On navigating academic networking – lessons learnt 17 years on

Dr Sarah Scuzzarello is Lecturer in Migration and co-coordinator of the IMISCOE Standing Committee Gender and Sexuality in Migration Research (GenSeM)

Recently been asked to talk at the IMISCOE PhD Academy about academic networking, I realised that, despite working in academia for 17 years, I had never really given this too much thought. I have just been doing it, I suppose. The invitation was therefore a great opportunity to stop and think about why it matters and what networking is (not) to me, but also about what I’ve done to create a solid network of international colleagues.

Ultimately, networking is about linking up with people you can collaborate with in a spirit of mutual respect and reciprocity. An academic career in social sciences often mean spending many lonely hours in front of a screen. You want to create a group, not necessarily large, with whom you can discuss, debate and exchange ideas about your research and with whom you can work towards concrete projects and activities. Two things are important here. First, to work a network must build on mutuality and respect. Sometimes one is put in positions of doing all the work in a collaboration. This can be fine, in as far as this is reciprocated later on. If not, that collaboration is not mutual or respectful and perhaps one should reconsider it. Second, a network does not have to be big. Rather, a close-knitted community of like-minded colleagues works often better and is more manageable, less dispersive.

The key to understand academic network, I think, is to see it as a verb (to network) and not a noun (a network). It is something you do, work at, and contribute to – not something you own. Perhaps most important, it is something that takes time to build.

Networking is therefore a carefully measured activity we engage in (sometimes getting it wrong). It is not something that happens at random, or easy to do while one flutters from one person to another at conference receptions exchanging business cards. And it is not about perfecting the art of small talk. Realising this is important I think especially for first generation academics or minoritized groups who often find themselves having to navigate a whole new social vocabulary of (often white, middle-class) academia. And it was crucial to me, whose first language is not English, to realise that I didn’t have to crack that posh accent to be taken seriously. I needed to be myself. Also, networking does not only mean to reach out to Professor Big Shot in hope they will find your work interesting and offer to co-author. While vertical networking happens over time (i.e. senior colleagues are part of your network), to network with your peers (horizontal networking) is crucial. Other Early Career Researchers (ECRs) can tell you about other departments (useful as you look for jobs), are usually willing to co-author or co-organise (although remember the reciprocity aspect of networking) and can be incredibly supportive in the darkest hours of academia. Remember however, that to a large extent you decide who will be part of your network. Do not feel pressurised to collaborate with people you, for whatever reasons, do not feel comfortable with. You can, and should, choose.

Some things have been particularly helpful for me in networking. First, join an association where you are likely to meet colleagues with whom you share research interests. It takes time to find the associations where your research will be critically and constructively received. Furthermore, the research you do might change somehow over time and you might have to change the association you join. For example, I have been active in the ISPP in the past but, as my researched turned more towards political sociology and migration, IMISCOE has proven to be a good fit. Once you have found one or two associations that feel like ‘home’, you should get involved. At the beginning of my career, I started by organising panels (alone or with colleagues), offering to chair and to act as discussants, and I would always present a paper (I still do). My former supervisor was good at getting me out there, including me in this kind of activities, and eventually in writing projects. If you are not as fortunate, you should propose panels with another ECR (horizontal networking). Engaging in their PhD or ECR network is another way to meet like-minded people that you might want to make part of your network. The PhD IMISCOE Academy and the IMISCOE PhD network are great platforms in this sense, as are the ECR groups within the Standing Committees (GenSeM has a very active group, that gets together virtually for writing retreats on a regular basis).

Second, ensure you follow up with the people you met at conferences, seminars, workshops or similar. This does not mean emailing everybody you’ve met, but only those you had meaningful conversations with. When appropriate, you can also think of ways of initiating a collaboration. Keep things in proportion here. You could offer to co-write a blog post on the topic you discussed, or to organise a panel at the next conference – which are manageable goals.

Third, consider developing a social media presence. Choose a platform that works for you and decide how personal you want it to be. I have a Twitter account that is strictly professional (bar the odd rant) and other, more personal, platforms. A social media profile only works if you are willing to be regularly active and have something interesting to say so I would not invest in it unless you’re willing to spend some time on it. I have found social media to be a good vehicle to talk about my work, especially as I am not the most extrovert person and I find the pressure of socialising a bit overwhelming at times.

