Migrant Worlds, Material Cultures

Special Issue of Mobilities, Volume 3, Issue 3
Edited by Paul Basu & Simon Coleman (Univ. of Sussex)
Migrating materialities. Lochaber No More by John Watson Nicol (1883), discussed by Paul Basu & Simon Coleman in their introduction to the special issue.
While much scholarly work exists on both migration and material culture, there is remarkably little literature explicitly concerned with how these areas of study converge. In this special issue of the journal Mobilities we suggest a number of points of departure for the exploration of the relationships between ‘migrant worlds’ and ‘material cultures’ and bring together a series of articles that takes this exploration in a number of intentionally disparate directions.
In the collection, we refer to ‘migrant worlds’ rather than ‘migration’ per se, in that we are not only concerned with the materiality of migration itself, but also with the material effects of having moved, perhaps many years earlier, to a new place, and with the inter-relatedness of the movements of people and things. In addition, we want to convey the sense that a ‘world’ – an often fragmented and fragile set of material and non-material assumptions and resources – can itself be made mobile, seemingly translated from one geographical location to another, even as it is transformed in the process. Thus the migrant worlds explored in this collection range from a ‘temporary’ refugee camp in Uganda to living rooms in England and the Caribbean, from the emotive, as well as locomotive, materialities of rail travel in Scandinavia to the social as well as physical migrations of cloth in South Asia.
The issue can be accessed at:
Titles of articles and abstracts follow.

Introduction – Migrant Worlds, Material Cultures
Paul Basu & Simon Coleman
Motion and Emotion: Learning to be a Railway Traveller
Orvar Löfgren
The daily commute is often routinized into mindless transportation, that makes it hard to study, but how have commuters acquired the skills of rail travel? This paper looks at the materialities of motion and emotion, drawing on railway travel experiences of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Using a historical perspective to develop an ethnography of the mundane and seemingly eventless, the focus is on the interplay between material infrastructures of travel and emotional mindscapes. How did feelings of anxiety and security, boredom and euphoria surface in arrivals and departures, in situations of waiting or daydreaming? New social skills in handling crowds and strangers were developed, and ideas of class materialized in everything from the choice of decoration in train compartments to patterns of segregation in the new main stations.
Materialising the Border: Spaces of Mobility and Material Culture in Migration from Post-Socialist Poland
Kathy Burrell
Using post-socialist Polish migration to Britain as a case-study, this article analyses the ‘furnishing’ of journey and border times and spaces by recent Polish migrants – a theme which has been neglected in most migration studies research. Four key intersections between movement and materiality, and their significance for migration, are considered: passports, car and coach journeys, suitcases, and laptops in airport lounges. Set against a backdrop of shifting mobility dynamics in Europe, these overlapping examples demonstrate the different ways in which Polish migrants have filled the spaces of international borders and performed the experience of mobility since 1989. The article finds that the physical practice of journeying and border crossing is not an empty act, suspended in space and time between two realities, but is a highly materialised and emotional undertaking, and a real, tangible space in its own right.
Social and Ritual Activity In and Out of Place: the ‘Negotiation of Locality’ in a Sudanese Refugee Settlement
Tania Kaiser
This article argues that peoples’ affective relationships with the specific physical territories that they inhabit are informed by and constructive of the social relations and practices which are enacted in them. When people are forced to leave their homes, the ways in which they engage with their physical, socio-cultural, political and spiritual landscapes are necessarily transformed. Based on ethnographic research with a group of long term Sudanese refugees in Uganda, the article shows how challenges to socio-cultural, ritual and political identities and activities are just as great as the more tangible challenges to protection and subsistence for refugees. The article examines a number of key socio-cultural activities including funeral rituals and agricultural practices, exploring the extent and ways in which ‘place-making’ in exile involves the active mediation of external factors at a several levels as well as processes of compromise and substitution with respect both to material culture unavailable in the settlement, and also with in relation to social relations and practice.
Migration, Material Culture and Tragedy: Four Moments in Caribbean Migration
Daniel Miller
This paper looks at four moments in the history of Caribbean migration to the UK through an analysis of the home interiors. A study of contemporary living rooms in Trinidad, an exhibition of Caribbean migrants to the UK between the 1950’s and 1970’s, a study by Horst of migrants returning to Jamaica from the UK, and a study of two specific migrants from the Caribbean in London today. The paper ends with a consideration of how material culture exposes a potential tragic aspect of the migration process. Tragic in the sense that individuals find themselves enacting a larger sense of fated trajectory rather than their own agency. In particular it considers how migrant cultural aspirations that suited their place of origin may have quite negative consequences in the very different context they arrive in. Something material culture can speak to in a way words may not.
Recycling and Reincarnation: the Journeys of Indian Saris
Lucy Norris
The paper addresses the consumption of recycled sari clothing by Western tourists in India. Second-hand saris are traded across north India, and re-made into new styles of clothing for the Western market by local tailors. The saris are cut up, destroying both the Indian form of the garment and the structure of patterns across its surface. These are then transformed either into copies of their own clothing or into hybrid forms favoured by backpackers travelling across Asia. It examines the potential of these decorative silk fabrics to translate images of the traveller’s transience and impermanence through their own adaptability and change in form, while enabling various nuanced perceptions of belonging. It is argued that such feelings of association simultaneously work on the level of opening up an avenue for individual self-expression, for fitting in with other tourists through the creation of a specific sartorial culture, and for referencing at a distance the host culture through which they are travelling by the re-use of local aesthetics. Finally, it points to the potential for new research into the consumption of these garments in their native countries, and incorporation of such clothing into the wardrobes of travellers once they return home.