By: Dr Kesi Mahendran, @DrKesiMOpen

Migration governance and the field of migration control works with a series of assumptions about the public mandate. This is a central tenet of liberal representative democracy. Politicians, policy-makers and officials implementing policies within institutions and services all work with an explicit or implicit public mandate. We can call this the figure of the public.

Such governance produces the public as a reified category.  When politicians, policy-makers and officials want to get a sense of this figure it becomes understood in terms of public opinion polls and social attitudes surveys.  Increasingly under conditions of populism and direct democracy the public are also understood via their activities on social media and also increasingly as a vox pop public who appear an opine within mainstream new media interviews. When it comes to migration the public becomes polarized between pro and anti-immigration attitudes. In short, the public are understood as having worldviews on migration. This can be understood as a promethean figure of an attitudinal public. Migration itself has become lightening rod issue for governments across Europe and elsewhere in the context of the refugee crisis and imagined ages of migration.

Migration scholars naturally study migrants more than they study the public. Those that study the public tend to use the same methods as governments i.e. surveys and attitudinal studies. Such studies tend to ask the public questions about their attitudes to migration or their perceptions of the contribution on migrants. The public are not asked the same questions as migrants and critically the public are not understood as having a degree of migration-mobility they are reified or rendered as static.  Governments, policy-makers and academics together sustain therefore a binary between a promethean attitudinal public rendered static and migrants. Migration studies understands those categorised as migrant in terms of their experiences at various institutional interfaces, lived realities or capacities to integrate or acculturate. This creates knowledge on the figure of an acculturating migrant.

The binary between promethean attitudinal public/and a beleaguered acculturating migrant I propose is a key problematic which sustains a number of other binaries. These occur in both political and public understandings of migration and in research on migration occurring within the academy. These binaries are non-migrant/ migrant, guest/host and critically stasis/mobility. If this is a problem what is the reflexive alternative?

Within the work being conducted within the public dialogue psychology collaboratory (PDPC) all participants are understood as dialogical citizens irrespective of their socio-legal status and are brought into dialogue with policy statements, videos and images. In this regard, PDPC takes an alternative approach to existing studies into the public’s relationship with migration. The empirical research programme uses a dialogical approach following Mikhail Bakhtin, which has since 2008 asked citizens in five European cities questions of integration and citizenship across three studies. Using both qualitative and quantitative methods, an innovative interactive worldview mapping tool, interviews and focus groups. The questions which are normally asked of migrants, are asked of everyone. Increasingly migration scholars are pointing to the value of this  ‘de-migranticization’ and whole population approach to migration studies.

Mixed migration-mobility couples

The dialogical approach taken within PDPC allows participants to talk about their degree of migration-mobility. These are organised along 10 positions of the migration-mobility continuum (MMC). The MMC ranges from generational non-migrants (position 1) to serial migrants anticipating their next move (position 10). Dialogical approaches are used across a variety of disciplines and have the potential to advance categories of analysis which move away from policy categories and indeed from analysis which sticks closely to people’s structural positioning.

The MMC is an analytical lens which permits both re-description or re-engineering by a process of taking the public/migrant binary and diffracting it. Diffraction as I explore within the Liberating Comparisons network’s free book, is an alternative which does not resort to complexities or multiplicities – in this sense it is an alternative which permits pragmatic governance of migration. Yet it moves our understanding beyond the public/migrant binary and the stasis/mobility binary.  This alternative understands the public as having degrees of migration.

In my chapter, within the new IMISCOE publication entitled Reflexivities in Migration Studies: Pitfalls and Alternatives, I explore how one particular group of citizens can potentially offer an alternative novel category. This group can be understood as mixed migration-mobility couples. We know intuitively that migrants are in relationships with so called non-migrants – yet migration studies generally do not study this phenomenon, unless we are interrogating assumptions around family repatriation or critiquing the concept of sham marriages. However the mixed nature of mixed migration-mobility couple as a novel analytical category has the potential to interrogate the binary of the acculturating migrant/ who performs their acculturation or integration in front of a highly opinionated attitudinal public.

The mixed migration-mobility couple is the third position on the MMC. It is not really the relationship itself that is the object of the analysis within the chapter but rather how this novel analytical category brings into question the assumptions of migration scholarship and indeed governance and policy about movement and stasis. Articulating the dialogical positionality of mixed migration-mobility couples and other positions along the MMC creates new forms of knowledge production. The endgame of which is to replace the figure of a static promethean attitudinal public with a diffracted spectrum of publics as having degrees of migration- mobility. 

Project: Public Dialogue Psychology Collaboratory

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