Workshop: Listening to people on the move? Citizenship, language, and challenges of solidarity activism

Co-organisers: Dr Eeva Puumala, Dr Reiko Shindo

Since the so-called migration and refugee crisis, there has been a wide-spread phenomenon across Europe where local activists – be that as members of NGOs and trade unions, self-organised volunteer groups, or individuals – initiate various forms of solidarity activism with people on the move. Ranging from housing assistance and provision of food and transportation to street demonstrations, local citizens sympathise with the plight of migrants and refugees and express solidarity with their migratory struggles. Against this background, a burgeoning research field has emerged to examine challenges and possibilities of the solidary relationship between citizens and noncitizens (e.g. Ataç et al., 2016; della Porta 2018; Rosenberger et al. 2018; Squire 2018).

The aim of this workshop is to contribute to this body of literature from the angle of citizenship and language. While the existing research has assumed few problems in terms of communication between citizens and noncitizens, this workshop explores instances where language barriers pose challenges to both migrant protesters and local activists. The crucial dimension of solidarity activism is that, regardless of their statuses, participants assume their rightful places in community to demand that their voices are taken seriously, and in this way, enact citizenship (Nyers and Rygiel, 2012). By rethinking solidarity in relation to language, this workshop asks: How does language, or silence, constitute the political capacity of people – citizens or noncitizens alike – who take part in solidarity activism? How do people enact citizenship in a situation where they are unable to communicate with one another? How is the visible presence of migrants translated into their audibility? And what does it mean to build an ‘equal’ relationship between local activists and migrant protesters despite, or perhaps because of, language barriers?

Presenters for the workshop work on and with asylum seekers, refugees, and irregular migrants, as well as local organisations which support them including migrant volunteer organisations, trade unions, and NGOs. By having both activists and researchers as presenters, the workshop is designed to discuss citizenship and language in the concrete context of activism and explore new, if any, possibilities of solidarity relationship between migrants and their local supporters.


Ataç, I. Rygiel, K. and Stierl, M. (2016) ‘Introduction: The contentious politics of refugee and migrant protest and solidarity movements: Remaking citizenship from the margins’, Citizenship Studies, 20(5): 527–544.

della Porta, D. (ed) (2018) Solidarity mobilizations in the ‘refugee crisis’: Contentious moves. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Nyers, P. and Rygiel, K. (eds) (2012) Citizenship, migrant activism and the politics of movement, London and New York: Routledge.

Rosenberger, S. Stern, V. and Merhaut, N. (eds) (2018) Protest movements in asylum and deportation. Cham: Springer.

Squire, V. (2018) ‘Mobile solidarities and precariousness at City Plaza: Beyond vulnerable and disposable lives’ Studies in Social Justice, 12(1): 111-132.