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Migration as Survival

Withheld Stories and the Limits of Ethnographic Knowability

Gerhild Perl

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.

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Gerhild Perl

How are politics generated by grief actually lived, and how do they endure? By exploring long-term repercussions of Europe’s lethal borders, I show what shape shared grief takes in the minute encounters between ‘ordinary people’ across borders and how alternative politics are lived as a vivid critique of the moral economy of the EU border regime. Therefore, I explore intimate uncertainties that arise both in the confrontation with death and in the unexpected affection between strangers. The analysis of a single shipwreck in 2003 indicates the need for more ethnographically nuanced, historically informed and translocal approaches to death during migration in anthropology.