Migration from the Migrant Point of View: The Normative and Methodological Relevance of Migrants’ Agency
Mario J. Cunningham M., Hilkje C. Hänel, Daniel Häuser and Thorben Knobloch
So far, the literature on the ethics and political theory of migration has largely taken a state-centered perspective. Central questions concerned the rights and obligations of states – particularly of the wealthy democracies in the Global North – vis-à-vis prospective immigrants – especially from the Global South. While this focus is understandable given the power asymmetries that characterize relationships between states and migrants and between the states of the Global North and Global South, it has also led to seeing migrants primarily as burdens to be distributed, or as charges to be taken care of. The acknowledgment of these shortcomings has led to a growing interest in approaches taking a migrant-centered perspective in which migrants are not just strangers in need or victims of injustice, but also autonomous moral and political agents. This panel, accordingly, is interested in submissions that tackle questions concerning the normative considerations pertinent to migrants’ exercise of moral and political agency.
Emphasizing migrants’ agency is important because it is one source for the moral claims of immigrants. As autonomous rational agents, rather than just as bearers of needs or interests, migrants can claim to be treated as capable of making choices and can demand to be allowed to determine their own lives based on their own judgments of the good. An example for this would be the question of whether and how far refugees should be allowed to choose their country of refuge. Highlighting migrants’ agency, however, also means asking about their moral and political responsibilities. Migrants make choices, which might be right or wrong, justified or unjustified. A prominent example would be questions regarding the conditions under which (prospective) immigrants are obligated to respect, or entitled to resist, potentially unjust immigration restrictions. Another one would be the question whether and under which conditions migrants can be said to act (ir-)responsibly when taking life-threatening routes, for example via the Mediterranean Sea.
Besides this, focusing on agency comes with a focus on contexts. Agency has a relational component since a significant part of it is socially authored through the interpretation of actions by others. It also depends on legal, political, and socio-economic conditions enabling or disabling agency. In this regard, questions concerning the normative relevance of these conditions in North-South migration vis-à-vis South-South migration become salient. Furthermore, examples of the relevance of contexts in understanding migrants’ agency include the growing literature on sanctuary policies and political acts of undocumented immigrants and the normative analysis of restrictions on the right to work or to move freely within the host society for certain groups of immigrants, e.g. asylum seekers.
Taking a migrant-centered perspective also means reflecting upon methodology: migrants must exercise their agency under particular circumstances, which rarely correspond neatly to the broad and largely ideal-theoretical models that inform much of the debate on justice in migration. Moreover, taking migrants seriously as agents might also mean including their voice and testimony in normative theory. We, therefore, also invite contributions tackling relevant methodological questions and outlining their consequences for the case of migration.
We invite submissions from all related academic fields, including political and moral philosophy, political theory, legal theory, and social theory. Possible topics include:
- The agency of refugees: particularly focused on the social or relational component of agency and agency that is socially authored through the interpretation of actions by others. Moreover, the ways in which migrants create networks of care in refugee camps, resist harmful social practices, or engage in and form social movements.
- The political agency of undocumented immigrants: What does the focus on agency – particularly political agency – mean in the case of undocumented immigrants? How can the agency of undocumented immigrants be protected institutionally? What consequences arise for the normative political theory of migration more generally, for example, regarding the conceptualization of a right to exclude or a state’s claim of legitimate enforcement of immigration policy?
- The interplay between migrants’ agency and migration contexts. Should the legal, political, socio-economic conditions that enable or disable agency be weight differently when theorizing migration justice in a South-South migration vis-à-vis South-North migration? How should the agency trade-offs that follow from migrants’ (restricted) selection of a destination country be theorized?
- The institutionalization of migrant’s political agency: In what ways can and should migrants be given a political voice in the domestic or international political sphere? Should migrants’ legal and political rights differ depending on the kind of migration project they pursue? What forms of accountability should be connected with the institutionalized recognition of migrant’s agency?
- Potential tensions between the general character of institutionalized immigration policies and the situational character of migrants’ exercise of agency: must migrants respect immigration restrictions that are generally justified but inadequately address their individual situation? How can and should migrants’ perspectives be included when determining the categories with which immigration law operates?
- Methodological questions that arise when a migrant-centered perspective is taken, especially questions concerning the distinction between non-ideal theory and ideal theory and possible ways migrants and refugees can inform philosophical literature on the topic.
This list is non-exhaustive, and submissions on related topics are welcome.
This workshop will be run in a hybrid format. If you are interested in taking part in it, please submit an anonymized abstract of no more than 500 words, along with an email including your name, title, affiliation, and specification of whether you will participate in person or online to email@example.com. Given that this is a pre-read workshop, abstracts should be suitable for development into a paper (8 000 words max.). Participants will be asked to give a brief (5-10 min) presentation of their paper as part of the 1-hour discussion session of their work. The deadline for submission is May 20th. Notification of acceptance will be provided by June 15th. Papers must be submitted for pre-circulation by September 1st.
- Abstracts submission deadline: May 20th
- Notification to participants: June 15th
- Final submission of papers: September 1st
- Workshops: September 7th-9th
If you have any questions regarding the workshop, please contact Daniel Häuser at firstname.lastname@example.org
+44 (0) 161 306 6000