Towards Multi-centred Research on Migration: Reflections from Delhi, India

SOAS-University of London Blog
    
By Professor  

Earlier this year, I joined colleagues from across South Asia and Europe to discuss global migration as part of the LIDC-MLT’s Global Migration Conversations initiative. Attendees were invited to reflect on a few questions in advance, including: how does South Asian research fit into a global, collaborative migration research agenda? And how can research address power imbalances between the Global North and Global South?

Important points were raised about how there needs to be increased representations of South Asia in global discussions on migration and that these must move beyond case studies.

Participants also noted that there are rich opportunities for cross-fertilisation of ideas by using South Asian experiences to contextualise migration elsewhere. For example, across India at the moment we are seeing citizen oral history projects that have been initiated to capture testimonies of survivors of Partition in 1947. These young citizen historians could offer insights and expertise to researchers seeking to capture testimonies from other post-colonial migration contexts. The fact that this is not happening widely highlights a disconnect, not just between the Global North and South, but within the Global South.

Such developments are vital in order to de-centre knowledge production around migration. However, changes cannot simply happen overnight. There are a number of structural barriers that need to be addressed before research can truly be multi-centred.

Firstly, there is the issue of project collaboration and funding distribution within partnerships. Generally speaking, there is more research funding in the Global North and, while there is a push for partnerships that have Global Southern academics leading projects, this equality still remains somewhat hollow. The majority of the money, control over budget, and final decisions around research design too often remain with Global Northern institutions, limiting a sense of broader ownership and creative direction from scholars in the South.

Also, Southern-based partners do not only have to lead on case studies on their country. In my department, for instance, we have academics and students working on Myanmar and the Rohingya crisis, refugee education in Mozambique, and European contributions to global justice, as well as migration in India.

Another issue is that collaboration is too often project or grant based. If there is no money, there is no scope for working together. And if there is money, too often the conversation ends when the project is wrapped up. This is short-sighted and counter-productive for knowledge creation.

There are a number of ways collaboration can be approached beyond the project cycle: co-supervision of Masters or PhD students across university institutions, co-appointed researchers or post-docs that are not there just for single “case study” projects, collaborative teaching arrangements in research-led courses, and workshops hosted solely for dialogue and knowledge creation.

Finally, journals. Much has been written about the impact of the paywalls of top international journals on scholars and policy makers based in the Global South – they freeze out those who can’t afford to subscribe and preclude the rich dialogue that would come from genuinely open access. Relatedly, the institutionalised hierarchy of academic publication means that regional and national journals – of which in South Asia there are many – are overlooked as valuable research outlets for Global Northern and non-South Asian Global Southern scholars.

 

So, this is a call to the directors and administrators of research institutions, departments, and donor organisations that currently dominate the research world in authority and finances: If you are truly committed to multi-centred research on global migration, then you need to start thinking differently about broader research processes and outcomes. This can include (but certainly shouldn’t be limited to): Decentring project resource allocation and management; not limiting Southern partners to leading own-country “case studies”; championing collaboration beyond the project cycle; supporting genuine open access publishing; and incentivising the placement of articles horizontally across regional and national publications.