'Migrants are far more than their migration. People are multifaceted and should be treated as such'

In this episode, we speak with dr. Nanneke Winters (Assistant Professor at the ISS) about her initial motivation to study migration, the necessity of bridging the divide between the Global South and Global North when discussing migration, and the significance of studying migration trajectories.

By Vanessa Ntinu

Nanneke WintersYour background is so expansive and captivating - tell us a little about how your interest in migration/mobility and movement was sparked. How did this flow from your initial focus on gender? How can these two be intertwined?

Well, I think that is the beauty of being an academic - so much of what personally interests you can be your work. For me, my interest in migration stems from my adopted family in Central America, who have been very involved in migration processes. As a result of this, my interest in migration grew. I got involved more in issues such as transnational care work and feeling at home in different places.

Indeed, I started with a more explicit focus on gender. One of my first research interests was about gendered violence. Even during my Ph.D. research, I still worked with these themes - looking closely at power relations in different households - essentially who gets to move and who doesn't. Gender is a very big part of that. When we talk about the kind of migrants I work with now and how they are seen, gender still plays a very big role in determining to what extent migrants become victimized and/or illegalized, in tandem with racialization processes. I really hope to intensify this intersectional view on migrants.

You have recently joined the ISS - do tell us a little about the work you do there and the research you are pursuing.

Perhaps I'll start with the research I am still involved in that I started before joining the ISS. With my colleague Heike Drotbohm from the University of Mainz, we developed a research project about migrant trajectories. Whereas in my Ph.D. research I focused more on trans-local livelihoods, Heike and I took note of relatively new African migrations in Central America and focused more closely on trajectories. This is a rather new field in migration research where our emphasis is not only on the supposed origin and destination countries but also on the journeys in-between. With this approach, we understand that travel/mobility also involves stopping in different places (or being stopped). We want to assess not only this tension between mobility and immobility but also between emplacement and displacement. At the ISS, I continue to work on this project.

In the meantime, I have been having lots of interesting conversations with Zeynep Kaşlı. We received some funding last year together with Marhadhika Sjamsoeoed Sadjad to research the migration development nexus. We want to apply a radical re-interpretation of this nexus because when we look at national and regional migration and development policies, or even when we look at the SDGs, we still have a very simple and conservative explanation of what migration is, of what development is. Therefore, we are trying to take a very different look into this discussion to see if we can open it up a bit more. We aim to develop this research into something bigger and hopefully something that not only involves the Global South but also the Global North.

When we look at national and regional migration and development policies, or even when we look at the SDGs, we still have a very simple and conservative explanation of what migration is, of what development is.

Your previous studies focus largely on journey/movement/mobility - are there different insights you receive when looking at this phase of migration as opposed to other phases?

Firstly, studying this phase of migration reshuffles your outlook because it is a different frame of reference you are adopting. If you focus, for example, on integration here, then your point of reference is here. Your focus tends to be on fixed categories and spaces. Alternatively, if you look at the trajectories in between, it upsets your worldview of what places are relevant. It helps us take a closer look beyond our immediate backyard and beyond the supposed concerns we have in the Global North. It also helps us appreciate migration as a social process that is not straightforward. Assessing trajectories furthers our understanding of how migration shapes society beyond supposed origin and destination - for example, we can look at movement from Ghana to the USA and understand how that journey has had a socio-economic impact on the places passed through.

I was very captivated by the ongoing ATXCA project that you are part of - do you mind telling us a little about this and some of the discoveries you have been making.

Of course! We see in Latin and Central America; migration has diversified extremely in recent decades. It is a continent that has always been characterized by migration but because of certain geopolitical factors and increased border restrictions in the US and Europe, we see that an increasing amount of people are traveling from the African continent through Latin America to get to North America. This is not a novel thing; African migrants have always been a part of the migration landscape in Latin America. These figures have only recently increased because of border closures elsewhere, but also because the visibility of African migrants has been heightened. This is a direct result of US border control externalization where migrants are monitored and intercepted. In some cases, migrants pass through smaller countries that do not have the resources to create reception facilities which can also amplify their visibility.

Assessing trajectories furthers our understanding of how migration shapes society beyond supposed origin and destination

I see that you are heavily involved with the Migration Research Seminar Series and the Development Research Series at ISS - tell us a little bit about your work there.

Yes! Well, these are two different things. I will start with the Development Research Series - this is open to a public audience. We always engage with our community to determine who we can invite to speak at these sessions. We also try to create a fair balance between different and timely topics that are important to people. I am part of a very nice team of people that are also very different therefore we also get very different speakers. Recently, we have been curating a joint lecture series with TISS, a higher education institution based in Mumbai, India, where speakers from the ISS and TISS speak to each other. This collaboration broadens our network but also our audiences and the discussions we have.

The Migration Seminars, on the other hand, are more of an internal thing at the ISS. This is a very informal space where migration researchers at the ISS can present work-in-progress, field reports, and other ideas. These sessions allow us to see what is happening within migration research in the institution, because otherwise, you may never know.

You also recently joined LDE Centre GMD. What surprised you the most?

I was really amazed by how many different people (doing very different things) are all somehow related to this topic of migration and diversity. I think it’s great! I think that is what makes this such an important initiative. Initially, it can feel overwhelming having all these people from different disciplines, but I think it's a safe home where differences can come together and be embraced. Besides that, I am still getting used to the workings of the centre and meeting everyone involved.

What do you, as ISS representative, like to bring to the LDE Centre, and/or how can the LDE GMD Centre support you in these endeavors?

One of the things that I find very important is to upset these boundaries between the so-called Global North and Global South. I am aware of contextual and historical differences and those should not be done away with; however, much of migration research has really separated the two "regions" both empirically and theoretically, and I do not think this is productive. I would like to bring a more critical view of what is happening elsewhere and how this can be integrated into the research we already do as a centre.

Another advantage of working at the ISS is that they are truly involved locally, for example in The Hague itself, and this is something I am really excited about. I appreciate when our work as researchers is concretized in a way that is tangibly valuable to communities we study, for example with the Scriptiewerkplaats. This is so incredibly important. I would love if the collaboration with the centre can bring about more proactive initiatives like the thesis project.

It is very important to upset these boundaries between the so-called Global North and Global South.

What are potential blind spots for us as LDE Centre GMD and migration scholars, in general, we should be mindful about?

In general, we should be aware of essentializing migrants as migrants. In my work, I do still speak of migrants, and I do also think the migration experience is extremely fundamental in how life is experienced. However, there is much more to a person than their migration story and it does not necessarily define who this person is and what their interests are. Sometimes, we get too stuck with this label, and we tend to forget that there are other interests, concerns, and links. We must always be aware of this multidimensionality to do justice to their migration stories.