Situating Displacement

Explorations of Global (Im)Mobility

by Steffen Bo Jensen (Volume editor) Rieke Schröder (Volume editor) Anabel Soriano Oliva (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 190 Pages


This anthology offers a fresh look at the theme of forced mobility and displace¬ment. By situating displacement and creating a dialogue with disciplines and analytical perspectives from other academic fields, we broaden the scope of thinking about displacement with different chapters taking well-established ideas from migration, mobility, and refugee research into the conversation. By situating displacement in new ways and from alternate angles, the anthology opens up new reflections, relevant across several disciplinary fields.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Situating Displacement (Rieke Schröder, Anabel Soriano Oliva, and Steffen Jensen)
  • In and Out and in and Out of the Closet: Queer Refugees and Epistemic Furniture (Rieke Schröder)
  • Discussing Pateman’s Understanding of Prostitution Through Khamis’ Exhibition Black Birds (Anabel Soriano Oliva)
  • Conflicts on the Move: Passing on the Palestinian Conflict (Anja Kublitz)
  • Living a Precarious Life as Migrant Worker in the Danish Labour Market (Magnus Andersen, Marlene Spanger, and Sophia Dörffer Hvalkof)
  • What Makes an Innocent Child? Exploring Innocence and Whiteness in a European Context (Asta Smedegaard Nielsen)
  • Chronotopes of Displacement in a Cape Town Squatter Camp (Steffen Jensen)
  • Dreams: Mobile Bodies and Troubled Temporal Unfolding in Nairobi (Brigitte Dragsted)
  • Extractivism, Territorialization, and Displacement in Latin America (Malayna Raftopoulos)
  • Do Human Rights Matter When You Are Stuck in an Urban Informal Settlement? (Morten Lynge Madsen)
  • Understanding ‘Gendered Border Violence’: The Case of Libya (Ahlam Chemlali)
  • Governing displacement: A Polycentric Perspective (Tamirace Fakhoury)
  • Ode to Wall (Michael Alexander Ulfstjerne)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series index

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Rieke Schröder, Anabel Soriano Oliva, and Steffen Jensen

Situating Displacement

Displacement and forced mobility have become perennial issues of our time (Hakovirta, 1993; Malkki, 1995). According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 82.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2020 (UNHCR, 2021: n.p.) demonstrating the large scale of this issue. Especially in the wake of the so-called migration and refugee crisis in 2015–2016, in electoral campaigns all over Europe and the United States, the issues of displacement, refugees and migrants are omnipresent and objects of intense political attention and anxieties. Increasingly restrictive policies and national solutions are en vogue. Border controls and walls are becoming a choice solution for many governments especially in the global North in the hope that if enough borders are closed and fences and walls are put up, people will not be able to enter the country at hand, and thus will not be an issue of concern for that state. For this reason, Norbert Cyrus (2017) for instance proposes to use the term ‘refugee protection crisis’ instead.

Whether he is right or not, Cyrus’ text testifies to the academic and policy focus on displacement and enforced mobility. In a recent agenda setting piece Alexander Betts and Paul Collier (2017), for instance, explore ways to mend a broken refugee system. In this way, it is the legal and interventionist approach to displacement that takes centre stage. We do not aim to critique or review the specific approaches. Rather, we agree with Amanda Hammar (2014: 3–4) in her analysis of Displacement Economies that displacement cannot be reduced to an often legalistic discussion of refugees. As she notes, refugee studies tend to ignore or downplay the importance of for instance political economy. She continues to suggest that mobility studies sometimes, but not always, downplay the element of force and violence and that the work on war economies often downplay the effects of displacement. Hence, she identifies a need to locate displacement in ‘enforced changes in interweaving spatial, social and symbolic conditions and relations’ in which displaced lives are produced (ibid.: 9). Hammar’s analysis makes clear that displacement always relates to some level and kind of force. However, what constitutes force is seldom clear-cut, as Bjarnesen and Turner (2020) point out in their succinct analysis of invisibility and displacement in Africa. Economic as well as environmental, subjective and political drivers may force people to leave. What do we make of Ghanaian fishermen who leave their ←7 | 8→coastal villages that have been depleted of fish stock by Chinese and European fishing vessels to brave the Sahara, the Mediterranean Sea and the rough informality of the Italian labour market as in Hans Lucht’s remarkable book Darkness before Daybreak (Lucht, 2011)? Have they been forced and if by what and by whom? Finally, displacement does not always entail that people are forced to leave. As Jefferson, Turner and Jensen (2019) argue, stuckness is the conceptual twin of displacement as both concepts focus on the element of force – to put people on the move or to impede their movement. As Stephen Lubkemann (2008, 2010) implicitly suggests in his analysis of war in Mozambique, sometimes the world and opportunities move, leaving people displaced of the relations that sustained them. These and other studies of displacement and forced mobility have been central in our understanding of displacement. In this volume, we want to make two contributions to the discussion, one conceptual and one empirical or geographical.

