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Migrant belonging: identity, affect and capital



Drzewiecka J.


Wegahtabrhan K. S.



We advance a novel approach to migrant belonging by exploring how identity capital and emotions mediate Eritrean settled refugee’ articulation of their identities in the Switzerland. We will extend the understanding of belonging as an discursively, materially and emotionally habituated practice. Extant work focuses on migrants’ accumulation of social, cultural and economic capital, with too little attention on connecting multidimensional capital to migrant belonging. We will examine how migrants convert different forms of capital (economic, cultural, social, etc.) to position themselves in alignments and/or antagonisms in their local, national, and transnational contexts. While literature on affect and emotions is growing, applications to integration of refugees are lacking. We will thus advance the affective-discursive approach to theorise how affect shapes belonging through racial forms of incorporation. We build on the PI’s research on diaspora, and racial incorporation of Polish migrants in South Africa and East Asian Indian migrants in the US. By focusing on Eritreans who settled in Switzerland for at least 12 years, the project moves beyond the short-term refugees’ issues of trauma and transition of most refugee studies and elucidates long term belonging and incoporation. We adopt a transnational perspective to see how Eritreans position themselves to construct their belonging. By attending to internal group differences, we will elucidate how regional, ethnic, migration generation, gender and class distinctions shape belonging.

This project asks the following research questions:

-How do Eritrean migrants in Switzerland articulate their belonging?

-What forms of capital have they been able to develop and into what forms of identity is it converted?

-What affective-discursive practices constrain, mobilise, solidify or unsettle their belonging?

-How does affect shape, unsettle, regulate and enhance belonging?

The project will answer these questions through an in-depth qualitative design combining open-ended interviews AND ethnographic observation with discourse analysis. This approach offers cultural sensitivity and flexibility as well as analysis of deep discursive structures. This will provide a wholistic understanding of how migrants position themselves in the new cultural context.

This project will make several contributions. We will:

-extend the formulation of affective-discursive practice by specifying connections between affect, forms of capital, and subjectivity.

-enhance interdisciplinary understanding of refugee integration. The project connects research from different fields: intercultural communication, discourse studies, and migration studies. We will examine how connections are articulated through contradictions, dissonances, mis/alignments in practices and subjectivities to advance a communication perspective on the interdisciplinary field of migration studies.

-contribute to research on regional specificity of discourses of difference and exclusion.

-enhance our understanding of the exclusion and inclusions refugees negotiate, how these shape social relations and long term identity formations. This will have a social impact at a critical time when Europe faces an unprecedented influx of refugees.

As many European leaders have proclaimed the failure of integration or multiculturalism, it’s critical to understand how categories of inclusion and exclusion are constructed and felt. Integration of migrants is a salient issue in Switzerland and this project offers insights beyond the recently expanded integration criteria to understand belonging in a wholistic fashion.

Additional information

Start date
End date
48 Months
Funding sources
Swiss National Science Foundation / Project Funding / Humanities and social sciences (Division I)