SeaM Project Update

Security at the Margins (SeaM) is a three-year collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) that uses interdisciplinary research to understand (in)security in marginalised communities in urban South Africa. The partnership is led by Barbara Bompani (University of Edinburgh, Principal Investigator), Jo Veary (ACMS, Principal Investigator) and SJ Cooper (University of Edinburgh, Co-Investigator).

The project looks at innovative research methodologies and the opportunities and challenges that they present including practical, ethical and issues of power dynamics between researchers and participants. Arts-based methodologies feature prominently. These incorporate photography, map production, storytelling and quilt making. Through their creation of artwork, research participants thus become included in the process of knowledge production.

In March, the Mwangaza Mama project launched its e-book bearing the same title. It was undertaken over 18 months by Rebecca Walker and Elsa Oliveira in collaboration with a small group of cross-border migrant women living in Johannesburg. The researchers and participants produced textile collages and narrative stories to communicate with public audiences about the issues that affect them: the precariousness of their lives in the cities, the duality of their invisibility and hypervisibility in contributing to their insecurity, processing trauma and the expression of agency. The project partners are the MoVE (methods:visual:explore) project, the Sophiatown Community Psychological Services (where the Mamas receive their psychological services) and ACMS.

In their reflections on Mwangaza Mama, Loren B Landau and Kabiri Bule write,

“These findings provide few firm conclusions. If nothing else, they illustrate our need to understand the multiple social worlds that migrants occupy and their values. The contributions in this E-book help to do just that: to reveal how people in highly vulnerable positions make sense and navigate the worlds they occupy and help create. More particularly, they reveal how gender is enacted as a resource, a source of power, and a means of control. They do so by sensitively revealing stories and account from people who barely register in scholarship even as statistics, let alone fallible and agential humans with fears and aspirations. For those seeking to understand migration, cities, or social networks, it is these sorts of insights that provide the perspectives we need.”

The Mwangaza Mamas will exhibit their quilts in May. Details of this exhibition to follow closer to the time.

More about SeaM
The SeaM team is currently collating individual researchers’ reflections on their participation for the e-book that is due to be published in May and will mark the end of SeaM. The project reports are on the SeaM website and they include descriptions of exciting collaborations such as Everyday Mayfair, in which Somali migrant use art and photography to describe their journeys from Somalia to Johannesburg; 60+: queer, old Joburg which lends more visibility and contributes to the archives of the histories of elderly LGBTQ persons in Johannesburg; and Work and Wellbeing on the Urban Periphery which explores the challenges and successes of the community of artisanal miners in the west of Johannesburg. Other topics also look at mobility, religion and political authority in Johannesburg, access to maternal healthcare for migrant women, and crime and fear in informal settlements in Johannesburg.

About the author:
Karabo Kgoleng is currently based at the ACMS as a Research Associate. Karabo is a broadcaster and facilitator who works with writers and academics in the humanities to give their work a public life. She believes that engagement in social and cultural issues contributes significantly to the transformation of individuals and society.