Migration: People and Cultures Across Borders

Large scale human migration dominates many regions of the world today, and migration has often emerged as a divisive political issue. But human migration is not a new or unknown phenomenon. It exists within a broad historical context, and is driven by diverse international as well as national social, economic, technological and political factors. The Migration Research Community brings a wide range of scholarly expertise to bear upon contemporary migration issues. It aims to facilitate a multidisciplinary discussion that can educate and inform, and where possible, provide new frameworks for mitigating conflict and inequities.

About the Project

Led by coordinator Professor Sandra Bermann, the community — with a core group of 22 scholars — frames its multidisciplinary inquiry from a number of vantage points to better understand the nature of migration, its narration and representation, and the ways in which it shapes the modern world. These include:

  • Economics
  • Religion
  • Journalism
  • Literature
  • Law
  • Politics
  • Sociology
  • Anthropology
  • History
  • Public policy
  • Translation

Probing various aspects of migration from a variety of disciplinary, historical and geographical perspectives, the Research Community engages Princeton faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, staff, and members of the greater Princeton community through public lectures, conferences, websites and events. These projects are so far organized around six principal lines of inquiry, to be developed over the coming three years.

Lines of Inquiry

Narratives of Migration

The media flood us with images and stories of peoples on the move, often with tragic beginnings — and equally tragic ends. But when and how do paradigmatic migrant stories emerge as crucial devices for conveying the nature of mass migration? How do existing structures such as applications for asylum and journalistic conventions shape the narratives that are currently disseminated, and what sorts of stories do they render impossible to transmit? How do migrant stories shape opinion in both international and national arenas? What new and different stories are currently being written or might be devised?

The Ethics and Politics of the Undocumented

Normative, legal, humanistic, and empirical research can all join to illuminate central questions framing the category of the “undocumented.” What does this term mean? How is it deployed in our political, imaginative and social lives? What are its analogues in national contexts outside of the U.S.? Colleagues from many fields within and beyond the university will engage with a range of ethical and political questions related to this issue. The research group will also reach out to undocumented people in the Princeton area.


Migrant, expat, asylum seeker, refugee, undocumented immigrant — the terminology around migration is as robust as it is politicized. Much is at stake in these terms, and in their corollaries in different languages, both in terms of perception and in terms of legal rights. How do the terminologies around migration shape the reception and perception of migrants in different cultures, and what sorts of complications arise in the translation of migration?

Changing Nationalisms in an Era of Transnationalism

In today’s globalized world, international migration associated with cross-border commerce and multinational business, facilitated by inexpensive but fast communication and transportation technologies, has blurred traditional boundaries of nationalism and national identity. In the meantime, these social changes have also enabled diasporic communities living abroad to be culturally and socially connected to people of their national origins. How have different nations responded to these social changes and why? Who are the individuals who cross “borders” and “boundaries” within this context? What are the social, economic, and political implications of these changes?

Arts in Transit

Many issues arise around language, communication and culture in the context of migration. How, for instance, do literary texts, memoirs, music and the visual arts move within and through cultures and how do these — often market-driven — artifacts reveal and affect broader ‘cultural translations’? How do differing political and cultural power structures figure within them? How might they support or undermine more direct educational initiatives?

Language Justice

Not knowing a particular language can clearly affect the lives of international or national migrants, sometimes affecting their very survival. Linguistic challenges extend from daily communications concerning issues like health and education, to issues of legal status.  Language (and with it translation) is key to the multiple roles migrants play — as family members, job seekers and workers (documented or undocumented), and often as targets of police activity. What might language justice mean in these contexts?

Curricular Contributions

In its third year, the community will mount a team-taught course on the topic of migration that will draw on its previous years of research and collaboration.


Sandra L. Bermann, Cotsen Professor in the Humanities; Professor of Comparative Literature 

Core Members

Alicia Adsera, Tenured Research Scholar and Lecturer in Economics and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School

David M. Bellos, Meredith Howland Pyne Professor of French and Comparative Literature; Director, Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication

Andre Benhaim, Associate Professor of French

Sarah A. Chihaya, Assistant Professor of English

Karen Emmerich, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature

Patricia Fernandez-KellyProfessor of Sociology, Research Associate in Office of Population Research. Acting Director, Program in Latino Studies; Director, Program in Migration and Development

Simon E. Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor of English

Desmond Jagmohan, Assistant Professor of Politics; University Center for Human Values

Andrew Johnson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Beth Lew-Williams, Assistant Professor of History

Rosina A. Lozano, Assistant Professor of History

Stephen J. Macedo, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and the University Center for Human Values

Douglas S. Massey, Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School; Director, Office of Population Research; Director, Program in Population Studies; Director, Program in Urban Studies

Elaine H. Pagels, Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion

Cyrus Schayegh, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies; Director, Program in Near Eastern Studies

Esther H. Schor, Professor of English

Kim Lane Scheppele, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values

Joe Stephens, Lecturer, Council of the Humanities; Ferris Professor of Journalism

Marta Tienda, Maurice P. During Professor in Demographic Studies, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Program in Latino Studies

Ali A. Valenzuela, Assistant Professor of Politics and Latino Studies

Michael G. Wood, Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Emeritus

Yu Xie, Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Sociology and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies

Graduate Student Fellow

Liesl Yamaguchi, Ph.D. Candidate, Comparative Literature


Jayne Bialkowski
Program Manager

Source : Migration: People and Cultures Across Borders | PIIRS

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