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The Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement



Borders, colonialism, and migration - Study Group

Convenors: Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes/ Danai Avgeri / Tugba Basaran

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Modes of human mobility and the systems that regulate it have been profoundly shaped by histories of colonialism. Yet, both mainstream policy-oriented studies of migration and critical migration and border studies are haunted by a persistent ‘colonial amnesia’.  This study groups aims to address this predicament by rethinking migration and borders under the lens of colonialism and its enduring legacies. It brings insights from different disciplines to explore the racialised violence and colonial hierarchies that are embedded within contemporary border and migration regimes. By doing so, it seeks to consolidate a collective research agenda for those engaged in related work. 
The study group investigates the historical and conceptual layering processes that both ingrained racial categories into the government of human mobility and continuously reworked them into putatively race-free migration and refugee systems. Members of the study group critically unpack the colonial assumptions underpinning the idea of equal nation-states and citizenship rights that are central to the global organisation of mobility and labour. Also, reflexively aware of entrenched theoretical biases, they study the coloniality present across ongoing methods and practices when researching migration and borders, and engaging with post/decolonial approaches to mobility justice and knowledge production.  

During each session, the group discusses a specific aspect of this overarching theme. The discussion draws on pre-agreed readings and/or an informal presentation by an invited speaker.

Each academic year a sub-theme is chosen as the guideline for the five-six sessions with the aim to secure a varied and scholarly rich set of contributions.

Members of the group will receive information on regular basis regarding the dates and locations of the meetings. Timing of the meetings is usually 16.30-18.00.


2023-24 ‘Thinking’ borders, colonialism, and migration with/through images.


Visual testimonies and explorations of recent forced migration on a global scale have become the new and immediately relevant universal literacy.  Moreover, the cross-border migration has been marked by innumerable tragedies and loss of life due to a rapid increase in seaborne migration.  Since the mid 2010s, repeated reports of migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, for instance, have been documented in detail across visual records made, for instance, by the migrants themselves, journalists, policy makers, NGO representatives, and humanitarian organisations. Never before such tragic events have drawn on a wealth of data able to ensure a better, finer, and forensic understanding of the ongoing transformative human mobilities, from rescuing migrants at risk at sea, to border/shore surveillance and military operations combating migrant smuggling.

Issues of social, economic, cultural, psychological, and legal implications and responsibilities prompted by the current global seaborne migrant crisis will be explored this academic year across several presentations relying on first-person visual data, short documentaries, and relevant academic publications. Core research guidelines will draw on media forensics, hi-tech investigative journalism, renewed policies for surveillance and human rights accountability, and the new media visual literacy specific to seaborne migration.



Michaelmas 2023

October 26th, Talk by Anthony Blanc, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle

“Acting against the discourses and images of the “migration crisis” in the

Mediterranean. The subjectivation at stake in images made by migrants.


My talk will explore the possibility of migrants acting against the discourses and images produced in the European migration context since 2013 by making images themselves. The idea here is to consider the practice of filming from the angle of subjectivation (Foucault 1984); specifically, I will attempt to explore the possibility of constructing oneself as a subject, through the filmic device, outside the 'grips of power' (Deleuze, 2003).

My research has led me to hypothesize that the issue of migration in Europe has become a central topic since 2013, particularly with the shipwreck off Lampedusa in October. The so-called 'migration crisis', a term often used by the media and politicians to describe the growing number of migrants arriving at Europe's gates, has in fact been constructed drawing on specific images and discourses, some of which I will discuss in my presentation. For this reason, the first part of my talk challenges the very existence of the énoncé (Foucault, 1969) 'migration crisis' based on its ‘regularities and forms of exteriority’, more specifically, those evident in the images and discourses produced by journalists and European agencies. Most of the photographs and videos showing migrants arriving by boat in the mainstream media are what Hito Steyerl calls 'floating images' (Steyerl, 2013). They contribute to a ‘border spectacle’ (de Genova, 2013), which dehumanizes the people represented in such visual narratives. The second part of my presentation looks at how people fleeing to Europe from the southern shores of the Mediterranean (i.e. Syria, Afghanistan, Sub-Saharan Africa) can act against the dominant images and discourses. The videos produced by these migrants offer a unique perspective on migration to and across Europe.