Conceptually, we suggest that it is useful to privilege interdisciplinary understandings even further. Displacement studies are per definition interdisciplinary, involving law, political science, anthropology, historical and a host of other humanities, public health and social science disciplines. Notwithstanding this interdisciplinary framing, and at the danger of crudifying a complex and varied literature, forced mobility and displacement studies tend to foreground the processes and structures of mobility and displacement as well as the actions of the people on the move. While such focus sounds evident and as the logical analytical approach, we think it might be useful to de-centre displacement slightly, not to do away with it but to situate it in a larger body of literature beyond explorations of systems of and around displacement and the actions of the displaced. In this volume, we look at displacement and forced mobility from urban studies, queer, gender and race studies, conflict studies, human rights and development, labour market studies, architecture, governance studies and studies of mineral extraction. Displacement and forced mobility have roles to play in all the contributions. For instance, mineral extraction, as in Raftopoulous’ contribution, produces displacement but does not have to be reduced to displacement. Rather to understand the element of displacement, we need to understand the complicated relations between mineral extraction and human rights for instance. Displacement is also absolutely central for understanding how conflicts move in place and time as in Kublitz’ contribution. However, if we only privileged displacement we would lose sight of the complex intersections between urban life, history and conflicts that she describes.

The multi-disciplinary nature of this anthology offers a fresh look at the theme of forced mobility and displacement. Through case studies that do not ←8 | 9→necessarily, or exclusively, fit the mould of these disciplines, and with analytical perspectives from other academic fields, we broaden the scope of thinking about displacement. By bringing well-established ideas from migration, mobility, and refugee research into conversation with other disciplines and approaches, we aim to open up new reflections, relevant across several disciplinary fields. The aim of this exercise is not to downplay the importance of displacement. That would be ill-advised for a book that has displacement in the title. Rather, by situating displacement and bringing it into dialogue with other themes, we hope to understand displacement as well as the theme at hand better. For instance, we cannot understand displacement in Cape Town as explored by Steffen Jensen, without understanding urban politics in its own right. At the same time, by introducing displacement in the analysis of urban politics we also learn something about the latter, which is that urban politics historically have been constituted by layers or sedimentations of multiple and diverse processes of displacement. It also allows us to see that those people that are normally constituted as ‘host populations’ cannot be understood without understanding internal, historical processes of displacement. By situating, not foregrounding displacement, we understand both displacement and urban politics better.

Empirically, we insist on the global nature of displacement and mobility. This may also sound like an obvious point. However, we would suggest that much attention, especially in discussions related to present-day migration and displacement foreground an assumed directionality of cross-border displacement and forced mobility from the global South to the global North. To engage with a global perspective entails a deconstruction of the oppositional binary interpretation of peoples’ displacement, in which people on the move are oftentimes categorized within the binaries of North/South, legal/illegal, mobile/immobile, temporary/permanent, voluntary/forced etc. These binaries represent the phenomena of migration and displacement as a linear movement from ‘poorer’ to ‘richer’ areas, or solely from the global South to the global North that animate much research on mobility (Glick-Schiller and Çağlar, 2016; Xiang and Lindquist, 2014). Such binaries run the risk of obscuring lived realities, as it disallows reflections of the multifaceted nature of the movement of people, in this way neglecting the complexity of displaced lives. This suggests that instead of only looking at the country of arrival or country of origin, we must be interested in all the stages of displacement and mobility; people come from some place, via routes and roads, to somewhere. Again, this is what Hans Lucht (2011) does as he follows Ghanaian fishermen forced to migrate due to overfishing and depletion of natural resources on their way through the desert and across the sea to end up as illegal migrants in Naples. However, while we need to understand ←9 | 10→such routes from the South to the North, this understanding of people’s displacement is complicated by the different contributions. Tamirace Fakhoury’s and Ahlam Chemlali’s contributions suggest that the transit areas may become end stations as EU border agencies work hard to keep migrants out of EU in North Africa and the Middle East. Furthermore, as Morten Lynge Madsen and Brigitte Dragsted illustrate in their analyses of urban Nairobi, much displacement takes the form of intra-city and rural-urban migration in the global South. Finally, Magnus Andersen, Marlene Spanger and Sophia Dørffer Hvalkof explore Danish labour markets and Eastern European migration through the lens of precarity unsettling easy reduction to North and South. Hence, the book situates displacement in the global south, in transit as well as in the global North.

Organizing the argument

The anthology has emerged out of ongoing conversations between scholars and students in Global Refugee Studies at the department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University. With contributions from different disciplines such as political science, anthropology, sociology, media studies, history and philosophy, the anthology questions and explores flight, migration and conflict from rather different perspectives and methods as well as across the global North and South. All chapters are based on primary research, many of them on long-term fieldwork. Following the conversational origins of the volume, we have tried to keep chapters short, at times in an essayistic style to enable debate. In this way, we hope that the anthology can be an invitation to grapple with the broad scope of mobility and displacement from perhaps surprising angles outside but speaking to the literature on displacement and mobility.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (March)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 190 pp., 5 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Steffen Bo Jensen (Volume editor) Rieke Schröder (Volume editor) Anabel Soriano Oliva (Volume editor)

Rieke Schröder is a PhD fellow at the Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University. Her research focuses on queer feminist perspectives on migration and displacement. She holds a Master of Science in Global Refugee Studies from Aal¬borg University. She is the editor of The Interdisciplinary Journal of International Studies, a student-driven, Aalborg University–based, peer-reviewed journal. Anabel Soriano Oliva has a background in philosophy and attained a Master’s in Global Refugee Studies from Aalborg University. She centers her research in political philosophy within a feminist perspective, particularly regarding topics such as the relation between spatiality and identity and the relation between social imaginaries and political action. Steffen Jensen is a professor at the Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University as well as a senior researcher at the Danish Institute Against Torture. He has published extensively on gangs and policing, violence and conflict, and on human rights and development.


Title: Situating Displacement