Editorial: on Migration

swarm of migrating birds

‘Migrant’ is a politically loaded term. In 2016 The Migration Observatory, a research project based at Oxford University, carried out a survey of British news media over the past decade. The observatory analysed every time the word ‘migrant’ appeared in broadsheet and tabloid newspapers. The most common word to be printed alongside is ‘illegal’.

This linguistic conditioning is just one symptom and one cause of rising right-wing populism in the UK, increased racism against people perceived as migrants, and escalating, punitive government rhetoric that dehumanises migrants, denies them access to state benefits, and splits up their families. Discussed in terms of statistics or legal status, a ‘migrant’ has become an abstract concept. It’s easy to forget that the languages of migration have real, physical effects on real, physical bodies.

Etymologically, migrant is as tied to change and movement, as it is to removal. According to UNESCO, the UN Convention of the Rights of Migrants defines migrant as a term “covering all cases where the decision to migrate is taken freely by the individual concerned, for reasons of ‘personal convenience’ and without intervention of an external compelling factor”. The slipperiness of the term enables different modes of political commitment to its articulation, especially in relation to territory and rights.

Over the same decade, another kind of migration has been taking place on a global scale. The move to cloud computing, as JR Carpenter points out in The Gathering Cloud, constitutes a material, political and intellectual change in how we organise knowledge, resources and time. Just like the abstract nature of migrant bodies, this data migration is whispered in language that cloaks its material effects in immaterial metaphors. ‘Cloud’ computing is anything but cloud-like. It exists as a network of vast server farms driven by fossil fuels.

The Second Chapter of Something Other brings together a range of works from writers and artists that approach migration as a political term, a condition of living, and a social construct. We see Something Other as a home for such experimentation in performance and writing in the digital sphere. As the works presented here demonstrate, we are committed to work that is nomadic, irregular and reckless with borders.

Gloria Dawson writes about the fluidity and the rigidness of borders, which is to say, the fluctuating materiality of the public sphere, depending on your position. Phil Owen takes a walk through the borderland between Wales and England, writing through the experience of another’s memories, exploring the relationships between place, (in)sight and knowledge. 

Maddy Costa describes the constructions of language, belonging and knowledge in her  piece about growing up in a Greek-Cypriot family in London, without speaking Greek.. The politics of language are also explored in a collaborative video hosted by Lina Moreno, in which six Latin American artists write about the experience of adopting a second language, while living in different parts of the world.

Chris Cleverly, Agnes Poitevin-Navarre and Nicholas Burgess-Jones’ interdisciplinary work Ruth brings together spoken word, images and poetry to explore the ways the languages of migration are performed in embodied and disembodied ways.

Also working with the material of  language, but in the digital commons, Mary Paterson threads together a selection of emails she has received that were not meant for her, while Griffyn Gilligan presents a version of friendship through two and a half years of captured Snapchat conversations, against the background of political change in the UK and US. On a different digital ledge, Megan Vaughan examines the ethics of representation in relation  to migration and storytelling in the media.

A dancer working with language, Gemma Connell used a collaborative process to develop a new work as a choreography of meaning in shared space. In the midst of family and scientific history, Emily Orley explores the rise of radiology through the memories of her grandfather, carving through time to explore the ways in which identity emerges in the body and its imaginary.

In an interview with Alessandra Cianetti as part of her ongoing performing borders project, Bill Aitchison reflects on his displacement to China as a result of the introduction of income-based immigration law for non-EU citizens, including spouses.  Diana Damian Martin speaks to the temporality of migration, touching on the ways in which certain personal experiences are repoliticised by changing public discourse, particularly in regards to Romanians and Bulgarians living in the UK.

Most of the texts presented here were performed at Reading the Internet on 27 April 2017 at the Peckham Pelican, a fundraising event for Medecins sans Frontieres. And all have an implicit or explicit relation to performance, the live, or the performance of life, using performance to understand the operations of language, to politicise personal experience, to reflect on the choreographies of meaning that shape our encounter with migration. When we decided on this theme for The Second Chapter, we did not expect to edit a collection with such a strong relationship to the body. It emerges again and again as a site for memory, trauma and agency.

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