Migration as Survival

Withheld Stories and the Limits of Ethnographic Knowability

in Migration and Society
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  • 1 University of Bern
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Abstract

How to write about survival? How to tell survival? By exploring manifold reasons to withhold a story, I shed light on the limits of ethnographic knowledge production and the politics of storytelling that mobilize one story and silence another. Through engaging with the fragmented narrative of a Moroccan survivor of a shipwreck in Spanish waters in 2003, I reconceptualize the movement called “migration as survival” by theorizing it as an ethnographic concept. I explore the different temporalities of survival as living through a life-threatening event and as living on in an unjust world. These interrelated temporalities of survival are embedded in the afterlife of the historical time of al-Andalus and the resurgent fear of the Muslim “Other.” By suggesting an existentially informed political understanding of the survival story, I show how the singularity of the survivor is inscribed in a regime of mobility that constrains people and their stories.

Contributor Notes

GERHILD PERL is a lecturer and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bern where she completed her PhD in February 2019. She held a six-month visiting fellowship at the University of Cambridge in 2017–2018. Her fieldwork was carried out in the research project “Intimate Uncertainties: Precarious Life and Moral Economy across European Borders,” directed by Sabine Strasser and funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Gerhild's research interests include existential approaches to life and death, irregular migration, as well as the past and present of the Moroccan-Spanish border region.

Migration and Society

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