This takes me to the last point. Networking can be hard work, physically and emotionally, and regardless of career stage. It takes time and effort and sometimes it does not work. To start a conversation can feel awkward, but as time passes you’ll find your way of doing it. Networking can feel daunting especially because it takes time for a network to bear fruit, and sometimes it does not work. But over time, you’ll notice that people will reach out to you – to give a talk, examine a viva, open a conversation about a research opportunity. And then is hopefully when you will be able to open doors for others too.

Posted in Academic Life

Not a burden: Somali refugees transform Dollo Ado into an onion export zone

Fekadu Adugna is Project Coordinator at the Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa and a member of the Protracted Displacement Economies (PDE) team.

Dollo Ado is a district in south-eastern Ethiopia bordering Somalia to the east and Kenya to the south. As of February 2022, Dollo Ado’s five refugee camps host 199,360 refugees from Somalia. The camps were established between 2008 and 2010 to host refugees displaced in southern Somalia due to armed conflict and recurrent drought. Southern Somalia has been suffering from a resurgence of armed conflict since 2008. The conflict is mainly between the Government of Somalia (supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia) and the extremist non-state group Al-Shabaab.

‘Host’ community members and refugees harvesting onion near Malkadida camp, Dollo Ado

This blog post highlights the role that Somali refugees play in stimulating the farming economy in Dollo Ado. Contrary to the common assumption that refugees are passive recipients of aid and a burden to the ‘host’ community, Somali refugees in Dollo Ado are significantly contributing to the transformation of the local economy. This shows how much refugees can contribute to economic progress if provided with the right opportunities.

Refugees’ background and agricultural skills

Most of the refugees in Dollo Ado camps were displaced from the fertile agricultural areas of Juba and Shebele in southern Somalia, where the Rahanwein clan practice an agro-pastoral way of life. When they arrived in refugee camps in Dollo Ado, these refugees found themselves between two big rivers: Ganale and Dawa, which had never been utilized for irrigation. Ganale River is situated in around two to four kilometres away from each of the refugee camps (except Bokolmayo camp), and it is very suitable for irrigation.

The refugees have entered into arrangements with the ‘host’ communities to access land. Two of these arrangements are renting land and sharecropping. Refugees who have financial capacity rent land from the ‘host’ community, purchase water engines that pump water from the river to the farm, and initiate irrigation. Those who cannot afford to rent land use burjuwas – a sharecropping arrangement common in Somalia. Under this arrangement, the landowner contributes land and the landless contribute labour. The remaining agricultural inputs (such as seed, fertilizer and insecticide) are contributed by both parties.

The collaborations centre around onion farming, which was not previously undertaken in the region. From the outset, the refugees and their ‘host’ partners wanted to produce at a large scale and sell in local markets and beyond. Indeed, in 2019 and 2020, they sold their produce as far as northern Ethiopia. The successful ventures generated tens of thousands of birr. For example, Mohammed (all names in this article have been changed) is a 58-year-old refugee who lives in Buriamino camp with his two wives and 23 children. In 2018, he was among the first refugees to enter into a sharecropping arrangement with a ‘host’ family. Together they worked to irrigate two hectares of land. Mohammed earned 78,000 birr (US$1519) in the first harvest. He has continued to make a relatively reasonable amount of money since then.

The ‘host’ community are taken by surprise

This region, which had entirely depended on the purchase of vegetables (as well as cereals and fruits) from other regions of Ethiopia and neighbouring countries, has suddenly become a source of vegetables for different parts of the country. Before the agricultural initiatives described above, the clans inhabiting the region had engaged in pastoralism or hoe-based cultivation. They had never been involved in irrigation agriculture, and were taken by surprise when they realised that their land could be such a productive asset.

Kemal belongs to the lineage of the head of the Garimaro clan. He owns over 50 hectares of land, which traditionally had been used for grazing. In 2018, a refugee man asked to use a hectare of his land for onion farming. Kemal agreed and said the refugee man could cultivate as much as he could afford. The man cultivated around three hectares. He produced onions that fetched about 600,000 birr (US$11,684). Kemal said: “when I saw the land I gave him fetches that amount of money, I was taken by surprise, and now I am among the leading farmers. I purchased two water engines, and I am considering buying a car.”

