HomeObjects and African migrations

HomeObjects and African migrations

Objects and African migrations

Objets et migrations africaines

Subjectivities in Exile

Subjectivités en exil

*  *  *

Published on Monday, November 14, 2022 by Céline Guilleux


The Seventh Meeting of African Studies in France (REAF) dealt, in particular, with questions of mobility. As a follow-up, we invite researchers in the humanities and social sciences to address the issue of African migration through the lens of objects as traces of border crossings.



File coordinated by Hinde Maghnouji and Pierre Peraldi-Mittelette


The Seventh Meeting of African Studies in France (REAF) dealt, in particular, with questions of mobility. As a follow-up, we invite researchers in the humanities and social sciences to address the issue of African migration through the lens of objects as traces of border crossings. The movement of objects has been addressed recently in the anthropology of art[1], in the sociology of things[2], and even museology[3]. While such issues continue to be studied[4], in this call we opt for an approach focused more specifically on the links between objects and migrations. We consider objects as entities that accompany people, whether they have been brought with them[5] or constructed in the course of border crossings[6] — the kind of personobjects to which one can relate[7] and which enable one to remember one’s land and identity[8]. This issue contributes to broader reflections on the condition of the migrant[9], the exile[10] or the diaspora[11]. We intend to interrogate this return to the individual and to what he/she takes with him/her by following, among others, Alexandre-Garner and Galitzine-Loumpet (2020) who have set up a collective reflection concerning objects and migration. In this call, we wish to focus on objects that link people in a migratory situation to an elsewhere left behind, regardlessof the time that separates them from their place of departure. These objects may be brought with them, created during the journey, or they may be created in the host country. We propose here to explore the ways in which these objects create bridges between a present experience (in the host country or in transit) and an elsewhere left behind.

In this issue, we would like to gain a better understanding of the multiple relationships that are forged between people in situations of displacement (diaspora, exiles, refugees, asylum seekers) and the objects that accompany these different migrations. In this context, the relationships that individuals maintain with a whole series of objects bear witness to the migratory journey as such, but also allow access to a subjective universe marked by affect and emotion. The study of these objects makes it possible to approach the phenomenon of migration from multiple angles, notably because they activate memories. However, following Agier (2020), we understand ‘objects’ as only one of the elements that circumscribe ‘the symbolic life of migration – with narratives, places and objects’ (Alexandre-Garner and Galitzine-Loumpet 2020: 27).

Pursing the link between symbolism and site-specific studies, we would like to be able to address the link between space and language, thus enabling the three aspects of the symbolic life of migration to be combined. Other topics may also be addressed. Objects are relevant to understanding processes of transmission. They thus acquire an agentive and performative dimension. The articles may deal with material objects, those imbued with magic, or the writings of loved ones that one takes with one at the time of departure, as well as objects and words that are intended to welcome.

These reflections will be articulated around three themes below, which touch as much on objects and the imaginary, as on places and on what makes society possible. In each of the three themes, it will be interesting to discuss the methodology used to collect the materials necessary to study the distance between the interviewer and his interlocutors, as well as the distance, real and symbolic, felt by the interlocutors in a migratory situation. We have in mind the approach taken by Olmedo (2021) who explores co-constructing sensory maps to highlight the migratory journey of her interlocutors and the accounts they give of it. We will thus be able to question the notions of ‘arrival’ and ‘departure’ in the accounts of the migrants and analyse how these terms refer to the subjective experience of individuals. At what point does an individual consider that he or she is away from ‘home’? Similarly, can ‘arriving’ correspond to different moments in this journey? These notions of arrival and departure can coincide with an object or a series of objects that mark the stages of the journey.

The link between the history of the objects and that of the migrants will be at the heart of the first axis. The second axis will focus on objects that highlight the multifaceted and multimodal place of language in the migratory journey and studies related to speech, language and communication. The last axis will focus on objects that create the familiar by constructing a link with the countries of origin and the host country.

Axis 1: Stories of objects and stories of migrations

One rarely migrates empty-handed, i.e. without “objects”. When one moves, one often takes objects: clothes, souvenirs, protective gear, one or more photos. To this must be added the objects that one finds and those that one creates during the migratory journey, and once one has “arrived”. Firstly, there is the logic of the suitcase, a collection, sometimes scattered, of things that we take with us, and then the objects that accumulate as we travel. In this axis, we will deal with the history of these displaced objects as they are lost, stolen, or given, and what they tell us about the journey of individuals. These objects give rises to reflexions about otherness, selfrepresentation, and the links that allow one to be attached to one’s origins and identity. Yet at the same time they mark a kind of separation. Here our concern will be with material, concrete objects that people carry with them, and which are the singular markers of an equally singular history. 

