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Material Life of The Displaced

La vie matérielle des déplacés

Categories, belongings, solidarities (19th-20th centuries)

Catégories, appartenances et solidarités (XIXe-XXe siècles)

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Published on Thursday, July 13, 2023


Les migrations de l’époque contemporaine ont d’abord été étudiées sous le prisme politique de la construction des États, de la sortie d’empire et de l’accueil des réfugiés. Porté par les renouvellements de l’histoire économique et de l’histoire des mobilités, notre colloque (5-6 décembre 2023) propose quant à lui de réfléchir à la vie matérielle des déplacés au XIXe et au XXe siècles. Comment le déplacement des populations modifie les conditions matérielles d’existence des déplacés eux-mêmes comme celles de la société d’accueil ? Dans les sources, trois grands axes se dégagent pour souligner l’importance de la vie matérielle dans l’histoire du déplacement des populations : l’appartenance, les catégories administratives et les solidarités. Il conviendra donc d’étudier pourquoi et comment l’entraide, l’appartenance et la catégorisation des déplacés s’articulent avec leur vie matérielle.


CHSP Doctoral Research Conference  | 5-6 December 2023, CHSP, 75007 Paris


Many representations of migrants, refugees, or exiles during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries place great emphasis on the possessions that displaced people brought with them. A great diversity of objects, from the baskets Italian migrants carried onto Ellis Island in the late nineteenth century to the rags and livestock brought by Muslims fleeing India in 1947, offer glimpses into the many differences between displaced people: of departure and arrival conditions, of national and local identity, of class, of generation, and of gender. What place did these possessions occupy in their transnational trajectories or in their economic strategies? To what degree did displaced people’s material identities relate to their senses of belonging, or the categories imposed upon them? How could this material dimension of belonging bring about forms of solidarity, or conflict, between displaced people or with their host societies?

These questions demand a reflection on the relations between population displacement and material conditions of existence. The mobility turn (Roche, 2003) has prompted historians to question the distinction between migrants and refugees (Elie, 2014). Economic and imperial competition in the nineteenth century and the effects of world war and decolonization in the twentieth underpinned and shaped protean and variegated practices of migrant categorisation (Gatrell, 2013; Zahra, 2017). As such, we adopt a broad definition of “the displaced”, to capture all forms of “forced mobilities”, defined as “the result of structural imperatives and an intentionality, an agency” (Diaz, 2014). The importance of the economic both in push-and-pull factors and in decisions taken by displaced persons justifies this questioning of the distinction between migrants, refugees, and exiles. But economic and social capital alone are not the sole determining features. Labour historians have highlighted the great diversity of factors weighing on migratory situations, including class, gender, age, and race (Green, 2008). Engaging with the economic history of the displaced and with labour historiographies that link material life, belongings, and solidarities, this conference seeks to shed light on forms of mobility that have hitherto received less attention.

By material life, we mean living standards, labour, housing, and consumption practices, including food, clothing, objects, and tools (Braudel, 1961). Through the lens of cultural history, historians of forced displacement have focused on the symbolic value of these (also displaced) things (Auslander, 2018). However, the economic, cultural, and political values and meanings of certain objects depend less on their inherent nature than on the ways in which people use them (Lefebvre, 1974; Certeau, 1990). For this reason, this conference invites researchers to consider how displaced people’s possessions and their uses of them participated in the construction of social stratifications and hierarchies, or the accumulation of wealth.

Studying the history of the displaced through their material life opens a dialogue on the role of economic factors in processes of identification or belonging. In turn, this enables us to go beyond binary analyses of assimilation or not to grasp the complexity and dynamism of these relations. Moreover, examining the material life of the displaced sheds light upon the superimposition of identities and belongings throughout transnational trajectories as well as the reconfiguration of social hierarchies that may result from these mobilities. Writing the history of the social and economic life of mobilities implies investigating logics of solidarity and competition that develop between the displaced – at different scales, from the local to the transnational – or between the displaced and the host society. By the same token, these forms of solidarity play an important role in the transformation of the living conditions of the displaced. This is the case, for example, with migrant associations or national and transnational networks of solidarity.