“I have to learn”

Adan is another member of the ‘host’ community benefitting from the agricultural practices introduced by refugees. He is a 45-year-old resident of Buriamino, a small town next to a refugee camp. Adan served in the Ethiopian National Defence Force, and he was deployed to South Sudan as a member of the Ethiopian contingent of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Speaking about the impact of refugees on his life, Adan said:

“When they [refugees] produce onions and earn that amount of money… I said to myself, ‘I have to learn’. I cultivated a piece of land… I had a small amount of money from my stay in South Sudan which I used for seed, and other inputs. I produced onions and managed to harvest 350 quintals [a quintal is about 80 kg]. I sold a kg for 18 birr, so fetched over 500,000 birr in total, and bought a pickup car. The car is [popularly] known as the car bought by onions!”

Following these success stories, many people around the camps, including civil servants and workers of humanitarian agencies, have engaged in irrigation agriculture. Beyond the neighbouring ‘host’ communities, wealthy business people from Dollo Ado and elsewhere have begun to rent land and start cultivation. New knowledge and technology have been introduced to the region, which has suddenly made land an important asset, and attracted many new economic actors to the region.

This blog appeared originally in the PDE website PDE is a project funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund (grant reference number ES/T004509/1).

Posted in Migration Research

Emotions in the fieldwork

Claude Samaha, Lead Researcher at Basmeh & Zeitooneh and a member of the Protracted Displacement Economies (PDE) team. 

Resnik argues that ‘an objective researcher (or project, report, or study) is like a judge who attempts to give a fair hearing to both sides of a legal dispute’. This judge must attempt to make decisions based on legal and empirical evidence without allowing their values to affect their judgment and reasoning.

We also think of objective research as research that is unaffected by moral, economic, social, political or religious values. But in doing so are we not withdrawing from the human part of social research? Engaging in social fieldwork elicits strong emotions in researchers, and feelings can be powerful teachers. As an Arab researcher who shares the language, traditions, and customs of refugee groups in Lebanon, I am deeply affected by the dire situation in the country’s refugee camps. And I have discovered that emotions are necessary for building human understanding.

I remember the first time I was in an unofficial refugee camp. It was in the Beqaa area on a rainy day in February 2016. I was part of a group of students from the Lebanese University that was conducting multidisciplinary field research with pregnant refugee women and new mothers. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by barefoot children in drenched tents. Newborns were placed on barrels covered with plastic wrap. Pregnant women and new mothers dragged their wet dresses trying to pull their children with one hand and holding their hijab with their other hand. Living in such conditions was clearly detrimental to the health and psychological wellbeing of the pregnant women, new mothers and their babies.

Basmeh & Zeitooneh staff and volunteers entering a refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley

I went back to the same camp earlier this year, six years after my first visit as a student. Despite all the work non-governmental organizations and other civil society organizations have been doing, the situation has worsened. The camp lacks essential goods such as baby milk and diapers. There are no medical facilities. The ongoing economic crisis has affected displaced people as well as the ‘host’ community surrounding them. Many of the latter consider Syrian refugees to be one of the main causes of the crisis. The prevailing mood was tense rather than compassionate, which makes refugees’ lives much more difficult. I felt angry, frustrated and helpless.

Emotions in humanistic and social research are factual and concrete. Field researchers belong to communities. They share with those communities emotions like fear, sadness, joy, hope and depression. Instead of assuming that emotions impede our knowledge creation and dissemination, we should consider how emotions and their manipulation could be part of social norms, including norms of scholarly work.

In an attempt to better understand how economies function in communities that have faced different waves of displacement, Basmeh & Zeitooneh is conducting research in three of the poorest displacement-affected regions of Lebanon (Nabaa, El Qobbeh and Bar Elias). We estimate (based on data from United Nations agencies) that these regions have a combined population of around 130,000 residents. By studying non-monetary transactions as well as monetary transactions, we are taking a more comprehensive approach to economic analysis.

There are many reports about increasing poverty in Lebanon, and our findings offer further evidence of the dire situation faced by so many in the country. Of 4502 surveyed households, 340 (7.6%) indicate not everyone in the household has enough to eat. But in terms of humanitarian and social welfare, with an average of 5 people in every household, it means that many of those 1700 persons had to sleep hungry at least one night in the past month!