Axis 2: Words in migration

In this axis we choose to deal with speech that is fixed in objects. It will thus be a question of analysing objects that allow speech to be broadcast and transmitted, such as telephones, computers, photos, audio cassettes (Sayad 1985) and paper. It is a question of understanding language as a set of verbal and non-verbal signals, written and oral, fixed on photographs, memory cards or videos that can be preserved on paper or on a smartphone for example. To put it differently, the language object will be treated here as a mediation that retraces or evokes elements of the migratory journey. The aim is to propose articles that take into account the place of written words (blessings or curses, expressions, prayers, etc.) that migrants take with them when they leave. We must address the place of social networks and the various call and messaging platforms (Whatsapp, Signal, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), which are indispensable tools for continuing to maintain a link, a relationship with the rest of the world (those who have remained in the country, those who have been lost during the crossing, the new links, etc.). These words that are carried or sent by message represent a fundamental line of reflection as we seek to better understand the subjectivities at stake in these different migratory journeys. We wish to focus on the place of spoken and written words and their impact on both individual and collective trajectories.

Axis 3: Material and immaterial links

Finally, this third axis will deal with the different forms that allow migrants to maintain links with the host country by recreating the familiar from certain evocative objects. These objects, sometimes hidden or barely visible, enable people to inscribe or reinscribe their subjectivity, their past, their origins in their new everyday life. In order to be able to enter a new territory, one must, most often, try to reconstitute a familiar space in which life is possible. Proposals should explore and evoke the mechanisms individuals and groups put in place to contain a feeling of strangeness. When moving to a particular neighbourhood or shopping for products used in the country, it is often a question of looking for spaces and objects that connect to a part of oneself. The tangible and intangible things that we array around ourselves (for example, ambiance, food, smells, but also modes of dwelling and of establishing oneself, creating links, putting down roots) can be read as attempts to recover a sense of the familiar. It is through this whole series of material objects, and objects that refer to immaterial notions, that one can be “at home” elsewhere.

These different axes will allow us to approach how migration feels and is experienced through the analysis of objects and their representations. Why do people keep, create or transmit objects? Which objects rather than others? What do these objects bring with them? What do they say about the background of the people interviewed? What do they say about community ties? These various questions call for meticulous methodological approaches from any and all disciplines. Proposals for articles may address, on the basis of specific and situated cases, themes such as – and this list is not exhaustive – language teaching, object transmission, accounts of what has been lost, how place is created, reproducing the ambiance that recalls an elsewhere, eating habits and food, the appropriation of stereotypes and everything that touches on the imaginary.


  • Hinde Maghnouji, ethnologist, doctor at IMAF (Ehess), clinical psychologist with asylum seekers in Paris.
  • Pierre Peraldi-Mittelette, ethnologist, doctor at LESC (UMR 7186), affiliated to the Convergences Migrations Institute (2021-2025).

Submission guidelines

Abstracts of proposed papers (350 words) are expected before 05 February 2023.

They should be sent by email to Pierre Peraldi-Mittelette (peraldimittelettepierre@yahoo.fr) and Hinde Maghnouji (hinde.maghnouji@gmail.com). Authors whose proposals have been selected will be informed in April 2023. The deadline for receipt of articles is 15 October 2023. Papers may be submitted in either French or English.

Articles are evaluated by two experts, on a double-blind basis. Manuscripts are sent to specialists who assess it according to the evaluation criteria established by the journal. The evaluation and annotated manuscript are then returned to the authors. The authors revise their articles, which is then submitted once again to at least one of the specialist evaluators.


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1 Bondaz 2016 ; Heinich 2002 ; Kauffman 1997 ; Latour 2008.

2 Appadurai 1986 ; Barthes 2000.

3 Bondaz 2016 ; Debary 2019 ; Gruson 2017 ; Hatzfeld 2015 ; Revolon, Lemonnier et Bailly 2012.

4 Canut et Sow 2014 ; De Gourcy et Chachoua 2018 ; Girard-Muscagorry et Goni 2022 ; Gutron et Skounti 2018 ; Peraldi et Terrazzoni 2016 ; Schinz 2021.

5 Kauffman 1997 ; Galitzine-Loumpet 2013 ; Thomas 2014 ; Grognet 2008.

6 Douville 2020.

7 Heinich 2002.

8 Anstett et Gélard 2014.

9 Agier et Le Courant 2022 ; Canut et Mazauric 2014 ; Leclerc-Olive 2018 ; Raulin, Cuche et Kuczynski 2009 ; Tassin 2017.

10 Alexandre-Garner et Galitzine-Loumpet 2020 ; Galitzine-Loumpet et Saglio-Yatzimirsky 2018 ; Nouss 2015 ; Sayad 1999.

11 Tololyan 2006.


  • Sunday, February 05, 2023


  • objet, migration, Afrique


  • Pierre Peraldi-Mittelette
    courriel : peraldimittelettepierre [at] yahoo [dot] fr

Information source

  • Pierre Peraldi-Mittelette
    courriel : peraldimittelettepierre [at] yahoo [dot] fr

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« Objects and African migrations », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, November 14, 2022, https://calenda.org/1029332

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