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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

Waiting for an uncertain future: the temporalities of irregular migration

Alternative title: Å vente på en ukjent fremtid: temporalitet i irregulær migrasjon

Awarded: NOK 10.0 mill.

Project Number:


Application Type:

Project Period:

2016 - 2020


Partner countries:

Through investigating time and temporality, the WAIT project has produced new critical knowledge about the cultural prerequisites for, and implications of, contemporary migration. The project has examined how laws, cultural norms and power relationships structure time in particular ways and how such temporal structures affect migrants' experiences and life projects, as well as societal processes of inclusion and exclusion. The project has focused on the form of migration that tends to be labelled irregular; referring to people whose entrance to and/or dwelling on state territory happens without formal authorisation. Studying time structures is particularly relevant to irregular migration; a form of migration characterised by protracted waiting, insecurity and temporariness. The WAIT project has approached waiting both as a social phenomenon that proliferates in irregular migration and as an analytical perspective on migration processes and practices. Migration is often associated with mobility and movement. However, both the migration process in itself and life as an irregular migrant are characterised by shorter and longer periods of waiting. Waiting in irregular migration is not only about situational waiting, it also pertains to how laws, cultural norms and power relationships structure time in such a way that many experience a form of existential waiting where their lives are 'put on hold'. A main ambition in the project has been to develop a more robust analytical approach to waiting in migration. Interdisciplinary approaches to temporality as multiple and relational have been particularly useful in this respect. Waiting as an analytical perspective has contributed to new insights; in particular regarding how power functions and is experienced in the context of migration. The project's focus on waiting has thrown new light on complex and shifting processes of border control, state power, belonging, exclusion and inclusion, and social relations in migration. The project thus importantly contributes to the so-called temporal turn in migration studies, which stresses the importance of time and temporality to investigate various dimensions of migration. WAIT contributes to knowledge about the situation of irregular migrants in different countries. Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted in Oslo, Stockholm, Marseille and Hamburg. In addition, project network partners conducted ethnographic studies in other countries. The methods used were participant observation and semi-structured interviews. Participant observation was for instance conducted in asylum reception centres, health clinics, and NGOs, as well as through following migrants in their everyday lives and in encounters with public institutions. Arts-based methods were also used and contributed to reflections on how to mobilise arts in the production and dissemination of knowledge about waiting and migration. Collaboration with migrants was also central to knowledge production and dissemination. The project further consisted of three theoretical work packages. These work packages investigated the significance of tempo and rhythm in waiting, the importance of different ways of understanding future to the production and experience of waiting, and the normative and ethical dimensions of temporalities involved in migration management. In addition, the project had a thoroughgoing focus on juridical aspects of temporality and waiting. In addition to analysing how particular laws and regulations structure time in migration, relevant laws and regulations were collected and made available on the project web site. Gender was also a thoroughgoing focus, in particular the importance of life cycle norms to the production and experience of waiting. Together, the empirical and theoretical studies give insight into how various waiting situations are produced and sustained in particular legal, material and socio-cultural contexts and how migrants meet and resist the temporal structures that produce waiting. The studies also offer knowledge about how waiting and insecurity shape family lives and relations to the labour market, citizens and state in the country where they live, and the consequences prolonged waiting has for migrants' health and quality of life. Critical knowledge of time structures and waiting can strengthen the understanding of, and capacity for managing, societal challenges related to migration, welfare and the nation state. The project for instance shows how migrants waiting is shaped through economic, political and social processes in the country of emigration, and in relation to people in other places. Such a relational approach to waiting gives a better foundation for understanding how waiting and insecurity shapes migrants' experiences and agency. The perspectives developed in WAIT can contribute to understanding time structures and waiting also beyond the migration context, for instance in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Resultatene av prosjektet har primært betydning for videreutvikling av forskningsfeltet. Det er et viktig bidrag til det som gjerne omtales som en temporal vending i migrasjonsforskningen, i form av en bevissthet om betydningen av tid og temporalitet som perspektiver for å undersøke ulike dimensjoner ved migrasjon. Prosjektet bidrar særlig til å utvikle en mer robust tilnærming til venting som sosialt fenomen og analytisk perspektiv. Dette bidrar igjen til forståelsen av hvordan makt virker og erfares i migrasjonssammenheng. Resultatene vil også kunne være nyttige for de som utformer migrasjonspolitikk, og for de som jobber i offentlige eller frivillige tiltak for irregulære migranter. Her tenker vi særlig på det å forebygge negative effekter av langvarig venting, usikkerhet og midlertidighet på migranters helse og livskvalitet, samt på deres forutsetninger for økonomisk, sosial og politisk inkludering i samfunnet.

The WAIT project uses theories of temporality and the concept of 'waitinghood' as tools for producing new and critical insights into the cultural conditions and implications of migration. 'Waitinghood' refers to the socially produced condition of prolonged waiting, uncertainty and temporariness which is characteristic of irregular migration processes, as well as the practices through which such conditions are encountered, incorporated and resisted by migrants. WAIT investigates how temporal structures related to irregular migration are shaped by legal regimes, cultural norms and power relationships, and how they shape subjective experiences and life projects. The project aims to unpack how gendered - and potentially conflicting - cultural norms shape practices, experiences and assessments of waiting. Particular attention is paid to the intersection between individual life course and 'legal time', i.e. the temporal dimension of migration control and regulations. Through investigating the consequences of 'waitinghood' for migrant's health, wellbeing and inclusion in society, the project seeks to produce critical knowledge that can advance our understanding of, and ability to face, societal challenges associated with immigration, welfare, and the nation state. Empirically, researchers will produce new ethnographic knowledge of how migrants experience and organize their time while waiting in selected European migration-hubs, including notably Oslo, Stockholm and Marseille. Through a series of targeted theoretical interrogations, WAIT also aims to advance theories of the socio-cultural production and experience of time and of the legal, ethical and socio-cultural aspects of migration as a spatio-temporal configuration.

Funding scheme:

SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell