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‘Mapping Migrancies’: A discursive mapping approach to analyse lived experiences of skilled migration infrastructures (2020)

Posted on:
August 25, 2020

What is this research about?

This paper reports on a research project that explores a gap in exploring infrastructures of formal migration, and their entanglements with migrants’ own subjectivities by arguing for a new research agenda on migration infrastructure. The study uses a ‘discursive mapping’ approach involving in-depth interviews and mind-maps sketched by 27 research participants based in Australia and Canada as they narrated their migration experience.

What do you need to know?

The recent ‘infrastructural turn’ in migration studies has provided valuable insights into the emergence and functions of different aspects of migration infrastructure such as the commercial migration industry, social networks, and technological innovations (Xiang and Lindquist 2014). The focus of current scholarship, however, has been on how these infrastructures mobilise migrants, predominantly across irregular migration pathways. There remains a gap in exploring infrastructures of formal migration, and their entanglements with migrants’ own subjectivities. This paper draws upon the experiences of three migrants to illuminate how their journeys are intertwined with and shaped by migration infrastructures - particularly media and regulatory processes. By (re)centring the infrastructural focus on migrants’ own agencies, desires, and life-courses, this study presents nuanced understandings of the lived experience of skilled migration infrastructures.

What did the researcher do?

The author reviewed empirical research, and presents arguments underlining the importance of exploring skilled migration infrastructures. This is followed by an analysis of the national case studies including a brief definition of skilled migration in the context of this study, the methodological considerations for this research, and an overview of mental mapping as a method. She then turns to the findings which zoom into migrants’ encounters with technology and regulatory infrastructures, to demonstrate the intricacies of skilled migration processes that span beyond categorical classifications and dichotomies of arrival/departure, temporary/permanent, skilled/non-skilled. In doing so this paper attempts to humanise the process of migration by shifting the infrastructural gaze from infrastructures to experiences. The author argues that this shift is critical in better understanding migration infrastructures that are not simply processes that migrants go through but are lived, felt and communicated with as they collide with migrants’ social worlds and individual subjectivities.

What did the researcher find?

Studies on “migration infrastructure calls for research that is less fixated on migration as behaviour or migrants as the primary subject” (Xiang & Lindquist, 2014, p. 122). Migrants themselves take a back seat as the focus is not on how migrants move but how they are moved. Through an analysis of migrants’ interactions with technology and regulatory infrastructures in this study, this paper demonstrates that such a framing discounts the role of migrants as active agents with social and material resources that they use to negotiate and navigate diverse aspects of their lives.

By zooming into migrants’ interactions with technological and regulatory infrastructures, this paper argues for a more holistic understanding of skilled migration processes that are entwined with participants’ social and individual subjectivities. Much of the work on infrastructural mechanisms in migration studies tends to focus on singular aspects of these assemblages. We have seen for example, a vast array of scholarship focused on migrants use of digital technologies (Leurs & Ponzanesi, 2018; Pink et al., 2016; Oh, 2016). While these studies have uncovered important ways in which migrants interact with digital and media infrastructures, the narratives in this paper demonstrate that these infrastructures are one aspect of the migration process, and their use depends upon migrants’ personal circumstances and needs. Migrants play an active role in choosing and switching between media platforms; and between receiving and providing advice.

Furthermore, a majority of scholarship conducted on migration infrastructures are based within sending contexts focusing on aspects of departure. As this paper shows, migrants encounter new and diverse types of regulatory infrastructures upon their arrival based on their legal and social status. The narratives demonstrate how participants’ plans, negotiations, and aspirations are enmeshed with regulatory infrastructures and migrants are involved in constant negotiations with these systems as they move across different stages in their journeys.

How can you use this research?

This paper attempts to redirect thinking on migration infrastructures by focusing on the lived experiences of infrastructures as the entry point in analysing migrant mobility. Mapping experiences of onshore migrants provides a methodological basis for following migrants life-courses rather than the dominant focus on departure, transit, and arrival or on analyses of policy categories. The author seeks to draw attention, instead, to the lived experiences of ‘migration as a process’ which is dynamic, multifarious, and ongoing.


This paper reports on a research project that explores a gap in exploring infrastructures of formal migration, and their entanglements with migrants’ own subjectivities by arguing for a new research agenda on migration infrastructure.

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