The media coverage of Mediterranean migration to Europe since the early 2010s has rarely reflected the personal trajectories of migrants, who are always considered as just numbers. To reclaim a singular voice that truly matters in the public arena, and at the same time to make the voices of thousands of other refugees heard, several people living in exile have decided to tell their own stories using their own images as part of a collective documentary approach. These documentaries are produced in collaboration with professional French, German and British film producers, enabling migrants to find broadcasting spaces in Europe which can accommodate their personal and collective stories of exile in the Mediterranean. Through these documentaries, the migrants tell their own stories, but the presence of European producers does not disappear in the filmmaking process. Creative autonomy thus varies from one project to another. I will briefly discuss documentaries produced for theatrical release and shown at festivals such as Purple Sea (2020) in which a Syrian artist, Amel Alzakout, films her journey across the Mediterranean with the help of a GoPro camera attached to her wrist. Her film, which is part of an artistic process, is accompanied by the artist’s voice-over monologue, hence allowing her story to be heard. Alongside this example, I will also discuss Les Sauteurs (2016) and Midnight Traveler (2019), which to a certain extent follow a similar approach while allowing for specific research questions.

These examples will enable us to assess how such exercises in documentary filmmaking become the site of subjectivation. Challenging the notion of subjectivation allows us thus to find an alternative to the knowledge produced by the power – ‘informal’, to borrow Deleuze’s theoretical framework (Deleuze 2004), but sometimes embodied in the French media and especially Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency that produces videos about the alleged delinquency of migrants and the danger that mobility represents for Europe’s sovereignty. In comparison with these discourses, certain documentary films offer a platform for expression and enable migrants to produce a different kind of knowledge, one that is more embodied and rooted in experience (Nichols, 2017).


Anthony BLANC, PhD candidate, Institut de Recherche sur le Cinéma et l’Audiovisuel, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle



November 30th, Screening and group discussion: 

Shipwreck at the Threshold of Europe, Lesvos, Aegean Sea, dir. Amel

Alzakout (2020, c. 23min).

Reading list tbc.



‘On 28 October 2015, a migrant boat left the coast of Western Turkey heading to the closest European coast—the Greek island of Lesvos. The sea was rough, and the boat was old and overcrowded with more than 300 passengers. It sank 280m beyond the maritime border into Greece, in EU territorial waters, resulting in the death of at least 43 people. It was the deadliest incident in a period known as the ‘long summer of migration’, when over a million refugees and migrants attempted to reach EU shores by sea […] One of the survivors, the artist Amel Alzakout recorded the journey and the shipwreck on a waterproof camera attached to her wrist. This footage provides a unique situated perspective of this tragic event at the threshold of Europe.’



Lent 2024

15 February (date tbc): Seminar on New issues of visibility and self censorship in migrants’ use of social media hosted by Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes, University of Cambridge.

Reading list tbc.



14 March (date tbc): Screening and group discussion, The Pylos Shipwreck (2023, c.9mins).

Reading list tbc.


Overview: ‘On 14 June 2023, the Adriana, a boat leaving Libya for Italy with hundreds of migrants on board, sank inside the Greek Search and Rescue (SAR) zone in the Mediterranean Sea. This would become the deadliest migrantshipwreck in recent history. Our digital reconstruction of the boat’s trajectory reveals inconsistencies in the Hellenic Coast Guard’s (HCG) account and indicates that over 600 people drowned as a result of actions taken by the HCG.’




Easter 2024

mid May (date tbc): The Study Group will attend the Racial Capitalism and the Coloniality of Migration Regimes Conference, University of Cambridge.

Programme and dates tbc



June 20th The Study Group will attend the Refugee Day, University of Cambridge.

‘Bringing together a diverse array of academics and community members, this event is open to all. It is aimed at engaging with the diversity of refugee experiences and finding better ways to uphold refugee rights. At Alison Richard Building (SG1 and Atrium). Free and all welcome’



Archive 2022-23: