Lexicon of Migration: Nations, Borders, and Mobilities

This is part of our Campus Spotlight on the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education (CFMDE).


What does it mean to be a “temporary” person? The multiple discourses surrounding “migrants,” “refugees,” “illegals,” and other non-native-born people often paint problematic, exaggerated, and frustratingly misunderstood portraits about entire communities and populations. Politicians and movements (often of the far-right disposition) continue to reinforce views of the foreigner as a national threat, one that will rip apart the fabric of society if left to their own devices. Yet, more than ever, we live in a world where almost 245 million people are living in a country other than where they were born, and that includes millions of refugees and displaced populations who struggle under incredibly vulnerable and precarious conditions. Some 740 million people migrate internally, primarily from rural to urban centers, bringing the total number of migrants to more than one billion people. Here, we focus on communities and groups of migrants who are often targeted as national “problems”: refugees, undocumented persons, and so-called “economic” migrants. We start by looking at how different groups of migrants become categorized through institutionalized regimes as “temporary” populations—guest workers, asylum seekers, seasonal workers, and foreign workers—and examine what implications this temporariness imposes upon migrants themselves, both at the everyday level and in terms of the larger political climate. We will explore the realities of today’s migrant experience with a special focus on temporariness, globalized fragmentation of social reproduction, and regimes of managed migration around the world.

Throughout the course, we will be reading and discussing some foundation works around temporariness, refugees and forced migration, building upon last semester’s discussions and reflections on the key questions of citizenship, rights, and nationalism. The course will require students to seek out and engage with local community organizations that work with different migrant communities and to develop reflective projects focusing on these key questions. As part of conference projects, students will be encouraged to imagine different, non-conventional ways of writing and expressing themes of vulnerability, precarity, temporariness and being out-of-place.


Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement and Education (CFMDE) – “Lexicon of Migration”

As part of the Consortium’s new Lexicon of Migration curriculum, students in this seminar will be able to connect, collaborate and learn from faculty, scholars and peers from across the four member colleges at Vassar, Bard, Bard Berlin and Bennington, where variants of the lexicon syllabus will be taught simultaneously. This provides students at each campus unique opportunities to design and develop activities, workshops and projects around the themes of education, forced migration and displacement. During the course of the semester, we will have invited speakers, guest lectures, and other opportunities to connect with classes and students from the partner colleges. Vassar College will be hosting the first Teaching Lab for the Consortium schools on May 10-11, which we will attend as a group.


1. Book reviews – You will write two 1500-word essays on topics of your choice related to the themes/cases that we encounter throughout the semester. These reviews should incorporate themes and issues connected to materials and discussions from our class, conference and/or consortium-related resources. In addition to writing the essays, you will identify at least one publication outlet (including Europe Now), to which you will submit the written piece. These pieces don’t have to be strictly in academic paper form – they can be multi-media projects (podcast scripts, photo-essays, short documentaries/video blogs, etc.) with the main aim being dissemination for a wider audience.

Deadlines are flexible, but you must complete at least one of the essays before the end of Spring Break (March 29).

2. Leading Discussion – as per last semester, each week 2 students will be responsible for brief presentations of our assigned readings, followed by facilitation of discussions during our second class of the week (Thursdays). We will rotate the discussion leaders throughout the semester. Leaders must come up with a list of at least five discussion questions and a brief group activity (15-20 mins), to be submitted to the instructor the day before.

3. Conference Project – for this Spring, you will be expected to write a Conference Project based on the topics, issues and questions raised during the seminar and our conference meetings, between 3500-4000 words. You may continue to work on the projects that were proposed during the fall semester. A first draft of the project (which includes an abstract, introduction, literature review and bibliography) will be due April 12, with a final draft due May 8. Topics and details of your projects will be discussed during our conference meetings.

4. CFMDE Teaching Lab (May 10 and 11) – at the end of the semester, we will be participating in the first Annual Teaching Lab at Vassar College for the Consortium. Students will have the opportunity to meet and share their projects and other experiences (service learning, fieldwork, etc.) at the teaching lab, and to help design new initiatives for the benefit of the consortium campuses and community partners. Please make sure you have these dates marked on your calendar.

Module 1: Forced Migration and Subaltern Migrants

Week 1 (January 22):


  1. Hooks, Bell. 1990. “Marginality as a site of Resistance” Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Culture, eds. R. Ferguson et al.  

Week 2 (Jan 29):

Readings (No Class Thursday, Jan 31):

  1. Guham Ranajit. 1998. “The Migrant’s time” Postcolonial Studies 1(2).
  2. De Haas, Hein. 2014. What Drives Human Migration? In: B. Anderson and M. Keith (eds) Migration: A COMPAS Anthology. Oxford: COMPAS, 2014.
  3. Migration Data Portal: https://migrationdataportal.org/themes/forced-migration-or-displacement


Module 2: The Language of Migration

Week 3 (Feb 5): Refugees


  1. Zolberg, Aristide et al. “Chapter 1: Who is a refugee?” in Escape from Violence: Conflict and refugee crisis in the developing world.
  2. Arendt, Hannah. “We Refugees” in Altogether Elsewhere:” Writers on Exile p110-119.

Week 4 (Feb 12): Displacement


  1. Sassen, S. “Shrinking Economies, Growing Expulsions.” Open Democracy 9.1 (2015): 2015.
  2. Bakewell, Oliver. 2008. “Research Beyond the Categories: The importance of Policy Irrelevant Research into Forced Migration” Journal of Refugee Studies 21(4).
  3. Nayeri, Dina. 2017. The Ungrateful Refugee: We Have No Debt to Repay. The Guardian.

Week 5 (Feb 19):


  1. Williams, Raymond. 1983. Humanity. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Casas-Cortes, Maribel et al. 2015. “New Keywords: Migration and Borders.” Cultural Studies 29(1): 55-87.


Module 3: ‘Crisis’

Week 6 (Feb 26):


  1. Forthomme, Claude. 2018. “Why Populism is Dangerous: The False Migrant Crisis and the Real One” Impakter.
  2. “What is the Current State of the Migration crisis in Europe?” Guardian


Rain is Beautiful

Seeking Refuge: Julianne’s story

Week 7 (Mar 5):


  1. Ong, Aihwa. “Graduated sovereignty in south-east Asia.” Theory, Culture & Society 17, 4 (2000): 55-75.
  2. Yeoh, Brenda S.A. “Migration and Gender Politics in Southeast Asia.” Migration, Mobility & Displacement, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2010), 75-88.

1-page Conference Project Proposal due Mar 12

Module 4: Asylum and Humanitarianism

Week 8 (Mar 26):


  1. Fassin, Didier. “The Precarious Truth of Asylum.”
  2. Brown, Thomas Mitchell. 2018. “Building resilience: the emergence of refugee-led education Initiatives in Indonesia to Address Service Gaps faced in protracted Transit” Austrian Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 11(2).

Game: Papers Please (in-class demo)

Week 9 (April 2):


  1. Fraser, Nancy. 2009. Excerpts from Scales of Justice: Reimagining Political Space in a Globalizing World.
  2. Ong, Aihwa. “Graduated sovereignty in south-east Asia.” Theory, Culture & Society 17, 4 (2000): 55-75.

Conference Project Outline due Apr 6


Module 5: Informal Cosmopolitanism

Week 10 (April 9):


  1. Liisa H. Malkki. 1996. “Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism and Dehistoricization” Cultural Anthropology 11(3).
  2. Gidwani, Vinay. 2006. “What’s Left? Subaltern Cosmopolitanism as Politics” Antipode.
  3. Bonatti, V. and Muniandy. P. 2018. “Defiant Aspirations: Migrant Women’s struggles for stability and upward mobility in Naples and Kuala Lumpur” Migration Studies.

Week 11 (April 16):


  1. Fine, Sarah. “The Ethics of Immigration: Self-Determination and the Right to Exclude.” Philosophy Compass 8, no. 3 (2013): 254-268.
  2. Nunpa, “Immigration: An Indigenous Perspective.”

Module 6:

Week 12 (April 23):


  1. Haid, Christian. 2013. Contentious Informalities – The Narratives of Picnicking at Berlin’s Thai Park. dérive – Zeitschrift für Stadtforschung, (51), pp. 43–48.
  2. Lego, Jera. “Making refugees (Dis)Appear: Identifying Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Thailand and Malaysia.” Austrian Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 11(2).

Week 13 (April 30):


  1. Voices of the Displaced (collected poems and stories from Southeast Asia)

Week 14 (May 7): Conference Presentations and Wrap Up

Completed Conference draft due May 11


Photo: barbed wire with blurred shapes of migrants | Shutterstock
Published on March 5, 2019.




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