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date: 01 October 2023

Forced Migrationlocked

Forced Migrationlocked

  • Snezana Stankovic, Snezana StankovicFriedrich Schiller University Jena
  • Jonas EckeJonas EckeAshesi University
  •  and Elizabeth WirtzElizabeth WirtzPurdue University


Forced migration refers to the forcibly induced movement of people, for example, when migrants are forced to flee to escape conflict or persecution or become trafficked. The definition also encompasses situations of enforced immobility, for example, when displaced people are confined to refugee camps and detention centers. Forced displacement may occur within or across the borders of the nation-state. According to this definition, the effect of the force causing the migratory movement is crucial, and distinguishes forced migrants—who may be termed “refugee,” “trafficked person,” “stateless person,” “asylum seeker,” or “internally displaced persons” (IDPs)—from other migrants such as economic migrants. However, as anthropologists of forced migration illustrate, such distinctions by legal, state, or international organizations are not always relevant outside of institutional logics; when backed up by the force of the state, they can undermine the livelihoods and safety of migrants.

The anthropology of forced migration is undertaken by researchers who aim to depict and capture the realities of forced migrants, and to understand the world from the perspective of the forced migrants themselves. The anthropology of forced migration also addresses the historical context that drives the displacement as well as how forced migrants interact with their cultural, social, religious, and economic environments, and how doing so compels cultural change.

By virtue of their influence in the lives of forced migrants, anthropologists of forced migration must incorporate the terminologies and classifications of international organizations and states into their analyses, since these terminologies and classifications have tangible effects on the lives of migrants. At the same time, anthropologists of forced migration interrogate these terminologies and classifications. In so doing, they prioritize the perspectives and realities of the forced migrants over external classifications and definitions. Consequently, the anthropology of forced migration is distinguished from other disciplines that also explore forced migration such as international law and some studies in the field of refugee studies and (forced) migration studies.

On a theoretical level, an analysis that centers on the experiences, perspectives, and realities of forced migrants enables novel insights into societal processes such as austerity policies, the role of borders in society and the global system, and the work of humanitarian organizations. These policies, societal dynamics, and institutions have tangible and deep effects on the lives of forced migrants. How forced migrants interact with external systems and institutions has raised vital questions on dependency and agency, which anthropologists of forced migration have discussed in their works.

Many anthropologists of forced migration also aim to be helpful in improving programs for forced migrants by conveying the perspectives and experiences of forced migrants to policymakers so that such programs are more relevant to the realities of forced migrants. Anthropologists of forced migration have also used art installations and films to convey the experience of forced migration.


  • Applied Anthropology

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