In sum, this conference seeks to engage with the history of economic life and the history of mobilities to study how mutual-aid, belonging, and categorisation of the displaced stemmed from and interacted with the very material dimensions of their lives. This set of considerations covers the nineteenth and  centuries, and we encourage studies that take into account a range of scales, chronologies, and places: from the ways in which the economic and social capital of the displaced shaped their displacement, to what became of their possessions after their death, via the relationship between productive and reproductive activities undertaken. Because the period under consideration was marked by an increase in flows of capital, labour, and consumption in regional, national, imperial, and colonial frameworks, papers investigating transnational and trans-imperial solidarity between the displaced are particularly encouraged. Contributions are welcome on, but not limited to, the following sets of questions:

  • What economic strategies did displaced people employ, at the scale of the individual, the family and the community? What influence did gender, race, class, and age have on these strategies? How did dynamics of downward or upward social mobility that spatial mobilities bring about reinforce or disrupt logics of belonging, and transform ties between host societies and communities of the displaced?
  • How did solidarities shape the economic strategies put in place by the displaced? How did material considerations structure practices of mutual aid, institutionalised or otherwise, from the local to the transnational scale? How did the incertitude of changing place provoke conflicts for the use of resources and define new hierarchies between displaced and host populations, and between the displaced themselves?
  • The place of material life in policies of state and non-state institutions towards the displaced also deserves attention. To what extent did material considerations shape the rejection, reception, and management of these populations? How did these institutions seek to control the physical possessions of the displaced as well as their relations and associations?
  • Finally, approaching mobilities through the lens of material life inevitably raises the question of sources. How can historians retrace the material life of individuals and groups, given that their transnational trajectories often leave little trace? What can the study of objects and other non-textual sources bring to the history of the displaced?

Submission guidelines

This conference is open to young researchers (current PhD students or those recently awarded a doctorate) from any country, and will be bilingual English-French. Submissions, written in English or in French, must include a title and an abstract of 300-500 words as well as a short biography, and must be sent to the following address: viematerielle.colloque2023@gmail.com

before 30 August 2023

The publication of a selection of papers in a journal is expected.

Some funds are available for travel and accommodation expenses. Please indicate in your submission whether you require financial aid, and from where you will travel. We encourage participants who can, to rely on institutional funding, so that the conference budget can help those most in need.


  • Owen Coughlan (University of Oxford)
  • Sibylle Fourcaud (CHSP)
  • Isabelle Linais (CHSP)
  • Abel Solans (CHSP)

Scientific Comittee

  • Angelos Dalachanis (CNRS-IHMC)
  • Nicolas Delalande (CHSP)
  • Delphine Diaz (Université de Reims)
  • Isabelle Grangaud (Centre Norbert Elias, CNRS)
  • David Todd (CHSP)


  • Centre d'histoire de Sciences Po (CHSP)
  • Center for History of Economics in Paris (CHEP)
  • Institut Universitaire de France (IUF)


Agier, Michel et Madeira, Anne-Virginie, Définir les réfugiés, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 2017.

Aprile, Sylvie, Le Siècle des exilés: bannis et proscrits de 1789 à la Commune, Paris, CNRS Éditions, 2010.

Avanza, Martina et Laferté, Gilles, « Dépasser la « construction des identités » ? Identification, image sociale, appartenance », Genèses, volume 61, n°4, 2005, p.134-152.

Auslander, Leora et Zahra, Tara, Objects of War: The Material Culture of Conflict and Displacement, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2018.

Barton, Nimisha, Reproductive Citizens: Gender, Immigration, and the State in Modern France, 1880-1945, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2020.

Bauder Harald and Lorelle Juffs, « ‘Solidarity’ in the migration and refugee literature: analysis of a concept », Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, volume 46, n°1, 2020, p.46-65.

Braudel, Fernand, « Présentation », Annales. Economies, sociétés, civilisations, 3, 1961.

Can, Lale, Spiritual Subjects: Central Asian pilgrims and the Ottoman hajj at the End of Empire, Redwood City, Stanford University Press, 2020.

Certeau, Michel de, L’invention du quotidien, t.1 Arts de faire, Paris, Gallimard, 1990.

Clancy-Smith, Julia, Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2010.

Diaz, Delphine, « Comparer les mobilités contraintes », Hypothèses, volume 17, n°1, 2014, p.145-155.

Diaz, Delphine, En exil: les réfugiés en Europe, de la fin du XVIIIe siècle à nos jours, Paris, Gallimard, 2021.

Dirk, Hoerder, Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millenium, Durham, Duke University Press, 2002.

Dziuban, Zuzanna et Stańczyk, Ewa, « Introduction: The surviving thing: Personal objects in the aftermath of violence », Journal of Material Culture, volume 25, n°4, 2020, p.381-390.

Elie, Jérôme, « Histories of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies », in Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Gil Loescher, Katy Long, Nando Sigona (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.

Faist, Thomas, « The mobility turn: a new paradigm for the social sciences? », Ethnic and Racial Studies, volume 36, n°11, 2013, p.1637-1646.

Featherstone, David, Solidarity, Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism,  Londres, Bloomsbury, 2012.

Fontaine, Laurence, Histoire du colportage en Europe:(XVe-XIXe siècle), Paris, Albin Michel, 1993.

Yi-Neumann, Friedemann, Lauser, Andrea, Fuhse, Antonie et Bräunlein, Peter J. (éd.), Material Culture and (Forced) Migration. Materializing the Transient, Londres, UCL Press, 2022.

Friedrichs, Anne et Severin-Barboutie, Bettina , « Mobilités, catégorisation et appartenance », Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales, volume 76, n°3, 2021, p.445-455.

Gatrell, Peter, The making of the modern refugee, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.

Green Nancy L., The Limits of Transnationalism, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2019.

Green, Nancy L., « La migration des élites. Nouveau concept, anciennes pratiques ? », Les Cahiers du Centre de Recherches Historiques, n°42, 2008, p.107-116.

Green, Nancy L, Ready-to-wear and ready-to-work: A century of industry and immigrants in Paris and New York, Durham, Duke University Press, 1997.

Hamed-Troyansky, Vladimir, Imperial Refugee: Resettlement of Muslims from Russia in the Ottoman Empire, 1860-1914, Thèse de doctorat en histoire, sous la direction de Joel Beinin, Standford, Stanford University, 2018.

Lefebvre, Henri, La production de l’espace, Paris, Economica, (2005, 1ère éd. 1974)

Levitt, Peggy et Schiller, Nina G., « Conceptualizing Simultaneity: A Transnational Social Field Perspective on Society », The International Migration Review , volume 38, n°3, 2004, p.1002-1039

Maitte, Corine, Les chemins de verre: les migrations des verriers d'Altare et de Venise (XVIe-XIXe siècles), Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2019.

Roche, Daniel, Humeurs vagabondes. De la circulation des hommes et de l’utilité des voyages, Paris, Fayard, 2003.

Stephens, Julia, « An uncertain inheritance: The imperial travels of legal migrants, from British India to Ottoman Iraq », Law and History Review, volume 32, n°4, 2014, p.749-772.

Tarrius, Alain, « Territoires circulatoires et espaces urbains : Différenciation des groupes migrants », Les Annales de la recherche urbaine, n°59-60, 1993, p.51-60.


  • 1 place Saint-Thomas d'Aquin
    Paris, France (75)


  • Wednesday, August 30, 2023


  • mobilité, déplacé, réfugié, migration, appartenance, catégorie, espace social, culture matérielle, matérialité, solidarités, association, empire


  • Isabelle Linais
    courriel : isabelle [dot] linais [at] sciencespo [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Isabelle Linais
    courriel : isabelle [dot] linais [at] sciencespo [dot] fr


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

To cite this announcement

« Material Life of The Displaced », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, July 13, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1bkp

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