HomeMigration in Belgium: Epistemological issues, History, Public action and Mobilisations

HomeMigration in Belgium: Epistemological issues, History, Public action and Mobilisations

Migration in Belgium: Epistemological issues, History, Public action and Mobilisations

Migrations en Belgique : enjeux épistémologiques, histoire, action publique et mobilisations

Migratie in België: Epistemologische kwesties, Geschiedenis, Publieke actie en Mobilisaties

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Published on Wednesday, May 17, 2023


This study day aims to bring together researchers from different social science disciplines (anthropology, law, economics, geography, history, philosophy, psychology, political science, sociology, etc.) working on migration issues in Belgium. In a context where migration phenomena are regularly at the forefront of political and media news (“reception crisis”, border management and control, citizen mobilisations, etc.), the aim of this study day is, on the one hand, to review the progress of research in the various social science disciplines in this field, and, on the other hand, to refine academic analyses through a multidisciplinary dialogue. This meeting thus intends to contribute to a better understanding of the migration phenomenon in Belgium. 



On the initiative of the research centres in sociology (CESIR), history (CRHiDI) and political science (CRESPO) of the University Saint-Louis Brussels and the centre for sociological research (CeSO) of KU Leuven, we are pleased to invite you to submit your paper proposals for the multidisciplinary study day entitled: “Migration in Belgium: Epistemological issues, History, Public action, and Mobilisations”. This study day will be held on the 16 and 17 November 2023.

Researchers wishing to join the event are invited to propose a paper in at least one of the following four thematic areas:

Axis 1: History of migration in Belgium

This axis aims to explore migration in Belgium from a historical perspective. The history of migration, as such, remains relatively unexplored. In fact, European research has long been nourished by American historiography, and in particular by the sociologists of the Chicago School, who developed the first studies on ethnic groups and their insertion into the city (Zolberg 2005; Viet 2005). The founding article by the historian Frank Thistlethwaite (1964) inaugurated the historicisation of the migration issue at that time. At the same time, the desire to construct a history of the marginalized and minorities, including the history of immigration, was emerging in France (Noiriel 2005). In Belgium, during the 1990s, Anne Morelli directed two works that undeniably contributed to the construction of a history of migration: the first work retraced the history of populations 'from elsewhere' from prehistoric times to more contemporary times (2004 [1992]), and the second, Les Émigrants belges (1998), looked back at the successive emigrations from our regions since the 16th century.

This historiography will be reinforced by the numerous works of Frank Caestecker (2012, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020), which analyse Belgian migration policy and the status of foreigners.

In this area, we are particularly interested in proposals for papers on topics such as:

  • the evolution of the political, legal, social and economic frameworks, which condition or influence the departure or settlement of migrants in Belgium;
  • the family and socialisation dynamics that develop within immigrant populations (associations, mobilisations, etc.);
  • the economic, social, political and cultural contributions of immigrants; 
  • the relationship between the State and migrant populations since the creation of Belgium (discourses, representation, policies, etc.);

Axis 2 : Migration policy in Belgium

In Belgium, the 1980 law on the residence, settlement and removal of foreigners marked a turning point in the management of the migration phenomenon as an object of public policy (Martiniello and Rea 2012), as well as a turning point for the attention of sociologists, political scientists and jurists in migration public policy (Rea 2007). The public action analysis approach has made it possible to study the recomposition of public policies (Frigoli 2010; Bassi 2015), as well as to broaden the field of study to social intervention networks (Mescoli and Roblain, 2021), the practices of street-level implementers (Spire, 2007; Crosby, 2019; Mascia, 2021) and the forms of agentivity of the targeted populations in relation to the legal framework (Merla, Sarolea and Schoumaker, 2022). In the Belgian context, this perspective takes into account the articulation between different levels of governance, including European and international regulations, federal competences in terms of reception (Mescoli, 2021b), detention, regularisation and removal of foreigners (Martiniello and Rea, 2012; Crosby, 2016; 2019; Carlier, 2008), but also regional and local integration, anti-discrimination, and social cohesion policies (Adam and Jacobs, 2014; Garibay and De Cuyper, 2013; 2018; Vandermeerschen et al. 2020; Nassaux, 2020; Lafleur and Mescoli, 2018; Gsir and Mandin, 2012; Sarolea, 2006).

In this area, we are particularly interested in proposals for papers on topics such as: 

  • the actors (political, public, associative, private), the instruments and devices (regulatory, institutional,...), the representations (standards, ideologies, discourses, controversies) and the processes of setting the agenda, elaboration, implementation and evaluation of Belgian migration public action;
  • the impacts of legislative and administrative reforms on public and private actors responsible for migration management, on implementing agents and on migrant populations;
  • analysis of specific migration management systems and networking between actors;
  • ...

