(Re)Thinking Europe's 'migration crisis' through the lens of the vernacular: A lecture by Nick Vaughan-Williams

Wednesday 09 March 2022, 18:00 to 20:00

As a part of the new Migration Lecture Series, we are welcoming Nick Vaughan-Williams, professor at the Universty of Warwick. For this first Migration Lecture, professor Vaughan-Williams will talk about his new book, 'Vernacular Border Security'. 

Omar Ba, project coordinator at Bindus vzw and Diversity and inclusion consultant, will be the discussant for this lecture. Prof. Florian Trauner will moderate the discussion.

(Re)Thinking Europe’s ‘migration crisis’ through the lens of the vernacular

Against the backdrop of the ‘elite’ political construction of Europe’s so-called ‘migration crisis’, relatively little is known about how European citizens or people arriving on the shores of Europe conceptualized, understood, and talked about the so-called ‘crisis’ and its impacts on their everyday lives. Yet, following Weldes et al (1999), if social and cultural meanings of ‘migration’, ‘crisis’, and ‘border security’ are constructed intersubjectively and contested politically, then the (non)knowledge, lived experience, and political agency of ‘ordinary people’ caught up in the events of 2015-16 – as well as ‘elite’ political actors – were significant in shaping dominant framings of and response to the ‘crisis’. In this talk, I argue for a conceptual and methodological shift in the study of the international politics of border security in general and the dynamics of Europe’s ‘migration crisis’ in particular: one that complements ‘top-down’ analyses of elite governmental practices with ‘bottom-up’ studies of how those practices are both produced and contested in ordinary people’s everyday narratives – in the ‘vernacular’, so to speak (Baker, 1984).

Drawing on in-depth focus groups with EU citizens and interviews with people on the move produced as ‘irregular’, I illustrate that while ‘elite’ and ‘vernacular’ narratives of ‘crisis’ are not mutually exclusive (and often the former are ventriloquized by the latter), vernacular narratives are fundamentally ambivalent and reinterpret, repurpose, contest, disrupt, and/or refuse elite ‘crisis’ scripts. Vernacular narratives of Europe’s ‘migration crisis’ make visible actually-existing imaginaries of migration and borders that are not captured by the dominant securitizing ‘crisis’ frame; this problematizes the notion that there is no alternative to tougher deterrent border security in response to increased arrivals and deaths in Europe today.

Please click here to register for the online lecture.