Why is it crucial that migration stories are listened to? What can these stories reveal on a humanistic level? How do people respond to the current migration crisis happening all around the world? What is the role of cultural institutions in creating a more impartial image of migration? These questions and many more are sought to be answered in Stories Beyond Borders, a podcast project by master students of Cultural Studies: Elise Coenen, Emma Van Geet, Mahroo Mehdipour and Fateme Naghshvarian.
Stories Beyond Borders opts to fulfill the promise of its title by retelling the stories of residents at the LOI (Lokaal Opvang Initiatief) in Kruibeke. In three episodes the podcast functions as a neutral space where people from different countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Suriname, Afghanistan, Palestine and Libya, can share their stories. They talk about the journeys that brought them to Belgium. These journeys, although unimaginably challenging, resonate with hope and love for life. This podcast tries to blur the line that has been constructed between “us” and “them” by creating a mutual understanding and focusing on the similarities of all of us as human beings. On a greater scale, this reflects how dependent we are on one another and how our lives, although very diverse, are interconnected on many levels.
Another important aspect of this podcast is its subversive narration. Stories Beyond Borders tries to portray a humane image of the experience of migration by focusing on the narratives told by the migrants themselves, instead of clinging to existing accounts of the media which can be victimizing, mystifying or in some occasions even demonizing. Because of the residual trauma, it wasn’t always easy for the interviewees to share their personal stories. However, many of them saw the podcast as a suitable, open platform to get their messages across.
In the bonus episode (episode four), we focused on the role of a cultural institution in helping to create a more inclusive society. The Migration Museum in Brussels stands out as an example that captures, demonstrates and circulates the lived experiences of the migrants who chose Brussels as their final destination. Using Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence in Istanbul as an influence, the Migration Museum presents migrants’ mnemonic objects and words to echo their life experiences.
Have a listen via this link and feel free to share the stories!
For those of us doing research in the humanities, working in a time of isolation may cause us to question the impact of our roles as researchers, when we may be relegated to tasks as simple (yet necessary) as reading and writing. Given the long-term nature of most research, our immediate output, in the form of papers or publications, can feel less tangible, especially when we are no longer surrounded by others passionate about the humanities, bringing with them a sense of belonging, community, and purpose. If any others from our MA students to our senior-most researchers have encountered any of these challenges in these past weeks, I hope that this post may serve as a re-calibration for moving forward in our works with perhaps just a bit more hope or motivation.
Within the Arts, the field of Cultural Studies navigates a particularly malleable space, encompassing several disciplines, yet existing apart as well. While the field has long struggled with academic valorization due to the in-concrete nature of its methodology or subject matters treated, recent years have proven that Cultural Studies are in fact particularly well-situated to bring those elements of tangibility and applicability to research in the Arts. Regardless of the track of research (at our institution branching between “creative practices” and “cultural memory and identity”) our work hold the unique power of connectivity. Whether building bridges between academic institutions and artistic/cultural establishments such as museums, or informing policy-makers and governmental decisions, Cultural Studies hold incredible potential for impact-driven research, blending the academic aspects to the ever-changing world we interpret. In recent years, the field of Cultural Studies has been particularly integral in addressing the shift towards cultural heritage, and questions of immateriality, identity, and other intangible aspects of culture. Ironically, the surge towards heritage, and what can be viewed in academic terms as the “Heritage Turn” which is largely concerned with “nostalgia, authenticity, tradition” and memory, allows us as researchers to have an even greater tangible impact in shaping the future of the field and its possibilities.
In our contemporary global context (the antithesis, perhaps, being our current state of lockdown) where both social and economic lines of distinction become harder to identify, the teeming urge for preservation and the race for delineating identities can be viewed as cultural result of our globalized climate. While cultural institutions and policymakers have certainly embraced this heritage movement, and our research has equally celebrated and explored cultural memory, identity, and the importance of exploring cultural heritage, it is also our privilege to examine these phenomena with a critical eye and seek to understand the impact of these pushes towards heritigization. This autumn (remember live classes?) colleague Clarissa Colangelo and I presented the Capita Selecta lecture on Cultural Heritage, wherein we explored this push towards heritage focus from a critical perspective through the likes of Rodney Harrison and Caitlin DeSilvey, whose questioning of the drive does not close doors to impact-driven research, but rather opens them in interesting ways, prompting questions for curators, for global organizations like UNESCO, and for researchers alike to further examine this ‘turn’ which is in itself a cultural phenomenon.
In my own research, I was inspired after finishing a previous thesis project a few years ago about the cultural impact of climate change on France’s wine regions by exploring concepts of terroir, food and wine production policies, and their connections with heritage as a response to global circumstances. I expanded this theme of constructing heritage and identifying shifting identities, to my current research, which allows me to critically consider the ‘heritage turn’ in terms of policy, cultural memory, and its connection with the arts and literature which construct culinary identities as well. Integral to my research are the less-visible aspects of (non)belonging and the soft power of heritage as a culturally-exclusive tool. Eventually, this research will also include making the intangible accessible through collaborations in digital heritage with my promoter Fred Truyen and his work with Europeana Photography and Photoconsortium. Many of those more tangible impacts, however, remain still-distant goals, which can seem even more remote in quarantine, where it can be easy to forget that reading and writing are indeed necessary steps for work we may envisage as wider-reaching someday. So for our MA students, trying to motivate for thesis writing in these unique, though not ideal circumstances, my fellow doctoral researchers (who may be feeling more isolated than we would like to admit), and to the professors and researchers continuing to provide education at a distance, may we all remember that this is also a time for impact, even if at the moment, it all seems a bit intangible.
Geyzen, Anneke. (2014). Food Studies and the Heritage Turn : a Conceptual Repertoire. Food and History. 12. 67-96. 10.1484/J.FOOD.5.108963.
Harrison, Rodney. Heritage: Critical Approaches. New York. Routledge. 2013.
DeSilvey, Caitlin. Curated Decay: Heritage Beyond Saving. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
Do you like watching crime series on TV or on streaming services? If so, the DETECt project needs you! We want to find out which crime shows you like, which are your favourite detectives, and which elements of crime series keep you glued to the screen. The survey is completely anonymous.
Thank you for helping our audience research! And please spread the word about the survey among your friends and family.
DETECt investigates the topics of identity and popular culture and aims to show how, from 1989 to the present, the transnational circulation of crime narratives from various European countries has contributed to the formation of a plural, shared European identity.