Tag Archives: Rachel Humphris


Ethnographic Encounters  – A One-Day Colloquium
Birkbeck Institute for Social Research

Starts 03 February 2017 – 10:00
Finishes 03 February 2017 – 16:00
Venue Birkbeck, University of London, London WC1B 5DQ
Payment and booking required
In this age of migration, social life – and especially urban social life – is increasingly shaped by patterns of globalisation and mobility that give rise to increasingly complex forms of diversity and inequality. Understanding encounters across proliferating lines of difference is therefore a vital challenge to social research. Such encounters occur in multiple domains, in particular in everyday life, and in specific spaces, especially in cities. In this context, urban space is linked or hyperlinked to several culturally and spatially non-proximate elsewheres, even for those whose everyday geography is intensely local, cramped. And small spaces contain multiple, incommensurable linguistic registers – as signs, messages and meanings travel – creating ever more complex configurations at the nano scale. People moving through this landscape need to learn to translate, much as ethnographers do – opening up ethical, political and also epistemological dilemmas.

Ethnography, with its granular attention to everyday lived experience, to the social meanings attached to the different elements of difference, and to the spaces which shape these – with its focus on what people do when they come together – offers the best vantage point for understanding encounters across lines of difference. But ethnography itself is also a form of encounter. This colloquium explores the ethical and epistemological issues arising in the ethnographic research encounter. It asks what are the limits to the forms of knowledge generated in the ethical encounter? What tools can be used to stretch these limits?

Confirmed Speakers:

Ben Rampton – Linguistic Ethnography and Intercultural Encounter
Ben has worked within applied and social linguistics to both ground linguistics in ethnographic observation and develop forms of ethnography that are able to attend to micro- or nano-level patterns of linguistic exchange, focusing on contexts (including the classroom and inner city streets) of intensified ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Sami Everett – Phenomenological ethnography, multi-lingual fieldsites and traffic in material cultureè
Sami is a researcher at the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, working ethnographically in Barbès, Paris, on the role of trust in religiously diverse urbanism. He previously worked on the multiple dimensions of Parisian Jewish identification to North Africa. His research practice has involved multi-lingual ethnography in complex settings, and tracking how intercultural and interreligious encounter is mediated through localised market relations.

Ruth Sheldon – Ethics and Neighbourly Encounters
Ruth is a sociologist and postdoctoral researcher in DPS working on the Dangoor Foundation “Ethical Monotheism” project. Her new book, Tragic Encounters, is an ethnographic exploration of Jewish-Muslim relations among students, while her current research explores the ethics of neighbourly encounters in Hackney.

Rachel Humphris – Ethnographies of Home Encounters
Rachel is an anthropologist. She completed her DPhil student at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford and is now a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Superdiversity (IRiS) in Birmingham whose ethnographic work living with Romanian Roma families in Luton explored the concept of the “home level bureaucrat” and the “home encounter” between the local neoliberal state and migrant mothers.

Mette Louise Berg and Simon Rowe – Collaborative Visual Ethnography of Superdiversity
Mette is an anthropologist and a Senior Lecturer at in the Thomas Coram Research Unite at UCL IoE, who has worked on Cuban migrants in urban Europe and more recently on a collaborative ethnographic research project in Elephant and Castle, alongside ethnographic photographer Simon Rowe.


This event is open to all, but places are limited. Registration and payment are essential
£35 Standard | £25 Birkbeck Staff | £15 All Students & Unwaged

Book your place

If you cannot afford the fee, please get in touch with the BISR Manager, Madisson Brown, on bisr@bbk.ac.uk

Organiser: Dr Ben Gidley, Birkbeck, University of London

This Colloquium is supported by the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, a hub for the dissemination and discussion of social research in London and beyond.

Contact name:

Within and beyond citizenship: Romani minorities at the margins of the European project

Over 11-12 April, Oxford hosted an extremely rich international symposium  entitled Within and beyond citizenship: Lived experiences of contemporary membership, organised by COMPAS, the Refugee Studies Centre, the Oxford Institute of Social Policy and the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, and in particular by my colleague Nando Sigona, working with Jenny Allsopp and Vanessa Hughes. If you are interested, Nando has Storified the rich Twitter discussion that took place in the conference.