Furthermore, 2161 out of 4502 households surveyed have debts. In other words, almost half of those families depend on family, friends or small business owners for their daily living, and are in danger of hunger if personal loans or services on credit are suddenly stopped. The daily struggle that many in these communities endure is plain to see and should not be ignored.

This population is not just a number. This population has faces, and with every face comes a story. With those residents, we share history and stories, hopes and expectations, and sometimes we share a cup of coffee or tea. Does it make enumerators, supervisors, researchers and social workers less objective?

In field research, emotions could be a reason to escalate research engagement, explore techniques like contextual inquiry and grounded theory, and propose new intervention strategies. Being involved as a human helps in extracting and analysing useful insights while predicting behaviors based on field observation.

Showing empathy, sharing emotions and really listening to people enriches the data we collect through surveys and interviews. They make the numbers in Excel spreadsheets come to life and bring a depth to the stories that people share with us.

PDE is a project funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund (grant reference number ES/T004509/1). This blog appeared originally in the PDE website

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Posted in Migration Research

‘Mana pfasha’: The incredible resilience of Rwandan refugees in Masisi, DRC

José Mvuezolo Bazonzi, Coordinator of Groupe de Recherche et d’Etudes Stratégiques sur le Congo (GREC) at the University of Kinshasa, and a member of the Protracted Displacements Economies (PDE) team. 

Generally settled in planned camps – with or without the support of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) – displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also find themselves living in ‘host’ communities or simply managing in makeshift lodgings. Their mode of subsistence is as diverse as the causes of their protracted displacement. This blog post highlights the resilience of displaced people in Masisi territory, particularly those settled in Kitshanga, one of our research sites. 

The scarcity of arable land around Kitshanga 

Masisi is one of six territories in North Kivu province. This province accounts for 34.6% of all internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Moreover, the DRC’s 5.2 million IDPs represent more than 10% of the 48 million IDPs in the world. The area around Kitshanga is particularly impacted by intermittent clashes involving national and foreign non-state armed groups, as well as the Congolese national army. This area is also heavily impacted by land grabbing carried out by armed groups and by the owners of huge commercial landholdings, many of whom are said to be actors in the violence in the region. Armed conflict and land grabbing are causing mass forced displacement, with people fleeing to Kitshanga, yet lacking land to cultivate in order to meet their needs.

Daily work from ‘Mana pfasha’

During research in Kitshanga, we observed a kind of ‘agricultural labour market’. Rwandan ‘refugees’, who do not actually have legal refugee status but are locally known as refugees and settled in Camp Mungote, do not have many resources. Many of them have been displaced since the 1990s. In the past they received aid, in the form of food and non-food items, from UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations. Nowadays, however, they hardly receive any support from such organisations. Therefore these ‘refugees’ survive almost entirely via informal activities, especially agricultural labour, through which they also contribute to the local economy.

The place where they gather in the morning, right next to Camp Mungote, is called ‘Mana pfasha’, which in Kinyarwanda, the language spoken by Rwandan refugees, means ‘God help me’. Every morning, the displaced people, mostly Hutus (the majority ethnic group in Rwanda), stand at this place, just next to the road, each with their own tillage tool (hoe, machete or axe). They wait for a ‘boss’ who will come and select them for agricultural work.

It is largely women who are hired to weed fields and transport loads (25 to 50 kgs) of cassava or bananas. Payment for this work is derisory: between 500 FC and 1500 FC (US$0.25 – US$0.75) per day. Ploughing fields is generally reserved for men who are perceived to be strong. Yet the payment for this work is not much higher: 1500 FC to 2000 FC (US$0.75 – US$1) a day. Older persons are usually completely excluded from any sort of agricultural work (and therefore are particularly vulnerable). Children of displaced people are selected for this type of work, but they tend to be paid much less than adults.

Incredible resilience despite extreme vulnerability

Nikuze (not her real name) is a Rwandan refugee who has lived in Camp Mungote since 2014. She is a widow and mother of four children. Every morning, she goes to Mana pfasha, and is always chosen by a ‘boss’ for daily work. During our team’s last visit to Kitshanga, she said:

“In the camp, it is always difficult to find a job to survive. You have to go out and go to work either in someone’s fields, or in someone’s house, or go and get by in the city, in the market, etc. But the safest activity is working in the fields… with that, I am sure to have my ‘present’”.

