Knowledge Production in Displacement and Forced Migration

Apr 17, 2023 - Apr 18, 2023

Workshop at the University of California, Santa Barbara | Conveners: Joshua Donovan (GHI Washington | Pacific Office), Vitalij Fastovskij (GHI Washington | Pacific Office), and Vladimir Hamed-Troyansky (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Conference website

Due, in part, to humanitarian crises in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, scholarship on refugees has proliferated in recent years. A significant number of studies were devoted to understanding the root causes of political, religious, ethnic, gendered, and/or state violence, which often drives displacement and forced migration. Others have focused on how refugees have navigated humanitarian networks and often racialized immigration systems in order to find safe havens. Still others have considered how intersectional identities shape refugee experiences.

Although scholars, states, and non-state actors alike have compiled and produced a substantial amount of knowledge about refugees and displaced peoples, less work has been done to recover the intellectual and cultural currents these populations carry with them and the knowledge that they produce during the processes of transit and resettlement. Owing to the inherently precarious circumstances faced by people who have experienced forced migration, refugees are often seen as actors who have limited agency – as people who were forced from their homes and left to the mercies of humanitarian organizations and host states. However, displaced people preserve, produce, and transmit knowledge in many forms about the places they were forced to leave behind, about their experiences of relocation, and about how to grapple with the legacies of their displacement. We contend that this knowledge production shapes the places left behind, places in which refugees have settled temporarily or permanently, and the broader international community.

This workshop builds on one of the German Historical Institute’s core research foci, migration and knowledge production, along with its recent efforts to historicize the refugee experience in order to better understand the forms of knowledge transmitted and produced by displaced people both past and present. It is intended to be an interdisciplinary workshop open to faculty, recent PhDs, and advanced graduate students in the humanities and social sciences, including but not limited to the fields of history, ethnic and area studies, gender and sexuality studies, political science, anthropology, sociology, and literature studies. The geographic focus of the workshop is open, but we are particularly interested in studies focused on the first half of the twentieth century.

Possible questions to consider include (but are not limited to):

The Nature of Knowledge Production by Refugees and Displaced Peoples

  • What does refugee knowledge production look like? What forms can it take?
  • What role does memory play for communities of displaced people?
  • How does knowledge production by displaced people shape subject formation or notions of communal identity?

Methodological Questions

  • How can scholars access knowledge production from displaced people ethically and methodologically?
  • How do factors like time or geography shape knowledge production by refugees and displaced people?
  • How does the process of transit create a disjuncture in knowledge production? Are there continuities?

Displaced People and Global Human Rights

  • How do institutions shape knowledge production by refugee communities?
  • Have refugees shaped global rights discourses? Conversely, have global rights discourses shaped refugee knowledge production?
  • How can knowledge production help refugee communities navigate humanitarian and migratory systems? How do refugees preserve and transmit this knowledge to others in similarly precarious positions?
  • How can a better understanding of knowledge production by displaced people shape scholarship on refugees, migration, and/or human rights?

The organizers plan to publish select papers in an edited volume or special journal issue.

Papers will be pre-circulated to allow maximum time for discussion and workshopping. The workshop language will be English. Please upload a brief CV (2-3 pages max) and a proposal of no more than 600 words to our online portalby November 15, 2022. Proposals should indicate the contribution’s argument, methods, and sources, as well as its relevance to the workshop topic.

Accommodations will be arranged and paid for by the conference organizers. Participants will make their own travel arrangements; funding subsidies for travel are available upon request for selected scholars, especially those who might not otherwise be able to attend the workshop, including junior scholars, scholars without university affiliations, and those from universities with limited resources. If necessary, we can make arrangements for virtual or hybrid participation as well.

Please contact Heike Friedman ( if you have problems submitting your information online. All other questions pertaining to the workshop and application process should be directed to Joshua Donovan ( or Vitalij Fastovskij (

Successful applicants will be notified in November 2022.

About the Conference Sponsors

The Pacific Office of the German Historical Institute Washington contributes to bringing the Pacific world into the GHI’s research agenda. It helps to broaden the scope and perspective of the GHI’s established programs in North American and transatlantic history, German and European history, and transregional and global history. The Pacific Office takes up our institute’s long-established interest in the history of migration and combines it with approaches in the history of knowledge, which has been a research focus at the GHI since 2015. Interdisciplinary by design, the program in migrant knowledge aims to foster exchange among scholars in fields such as history, migration studies, political science, and cultural studies. It also goes beyond academia by including experts in the governmental and NGO sectors in the discussion. Please visit our blog for more information and to join the network.

The Migration Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) was established in 2019 to support scholars at USCB who work on global migration from multiple disciplinary and intellectual perspectives. It has also partnered with immigrant rights organizations throughout California, providing a framework for scholars to inform community groups, public officials, and other important stakeholders.