I chaired and was discussant to a really interesting panel entitled The Roma at the margins of EU citizenship. There were three very good papers: Rachel Humphris, of the Insitutte of social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford, with “Waiting room: Romanian Roma migrants’ negotiations of transitional controls in UK bureaucracy”, Julija Sardelic, of the CITSEE project at the University of Edinburgh, on “Romani minorities on the margins of post-Yugoslav citizenship regimes”, and Huub van Baar, of the University of Amsterdam, on “Boundary practices of citizenship: Europe’s Roma at the nexus of securitization and citizenship”. I have converted my discussant comments into a short report on those papers for this blogpost.

At first glance, I was worried that the only thing the three papers shared was a common focus on Romani minorities in Europe, specifically those from southeastern Europe. Rachel’s deals with Romanian migrants in the UK awaiting the end of A8 transitional arrangements, Julia’s with Romani minorities in the former Yugoslavia caught in the cracks between post-Yugoslav statehoods, Huub’s with Kosovans facing deportation from Germany; all draw on very different bodies of theory to address very different questions. However, happily there are a couple of important areas of commonality.

First, all three papers raise questions about the different scales of citizenship and its constellations and regimes, including the neighbourhood and municipal, the infra-national and national, and the space of Europe: scales which operate not as a nested hierarchy but in complex, contradictory ways, as palimpsest, with the residue of older citizenship regimes sedimented in the new (as with the legacy of Yugoslav federal and republican constitutions in the post-Yugoslav period). The space of Europe, with its shifting internal and external borders, is especially highlighted in all three papers, in a context in which, as Huub argues, the Roma have been discursively “Europeanised” as both icon or mascot and internal other of the European project.

Second, all three papers deal with “in-betweenness” of various sorts. Julija takes Bhabha’s notion of in-betweenness as central to understanding the positioning of Romani minorities in central and eastern Europe, an in-betweenness systematically produced by the proliferation of national citizenship regimes which has rendered many within Romani minorities as de facto stateless or legally invisible. Similarly, Huub uses Nyers’ term, “the mezzanine spaces of sovereignty, that is, those spaces which are in-between the inside and the outside of the state” (2003: 1080). He also proposes the fruitful term “boundary practices of citizenship”.

And in Rachel’s paper, we have a temporal in-betweenness: the state of being in waiting. This temporal in-betweenness is perhaps also present for the internally displaced in Montenegro, trapped in a recurrently extended formal transitional period, unable to provide the evidence that will give them permanent status (described in Julija’s paper), or for the German holders of the Duldung, a short-term reprieve repeatedly renewed (described in Huub’s).

All three papers address, too, the vexed question of the agency of those with precarious relationships to citizenship, and in particular how we can talk about agency in the context of in-between spaces characterised by waiting, lack and dependency. Huub argues that a focus on spectacular “acts” of insurgent citizenship on one hand or exceptionalist security panics on the other leads us to neglect the importance of everyday, mundane, normal practices of citizenship and security. Huub gives us some cause for optimism by revealing the power of resistance, solidarity, innovation and knowledge-production in the most mundane contexts.

Rachel similarly notes the development of “strategies of waiting” developed by Romanian Roma in precarious situations, and how they artfully navigate and even turn to their advantage the indeterminacy inherent in bureaucracy. But she also suggests a hinterland in which the most precarious and excluded have no room in which to wait, no space for hope. In Julija’s paper, agency is even more constrained: apart from an activist elite, subaltern Romani minorities are spoken for by others or, when they do speak, have their voices “transformed and interpreted [in] such a way that it only confirms the hegemonic ideology”.

Central to the space of the normal is the banal figure of the street level bureaucrat, the low-level professional – the border official, gendarme, tax inspector, employment advisor. In contrast to the high visibility rhetoric of security and emergency most often invoked in the academic and activist literature, the street level bureaucrat often operates in a low visibility way. For example, Huub highlights how German and EU officials have sought to render more opaque “the most delicate trajectories of the physical procedure of deportation”, while Rachel talks of a bureaucratic regime increasingly physically removed from physical contact with “clients”, hidden on the other side of the screen or telephone.

Also central to this space of the normal, in relation to practices of bordering and citizenship, are papers or documents, and the banal practices surrounding them – the birth not registered leading to a life of legal invisibility (as in Julija’s paper), the Duldung which grants temporary residence in the shadow of deportability (in Huub’s), or the compulsive collection of as many different types of document so as to strengthen a case against future deportation (in Rachel’s).

The contribution of these papers is to show that examining these quotidian and material dimensions is crucial in pushing forward a critical account of citizenship, which requires a much more granular exploration of the texture of such below-the-radar mundane practices, a task which demands the development of more attentive (and especially ethnographic) methodologies.