Emigration states, existential sovereignty, and migrant responses

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Emigration states, existential sovereignty, and migrant responses

Thursday, 6 May 2021 - 4:00pm to 5:15pm
Zoom webinar
Dace Dzenovska (School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford)
Elena Genova (University of Nottingham)
Manolis Pratsinakis (COMPAS, University of Oxford)

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Abstracts: In her talk, Dace Dzenovska will elaborate the phenomenon of existential sovereignty on the basis of an analysis of how government and non-government actors handle the problem that post-Soviet freedom of movement introduces for the Latvian nation and the state. She argues that existential sovereignty is a re-territorialized claim to the coherence and continuity of a collective self through which individuals can pursue a variety of life projects. On the one hand, claims of existential sovereignty remain articulated with a territorial state, even if many of the individuals who constitute the sovereign subject do not live in it. On the other hand, existential sovereignty allows for the distribution of collective selfhood across territories of several historically existing states. In that sense, existential sovereignty entails a transfer of political sovereignty from a territorially defined state to a re-territorialized collective self that operates transnationally alongside corporations, international organizations, God, and other actors that compete for the status of the sovereign.

Elena Genova will focus on the politics of emigration in Bulgaria. Emigration has a strong discursive presence in the Bulgarian public space enveloped in nationalist discourses that often question migrants’ national identity and belonging. Her presentation has two key objectives. Firstly, it aims to explain how emigration is politicised in the Bulgarian public discourse and how this has informed state approaches to the Bulgarian diaspora. Secondly, it provides an insight into migrant responses to ‘othering’ discourses by drawing on empirical work conducted on a) Bulgarian highly skilled migrants and b) Bulgarian migrant workers’ experiences in Brexit Britain. In exploring the range of counterbalancing strategies that Bulgarian migrants in the UK use to reclaim their sense of national identity and belonging, the presentation raises a number of questions around the ways in which the rift between ‘stayers’ (non-migrants) and ‘leavers’ (migrants) can be reconciled.

Dace Dzenovska is Associate Professor in the Anthropology of Migration at the University of Oxford and the Principal Investigator of the EMPTINESS project. She holds doctoral and master’s degrees in Social Cultural Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an interdisciplinary master’s degree in Humanities and Social Thought from New York University. Her research interests pertain to the changing relationships between people, territory, political authority, and capital in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Currently, she is researching the emptying towns and villages in Eastern Europe and Russia in order to understand what it means to live in and govern emptying places, as well as what such places can tell about how flows of capital and shifts in political authority are reconfiguring the world we live in.

Elena Genova is an Assistant Professor in Sociology at the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham. Her research interests lie in intra-EU mobility, EU citizenship, identities and belonging, othering, integration and settlement. More specifically, she has extensively researched the Bulgarian (highly skilled) migration to the UK, focusing on migrant responses to othering discourses in both host and home societies. Her most recent (together with Dr Elisabetta Zontini) has looked at the integration and settlement of EU migrant workers in Brexit Britain.

Manolis Pratsinakis is Department Lecturer at COMPAS and School of Anthropology, and Onassis Fellow at SEESOX, University of Oxford. He is also the Deputy Project Manager of the SEESOX Diaspora project. He was previously a postdoctoral fellow at DPIR, University of Oxford, Marie Curie fellow (IF) at the University of Macedonia (2015-2017), a visiting fellow at the University of Sussex (2016) and a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam (2013-2015). His academic interests broadly concern the study of migration and nationalism. He has done research and published on immigrant-native relations, ethnic boundaries and categorization, everyday nationhood, migration decision-making, brain drain, and intra-EU mobility in the post-2008 period. Manolis has studied Geography and Sociology (with honors) and completed his PhD in 2013 in Anthropology. His MA studies were supported by a Nuffic Huygens Scholarship and his PhD research by an IKY scholarship from the Dutch and Greek state respectively.

A COMPAS/SEESOX co-convened Seminar Series on The politics of emigration: Representations and contestations

International immigrants, by their mere act of crossing national borders, challenge ideologies which make claims for the territorial and ethnic boundedness of the national entity. They constitute ‘problematic exceptions’ to the nationalist image of normal life which prescribes that people should stay in the places where they belong, that is, in ‘their’ nation-states. There is abundant literature in migration studies that problematizes such ideologies for their detrimental impact on (prospective) immigrants in destination countries. However, there is much less attention on their role in informing emigration representations in countries of origin. Diaspora scholars suggest that a shift has taken place in recent years with governments changing their narratives from denouncing emigrants as deserters, to celebrating them as an extension of the nation outside the state. To what extent can this be said to be true? What are the different actors shaping discourses on emigration in origin countries and how do these feed in on policies that aim to regulate exit and govern citizens abroad? How do emigrants respond to such representations? In this series, SEESOX in cooperation with COMPAS, will examine these issues by looking at Central and East European cases and beyond.

In cooperation with The Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS)