Histories of Migrant Knowledge in and across the Transpacific: Agencies, Scales, Tranlations
The Forum Transregionale Studien and the Max Weber Stiftung – German Humanities Institutes Abroad in cooperation with the Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute Washington DC (GHI West) at UC Berkeley, The Maria Sibylla Merian Center for Advanced Latin American Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CALAS), and the Institute of European Studies, UC Berkeley, invite scholars with an interest in history from all fields, including history, literary studies, geography, environmental humanities, sociology, political science, anthropology, ethnic studies, economics, or legal studies to apply to attend a Transregional Academy that will be convened from May 28 to June 4, 2019, at UC Berkeley on the theme of Histories of Migrant Knowledges in and across the Transpacific: Agencies, Scales, Translations.
The Transregional Academy sets out to study migration across time and the metageographical space we call the “Transpacific”: The Transpacific entangles various continents, islands, cultures, and epochs. It includes histories, people, materials, natures, and societies whose shapes and boundaries have been in f lux comprising, by way of example, the Americas, coastlines and seascapes, European, Asian, and US empires, fish stocks, Oceania, religions, minerals, the ocean floor, water, plantation cultures, etc.
To come to comparative, cross-cultural work on the issues of migration, we suggest that researchers focus on and explore the usefully broad approach of tracing histories of migrant knowledges. What exactly counts as knowledge? Who knows what? And who or what is on the move? Histories of migrant knowledges, objects or materials remind us that there are plural ways of knowing the world: It cannot be described in only scientific or mono-cultural terms. As a heuristic device, the approach has the capacity to push us towards more intense collaborations between the disciplines assembled in the steering committee, which are history, literary studies, anthropology, Latin American Studies, Pacific Studies, and political science.
We ask participants to explain the ideas, methods and strategies that have allowed them to come to helpful notions of agency and to devise frames of analysis that recover the capacities, incentives, media and translations necessary for making knowledge in situations of transit, refuge, forced resettlement, or mobility. We encourage creative approaches that explore diverse forms of knowledge production (such as textual, visual, embodied, artistic, material or performative) as well as ways of studying how this knowledge traveled, together or separate from its creators, together or separate from the objects or persons defined by it; simultaneously with the events described or analyzed by it; or how it lagged, was stored, or even forgotten; how it did or did not change over time, or in encounters with epistemologies that differed from the context of its production.
The knowledge dimension has long resonated or been directly addressed by the social and political sciences of migration. Think of processes of bureaucratic and societal (re)classification of individual persons or social groups triggered by f light, migration, and questions of citizenship. Or think of the paradox inherent in the fact that refugees and migrants both make visible and dissolve state territoriality. As a consequence, states have recurrently used refugees and migrants to strengthen their geographical borders, while, at the same time, they have tended to de-territorialize geographical borders through regimes of out-sourcing control and securitization. All these phenomena are currently being studied with new verve; they show just how productive an epistemological lens in migration studies and, by extension, the history of migration, promises to be; this is all the more true, we argue, when this lens is used to look into everyday society and its material forms that unfold with and beyond the knowledge infrastructures of states.
In a second and closely linked move towards fostering new opportunities for dialogue and collaboration in migration studies, we have selected a transregional scale. As a region, the Transpacific highlights the fact that our knowledge must be situated, i.e., place- and culture-based. This is why the epistemological stakes in talking about it are high. US historian Eiichiro Azuma urged researchers in his Amerasia Journal article of 2016 to understand “how skewed our mapping of the Pacific is.” Historians of different areas, he argued, are conditioned “to envision a geographical bounded space in particular prescribed ways when they frame their own studies around the theme of the Pacific.” This results in many Pacifics, which are often incompatible with each other. Against this background, we will benefit from oceanic and indigenous approaches with their sensitivity for studying the actual ocean and landscapes that knowledges are formed across, but which also are transformed and move (as specimens or natural resources, for instance) because of the agency and movement of people. We will also benefit from the fact that studying oceanic and transoceanic cultures and societies over time questions Western notions of sociology or political theory, disciplines which are biased, some claim, towards a sedentary logic (Liisa Malkki 1992; Engseng Ho 2017).
Literary studies will be decisive for our endeavor (see for instance, Shu-mei Shih’s 2013 ideas on relational comparison). Compelling narratives of borders and borderlands often find ways to illuminate and extract meaning from their material using literary tools, juxtaposing established genres, data, bodily experiences, or people’s voices without aiming at an authoritative, seamless interpretation (see Francesco Cantu in his essay When The Line Becomes a River).
That is a tentative sketch of envisaged methodologies in conversation. We invite participants to highlight and reflect on the transpacific relations and angles in their histories of migrant knowledges and materials (18th to 21st centuries). We are particularly interested in exploring the following sets of questions, which might well overlap empirically: