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Trajectory Analysis as a New Approach to Migration Studies

The migration dynamics over the last years, and in particular the most recent developments within the European Union, have made clear that policy, practice and research perspectives which are determined by national borders and/or rely on the presumption of migration as an unidirectional move from point A to point B are insufficient to understand the complexities of ir/regular migration and flight. The field of migration studies, however, continues to be dominated by epistemologies produced along the lines of methodological nationalism (Glick Schiller/Wimmer 2002) or the lens of regionally bounded migration regimes (Lipphardt/Schwarz forthc.). These epistemologies situate migrants as objects of research within the framework of the nation state, specific migration regimes such as the EU’s, or the resulting border zones.
One of the key contributions to overcome this type of analytical limitations has been made by cultural anthropologist George Marcus, who, over 20 years ago, suggested to transnationalize empirical fieldwork by employing multisited, mobile research strategies and to: “Follow the people! … Follow the plot/the story/the allegory! … Follow the life or biography! … Follow the conflict!” (Marcus 1995: 106-110; see also Falzon 2009). A further methodological development of Marcus’ approach represents Joris Schapendonk’s methodological concept of ‘trajectory ethnography’ which combines multisited and mobile field work with follow-up interviews in transit situations and staying in contact via modern means of communication such as sykpe, texting or facebook over a longer period of time (Schapendonk 2012, 579; for recent empirical studies which follow migrants along trajectories see also Triulzi and McKenzie 2013; Schapendonk and Steel 2014). With the recent “mobility turn”, a growing number of “mobile methods” have been developed which furthermore enrich the methodological repertoire for empirical projects tracing trajectories (Fincham et al. 2010; Büscher et al. 2011).
The proposed project group intends to contribute to this realm of work. Our objective is thus to explore the methodological challenges, empirical potentials and practical implications of trajectory analysis. We will focus on narratives of flight and migration as a cross-cutting theme that connects individual trajectories with distinct practice fields and institutional contexts. Narratives, in this context, are understood as powerful discursive articulations that are co-produced by people in transit and those institutional actors and settings they encounter along the way.
Trajectory analysis requires thorough knowledge of diverse political, social and institutional contexts, and is thus best realized through interdisciplinary and transversal collaborations between scholars and practitioners working on/in different regional contexts and diverse practice fields. Our project group includes researchers from Medicine, Psychology, Human Geography, Social Work, and Social and Cultural Anthropology from Freiburg University (ALU), the University Hospital, and the Catholic University of Applied Sciences (KH). Several group members are themselves active or collaborate with practitioners in specific institutional contexts, most importantly health care and social work settings. We aim to build the project group around a continuous exchange between academic research and institutional practice.
This envisaged close exchange between research and practice, requires us to a pay particular attention to ethical issues which will arise from our encounters with narratives of flight and migration in respect to the use and publication of sensitive information, and the public and political context of current debates on irregular migration (e.g. Düvell et al. 2009; Black 2003). We follow van Liempt and Bilger in considering research ethics “a process rather than a rigid set of moral values” (2009: 13) and address ethical issues jointly throughout the collaboration.