EuroStorie research seminar: Samuli Schielke 4.9.2020

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Time: Friday 4.9.2020 13:00-14:00

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Samuli Schielke: The migrant dream of stability

From the point of view of migrants searching for work, “Europe” often appears in a rather different light than it does in European self-perception. For those who search to reach it, it can gain the metaphorical quality of a paradise; and yet those who do live and work as migrants within its borders, it often has a somewhat transient and unreal quality as the place where one tries to make the best out of a difficult situation as well and long as possible - in order to build something real and solid back at home. Such transience is even more explicit in the Arab Gulf states, the other major receiving region of migration in the vicinity. Europe’s borders, as meticulously policed as they may be, appear hazy in a perspective that takes migrants’ regions of origin as the starting point. Dubai, Rome, and London become extensions of villages in the Nile Delta, and the ups and downs of European and Gulf economies translate into progress and delay in marriage and house-building projects in Egypt.

Seen from the point of view of regions of origin, migration raises a different set of questions than those usually discussed in European societies, and in his presentation Schielke will take up some of those questions, instructive as they are to understand some urgent developments that shape our world. In his presentation, Schielke draws upon his recent book Migrant Dreams (AUC Press, 2020) on Egyptian workers in Qatar, and on his new fieldwork among Egyptian migrant diasporas in Europe and the Gulf.

Migration from the Global South is often a socially conservative project: a striving to actualise traditional ways and values of life and not to transcend them. And yet migrations not only transform so-called receiving societies, they also change the shape and meaning of a good life in so-called sending societies – often in unanticipated ways. Ideals of circular migration result in the establishment of long-term diasporas. At the same time, migrants invest enormous energies into building houses in their regions of origin. These houses unite strivings for moral and material comfort, upward social mobility and rootedness in local communities. They are a nodal point of the imagination and practice of what is widely referred to as “a normal life” in “stability” (istiqrar in Arabic), that is, an untroubled life where things and people are in their expected places, require no explanation and cause no anxiety. And yet the builders of these houses often only live in them during vacations. They dwell and raise their children in cities that gradually may become their homes as well. In the process, their dream of a good, normal life at home appears to be unsettling itself by the means of its own success. This requires explanation. How do some places and ideas gain the quality of normality and stability that is worth striving and sacrificing for from the point of view of people on the move? What consequences does the dream of stability in a world of unstable growth entail?

About the speaker

A social and cultural anthropologist, Samuli Schielke holds the title of docent from the University of Tampere and works as a senior researcher at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin. He is the author or co-editor of The Perils of Joy (2012), Global Horizon (2012, with Knut Graw), Ordinary Lives and Grand Schemes (2012, with Liza Debevec), Egypt in the Future Tense (2015) and Migrant Dreams (2020).