Decentering Gender and Migration -GenSeM at the 18th IMISCOE conference

At the 2021 IMISCOE annual conference, GenSeM organised two workshops bringing together scholars from different parts of the world, who are working on gender and migration, to reflect on how knowledge about gender and migration is produced and how it circulates. The first one, Uneven Circulation of Knowledge in Gender and Migration, saw the participation of five invited speakers from Europe, Asia and South America sharing their perspectives on the matter. The second workshop, Decolonising Gender and Migration, was an open, practical workshop which wanted to discuss how to develop reflexive and accountable research in the field of gender and migration (broadly defined) in order to put into practice feminist decolonial principles.

The workshops followed on research and events led by GenSeM members aiming to broaden current epistemic communities in the field of gender and migration. In particular Eleonore Kofman’s commentary in Comparative Migration Studies was important in starting this debate within GenSeM, as well as GenSeM first Migration Dialogue in October 2020. There, Eleonore was joined by Tanja Bastia and we discussed what ‘decolonising gender and migration’ may mean, how it could be done, by whom, and for whom.

We deepened and broadened the discussion at the IMISCOE conference. In the workshops we wanted to reflect on the personal experiences of the organisers and the participants’ as well as the audience as researchers of gender and migration, with different disciplinary and cultural backgrounds and working in different parts of the world. In their brief initial interventions, the panellists in the first workshop talked about their own experience of being involved in the production and circulation of knowledge about gender and migration, illustrating how educational trajectories, institutional set ups, different incentives and engagement with different languages contribute to the production of an uneven field of knowledge about gender and migration. Four themes stood out in our conversations: language, place, publications, and funding opportunities.

Several speakers argued that many institutions in non-Anglophone countries highly encourage teaching and publishing in English under the pressure to internationalize academic research. For example, Sirijit Sunanta (Mahidol University, Thailand) spoke about her experience writing about gender and migration at a Thai university, where the medium of writing and teaching is mostly in English. As a result, students are largely given materials to read in English and knowledge production, even when it is focused on Thailand and carried out by people proficient in the Thai language. Writing and presenting in English is seen as an advantage as it provides opportunities for participating at international discursive spaces. However, it poses obvious problems for scholars who may not be trained in an Anglophone country. This point was made by Masako Kudo (Kyoto Women's University, JP), trained predominantly in Japan and who has mostly taught and written in Japanese. She, and many other participants, emphasised that writing and presenting in English does not come easy to somebody who generally works in another language. This is not just about the language per se, but also about the different ways in which arguments are presented and developed and how articles are structured in different ways, in different languages.

Several workshop participants underlined that issues around language go beyond semantics. While writing in English can provide a potentially wider audience and raise visibility for scholars and universities from non-Anglophone countries, it also invests some research findings with more weight and prestige. In this context, Eleonore Kofman (Middlesex University, UK) described how the Gender Commission of International Geographical Union in the early 2000s began to be concerned about lack of publications from non-Western scholars due in large part to growing emphasis on (Western) theory demanded by journals and the marginalisation of theory produced in the South. This negatively affects the development of the nationally located knowledge communities. For example, Sirijit Sunanta emphasised how the field of gender studies could have been further developed in Thailand. The availability of more material in Thai language would benefit Thai scholars, especially graduate students and early-career researchers. Currently, gender concepts from the North are used to teach Thai students, although the contexts in which they are developed are very different. The knowledge of Thai gender concepts, on the other hand, is rather limited and conceptualized often by non-Thai anthropologists who study Thai society. The undesired effect of privileging English is to obscure existing research which, because of the language in which it is presented, is not sufficiently acknowledged in international academic communities with relatively greater access to social and economic capital.

 Many participants also highlighted the importance of place. We talked about place in three ways: where one is educated; where one conducts their research; and the political environment in which colleagues work. Colleagues, talking about the ‘coloniality of mind’, emphasised how the quality of higher education in the Global South is dismissed to advantage of higher education in the Global North, thus creating a hierarchy among academics working in the same country based on where they have been taught. Several participants from the global South also emphasised that their place of origin is often ‘imposed’ on them. Regardless of the geographical focus of their research, many expressed that they often find themselves in the position of being slotted in a position of ‘experts’ of their country. These expectations have shaped many colleagues’ choices of empirical research, especially in the earlier stages of their career. Finally, place, understood as national political environment, matters in a conversation about de-centring knowledge production and circulation. Colleagues recounted some of the challenges they have faced in introducing feminist or queer literature in their reading lists because of political pressures not to ‘politicise’ higher education. This made us reflect about the importance of attentiveness in conversations about decolonisation of research 

The issue of publishing is crucial when talking about uneven knowledge circulation. Tanja Bastia (Manchester University, UK) spoke about the challenges of how Northern institutions, by putting so much emphasis on top journals (which by definition, are those which are published in the English language), discourage co-production and lead to more extractive forms of knowledge production. Early career scholars are particularly vulnerable to having to make choices about which language and where to publish their research, giving preference to English language journals, even when this means that those who participated in the research will not be able to read its key findings. The favouring of top-ranked, Anglophone journals among academics (especially in the Global North), has clear implications for which empirical research is visible. This point was raised by Eleonore Kofman. She spoke about the fact that the bulk of the literature on gender and migration focuses on South-North or peripheral North (e.g. East-West Europe) migration flows.  In doing so, it omits the complexities and articulations between different types of migration where multi-scalar migrations comprising rural-urban, cross-border to neighbouring countries and longer-distance international migrations co-exist. The pressure to publish in top-ranked international journals has further implications for knowledge circulation. The costs to publish in Open Access and to access articles which are behind pay-wall, are prohibitive for scholars based in low- and middle- income countries. These fees further hamper a more equitable knowledge circulation, to the advantage of a few number of institutions. In trying to respond to the challenge of publishing, several workshop participants highlighted the importance of considering alternative research outlets which might enable scholars to share knowledge more widely. Among the possible strategies, we mentioned bilingual co-writing practices, bilingual publishing, organising multilingual conferences, negotiating retaining translation rights with publishers, and the importance of publishing in open access formats.

 Existing funding sources as well as logistical frameworks, obviously shape the global research landscape. Gioconda Herrera (FLACSO, Equador) stressed that funding bodies tend to give preference to South-North collaborations. This leads to a situation where even where there is a will and interest to initiate regional, South- South collaborations, there is little or no funding available, thereby limiting knowledge circulating and being created regionally. Furthermore, Northern institutions have greater access to funding for conferences and workshops, so they tend to initiate invitations to events for scholars based in the Global South. Such funding is generally lacking in other regions, where, in addition, regional travel is often prohibitively expensive (while distances significant). In this context, many participants emphasised how, despite all, the move online of much academic activities due to the current pandemic has levelled some of these inequalities enabling more scholars to be invited to and participate in academic events around the world. The hope is that, once international travelling resumes, academic organisations will not revert to normal business but instead develop hybrid events.

At GenSeM we are keen on keep discussing and acting upon these issues. Concretely, we will continue organise online and hybrid events to ensure that we can be as inclusive as possible and that we can benefit from research conducted further afield. We will also look into organising bi-lingual events; set up a list of bilingual journals; and, to the degree that is possible, support members in disseminating their research accessibly. If you would like to join us in this effort, and have other ideas about how this could be done, please get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Latest News