to the identification of alternative solutions of problems connected with migration and to the avoidance of adopting short-term solutions and violent measures.
The major research and training objectives include
- delivering a historical and cultural analysis of modern European migration, disseminated through 15 PhD theses on human mobility since the 15th century, each linked to aspects of contemporary migration such as class, ethnicity or gender,
- preparing - in conjunction with partners across the sectors, including NGOs and charities working with migrants, and the cultural and creative industries - experts in migration management with historic and cultural erudition inevitable for dealing with contemporary and future challenges of migration.
- contributing to the public understanding of the so-called migration crisis by explaining the links between its historical roots and present-day cultural dynamics.
- formulating policy advice, shaping future curricula, and influencing popular opinion in order to combat anti-immigrant sentiment across the EU.
• Successful recruitment campaign and selection procedure (140 applications from 70 applicants from 38 countries on all continents; result: 15 highly motivated ESRs from 14 countries at 4 continents)
• High standards of joint supervision (all supervision teams meet the standards of gender diversity, they are designed to match the interdisciplinary nature of the project)
• High standard of training: induction month (2-26 September 2019, Prague) and workshops (online transferable skills workshop, 3 thematic online workshops)
• Timely completion of Consortium Agreement and efficient performance of administrative activities.
• Good results of the ESRs’ progress monitoring.
• First open access publications of research outputs.
Migration studies is already an interdisciplinary field, albeit in far narrower terms than suggested in this project. The field draws strongly from political science and sociology, as well as, among others, anthropology, history, and demography. Recent research covers a range of topics in the broad areas of integration and assimilation, maintenance of culture, identity, drivers of migration, gendered aspects of integration and migration, uses of citizenship, political engagement in home and host countries, and more.

Relevant areas of recent research upon which MOVES will draw include the securitisation – policy resulting from the concern of destination countries that migrants may have a potentially negative impact on security – and control of migration. Linked to this field is the question of how such securitisation, in turn, undermines migrants’ rights and/or that a state narrative of protection of human rights ultimately curtails rights still further. The impact of migration upon gender roles is another fruitful area of research, challenging long-held stereotypes about women’s and men’s roles after migration. Finally, an emerging field of research is that of the aspiration to migrate, or an examination of what factors play a role in an individual’s choice to move.

MOVES will be able to advance many of these discussions by setting them in the appropriate historical, cultural and literary contexts. The lack of historical awareness in the present debate is perhaps its greatest shortcoming. The few historians who do place contemporary migration into historical context, do so typically only as far back as the 19th century.

In this sense, MOVES seeks to identify and query prevailing beliefs about migrants and migration in the 21st century, including the absence of migration from historical accounts of the nation, as well as the contemporary migration ‘crisis’, dubbed as such on the basis of security and cultural concerns.

Through its innovative training programme, carried out in conjunction with 18 partners outside academia, MOVES will enable a new generation of experts gain the historical knowledge required to respond to future migration crises with innovative solutions. The project will generate new knowledge about the shaping of the modern world and provide conceptual tools to avoid short-termism in migration management through its emphasis on enduring cultural patterns, historical context, and migration flows over the long term. The links between contemporary and historical migration that MOVES research will uncover can be used to improve educational provision, inform future policy, and counter the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment across the EU.
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