Axis 3: Mobilisations and solidarity in Belgium

Civil mobilisation relating to migrant rights, reception and/or regularisation have increased in recent years in several European states (Lendaro 2018; Pette 2019; Veron 2019; Steinhilper 2019; Brücker 2019), as well as in Belgium (Vertonghen 2017; Martiniello et al. 2018; Mescoli et al. 2019, Lambert et al. 2019; Vandevoordt et al. 2019; Hetmanska et al 2021; Mellas 2022). Migrant and solidarity organisations organise and structure themselves into political movements and give visibility to migration issues. This thematic axis aims to study past or recent episodes related to the mobilisation of, against or in solidarity with immigrants seeking status in Belgium, the dynamics of mobilisation and solidarity : migrant workers' struggles (Rea 1999; Khoojinian 2006, Alaluf and De Schutter 2003; Mauze & Vertongen 2016), social movements in favour of the right to vote for foreigners (Mabille, 1990; Jacobs & Teney, 2007; Zibouh, 2007), mobilisations of undocumented migrants (Beauchesne, 2000; Bietlot, 2007; Deleixhe et al, 2016; Vertongen, 2017 and 2018) and citizen solidarity initiatives (Rea et al., 2019; Deleixhe, 2018; Costa-Santos et al., 2022)).

In this area, we are particularly interested in proposals for papers on topics such as: 

  • the conditions for the emergence and perpetuation of alliances between actors with different socio-legal statuses;
  • the spaces for mobilisation (occupations, squats, social centres, churches, universities, etc.) and their impact on the types of action and socialisation that emerge there;
  • the discourses mobilised by stakeholders in order to increase their chances of obtaining a residence permit, or to justify their inclusion in a mobilisation;
  • the repression and penalisation of resistance, including its impact in terms of de-mobilisation;
  • social and political counter-movements (e.g. opposition to the establishment of a reception centre)
  • ...

Axis 4: Epistemological and methodological issues

In an academic context of knowledge production where epistemological and methodological frameworks are increasingly questioned in their tendency to reproduce symbolic and institutional violence (Mazzocchetti 2016), but also inequalities and colonial relics (Shuayb & Brun 2021), this axis aims to explore the methodological and epistemological challenges related to research on migration in Belgium. Beyond the principle of 'do no harm' (Stierl 2020; Mackenzie et al. 2007; Hugman et al. 2011), it is a question of questioning the researcher's positionality (Murru 2020a; Pezzani & Heller 2013; Stierl 2019, 2020; Garelli & Tazzioli 2013) and the place of ethical commitment within this field, where power relations are never entirely absent (Saltsman & Jacobsen 2021; Mackenzie et al 2007). Many reflections complement each other in an attempt to account for the dynamics of agency and resistance of respondents (Mezzadra 2010; Pezzani & Heller 2013; Garelli & Tazzioli 2013; Brown & Strega 2015; Murru 2020b; Stierl, 2019; Miranda et al. 2011; Bracke 2016), but also possible collaborations and co-creations (Shuayb & Brun 2021) as well as innovative and participatory methods (Saltsman & Majidi 2021; Mekdjian 2016; Day et al. 2017; Doná 2007). 

In this area, we are particularly interested in proposals for papers on topics such as: 

  • The relationship of the researcher (especially the political and/or activist one) to his/her field of study and to his/her respondents, and the difficult objectification that may occur during the course of the investigation;
  • The centrality of migrants’ agency and forms of resistance, breaking with a victimising and centralised approach on “vulnerability”;
  • The construction of migration categories ;
  • Difficulties in accessing sources and risks associated with data dissemination;
  • Investigative methods and ethical issues related to research with migrant populations, in particular innovative, collaborative, co-constructed methods, or methods that mobilise creativity, performance, art or technology ;
  • ...

Modalities of intervention

This study day is primarily aimed at researchers, academics and PhD students in social sciences who work on migration issues in the Belgian context, but also at field workers, members of associations or collectives. It is important that all proposals address one or more of the above-mentioned axes, either exclusively or transversally. A poster session may also be organised during which neophyte researchers will introduce their research project or their contribution to the study of migration in Belgium. The study day is envisaged as a springboard to a collective publication, the modalities of which will be discussed by the group of participants.

We invite you to submit a proposal for a paper or a poster of no more than 250 words (in English, French or Dutch), together with a short biographical note,

by the 1st of July 2023

to the following addresses:

  • adriana.costasantos@usaintlouis.be,
  • naike.garny@kuleuven.be, 
  • hajar.ouladbentaib@usaintlouis.be
  • youri.vertongen@usaintlouis.be.

The proposals will be evaluated by a reading committee composed of the coordinators of the study day who will announce the selection to the participants on 15 July 2023 the latest. Final papers will be due on 1 October 2023.

Reading committee

  • Adriana Costa Santos, PhD student in social and political sciences, Centre de recherches et d'interventions sociologiques (CESIR), Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles (USL-B)
  • Naïké Garny, PhD student in sociology, Centre for Sociological Research (CeSO), KU Leuven
  • Hajar Oulad Ben Taib, teaching assistant, Centre de recherche en histoire du droit, des institutions et de la société (CRHIDI), Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles (USL-B) 
  • Youri Lou Vertongen, Visiting-Professor, Centre de recherche en Science Politique (CRESPO), Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles (USL-B)


  • Boulevard du Jardin Botanique 43
    Brussels, Belgium (1000)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Saturday, July 01, 2023


  • migration, public action, collective action, history of migration, epistemology, multidisciplinarity


  • Adriana Costa Santos
    courriel : adriana [dot] costasantos [at] usaintlouis [dot] be

Information source

  • Youri Lou Vertongen
    courriel : youri [dot] vertongen [at] usaintlouis [dot] be


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Migration in Belgium: Epistemological issues, History, Public action and Mobilisations », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, May 17, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1b6g

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