On crises and commonality: reflections from an international symposium on migration and intersectionality

On 28 October 2016, maHp team members, Thea de Gruchy,  Zaheera Jinnah,  and Goitse Manthata, participated in an international symposium titled ‘Intersectionality and Migration’ at Carleton University.

This one day event, organised by the African Centre for Migration and Society (Wits)  and the Migration and Diaspora Studies Initiative (Carleton), explored critical theoretical, methodological, and empirical insights on intersectionality, work, and migration in multi-sited contexts.

Organised in the midst of the on-going social and political unrest in South Africa, the symposium, which included the exhibition of Metropolitan Nomads, and the book launch of Gender and Multiculturalism, a book co-edited by co-organiser Daiva Stasiulis, provided a space for reflection and connection through and around migration scholarship.

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The Metropolitan Nomads exhibition at the ‘International Symposium on Intersectionality and Migration’ (Carlton University, 28 October 2016).

Informed by the robust literature on intersectionality, migration and diaspora studies, and the sociology of work, the symposium underscored key concepts, practices, and responses to migration. The work also highlighted the importance of using interdisciplinary perspectives, mixed methods, and multi-sited case studies to improve our understandings of and responses to migration.

What emerged from the three panels and two key notes were three key themes. First, that migration is a racialized and engendered process both structurally and for the individuals who migrate. Although largely positioned within conditions of global security and/or development, migration remains both deeply personal and subjective. Papers that were presented interrogated the narratives of settler colonies and sex work in Canada, and migrant domestic work, farm work, and urban health in South Africa. All spoke to the notion of how personal identities are embedded in broader historical and structural processes of inequity, violence, and exploitation that impact on contemporary realities of work, power, and legal status.

The Metropolitan Nomads exhibition at the ‘International Symposium on Intersectionality and Migration’ (Carlton University, 28 October 2016).

Goitse Manthata presenting on “Urban Health, Social Identities, Intersectionality and the Work Experience of Informal Miners in the Urban Periphery of Johannesburg South Africa” at the ‘International Symposium on Intersectionality and Migration’ (Carleton University, 28 October 2016).

Second, that migration and intersectionality provides a lens to interrogate deeper concepts and constructs of work and wellness. Speakers explored how different types of work such as state funded arranged marriages in Korea and temporary farm work in Ontario relate to migrants’ sense of economic precarity, personal identity, and health.

Finally, that despite distinct differences in policy and politics, there are global patterns within our discourses and responses to migration. In particular, issues of legal status and whether and how status aids or hinders access to public and private. As well as how access to services such as health, housing and employment, the ability to mobilise, and identity all shape migrants everyday experiences.

The maHp team left the symposium with a deep appreciation of the multiple, continuous, and complex processes of settler politics and decolonisation that anchored the papers from South East Asia, North America, and Southern Africa. It was sobering to hear the common experiences that migrants, minorities, and indigenous communities face across these contexts, particularly in respect to land dispossession and continued marginalization.

These are themes that will continue to be explored in the coming months as participants prepare papers to submitted for a special issue that will be edited by co-organisers  Blair Rutherford, Daiva Stasiulis, and Zaheera Jinnah.

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About Goitse Manthata

Goitse Manthata is a doctoral candidate and researcher with the African Centre for Migration and Society. Prior to joining the Centre, she worked with Doctors Without Boarders on a Stop Stockouts Project as a Data Manager from January 2015 – December 2015. Before her work with Doctors Without Boarders, she worked with the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI) on a Sex Workers Project as a Research Assistant from October 2011 – December 2014.

In 2013 she graduated with a Master’s Degree in Demography and Population studies from Wits University. Shaped by her work experience and qualifications, her research interests are in urban health with a specific focus on HIV and TB prevalence.

Her proposed PhD topic titled ‘Health and Well-being at the Urban Periphery: a case study of Durban Deep (Johannesburg)’ explores three main themes which are: (1) urban health in the city of Johannesburg, (2) the urban periphery and living conditions in informal settlements, and (3) livelihood strategies among the urban poor living in peripheral informal settings. In line with exploring these themes, the role that government plays is central to her research, in particular the role of local government.

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