The term ‘present’ alludes to the attendance check that is usually carried out in factories or companies; when the boss calls the worker, the latter answers “present,” to mark their presence at the place of work. Here it represents the amount received by the agricultural worker.

A lack of humanitarian assistance and precarious employment mean that the village savings and credit association (AVEC – Association Villageoise d’Epargne et de Crédit) and a rebate called ‘likilimba’ play an important protective role in Kitshanga. Each member of AVEC saves a certain amount of money each week, usually from 5000 FC to 20,000 FC (US$2.5 – US$10). Over time, and depending on their needs, the member can apply for a loan, and the AVEC management grants the member an amount in proportion to their weekly savings. The amount lent to the member can be up to 100,000 FC (US$50). ‘Likilimba’ involves members of a given group contributing a small sum of money daily for a period of time, and the total stake is then given to a member to help them with their needs. According to Nikuze, the local microfinance system greatly helps displaced people to meet the basic needs of their families, and even to rent a field for a season, or to start a small chicken or livestock farm, so as to increase their income, and thus improve their lives.

Ultimately, despite the scarcity of land in Kitshanga and its surroundings, the Rwandan ‘refugees’, who are displaced people and therefore vulnerable, manage to survive. They constitute the bulk of the local agricultural workforce, and have built a reputation for honesty and loyalty. Over time, this community has developed strong links with certain ‘bosses’, who now employ some of them, like Nikuze, almost daily. And this helps them to withstand the vicissitudes of life.

PDE is a project funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund (grant reference number ES/T004509/1). This blog appeared originally in the PDE website

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Posted in Migration Research

On Generosity, Sponsorship and the Right to Asylum

Dr. Aleksandra Lewicki, Senior Lecturer in Sociology & Co-Director of the Sussex European Institute A.Lewicki@sussex.ac.uk

On Monday, the British government introduced its new ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme which is presented as a ‘step up’ in Britain’s generosity towards refugees. However, the scheme is merely a continuation of Britain’s restrictive politics of asylum and immigration. Specifically, it draws on two key principles of recent immigration legislation – sponsorship and everyday bordering – which limit the rights of people who move to the UK and individualize responsibility for asylum.

 Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, neighbouring countries such as Moldova, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and even Hungary opened their borders and waived visa requirements to make escape routes more manageable. These and other European countries have since received 3 million people displaced by the war. As this number is expected to rise to 4 million, we are beginning to hear pleas for greater solidarity from Europe’s West – especially from small and socio-economically deprived countries such as Moldova.

 While offering public reassurance that Britain is prepared to offer support, the UK Government’s approach has been particularly reticent. Initially the British government suspended its visa services in Ukraine and limited visa entitlements to relatives of Ukrainians already living in the UK. At this point, Home Office Minister Kevin Foster invited displaced Ukrainians via twitter to apply to Britain’s seasonal work scheme. Home Secretary Priti Patel highlighted that stringent security checks were necessary to stop Russian agents or terrorists smuggling themselves into the UK. Many displaced people reported difficulties with having their visa applications processed, and several hundred Ukrainians found themselves stuck in Calais awaiting a UK visa. Only 300 visas had been granted via the family scheme by March 7th (and 5500 by March 17th). Accused of misjudging its population’s solidarity, the government declared that biometric data could be provided upon arrival in the UK and launched a new sponsorship scheme. Titled ‘Homes for Ukraine’, the scheme is introduced as follows: ‘The UK is one of the most generous nations in the world and the British public are now being asked to go one step further and open their homes to those fleeing the war in Ukraine’. People in Britain can apply to receive £350 a month to offer free accommodation to a refugee from Ukraine. When applying, they have to name the beneficiaries, who then have to undergo ‘light touch security checks’. Within 24 hours, 100.000 people had applied to act as sponsors.

 So, is the sponsorship scheme the most recent culmination of Britain’s generosity towards refugees? And is it a ‘step up’ in Britain’s immigration policy?

 I suggest that it is neither. The most obvious point has been made numerous times – the scheme is exclusively available to Ukrainians, while safe routes to asylum have been severely restricted for people fleeing conflict and war elsewhere, such as Afghanistan or Syria. Ukrainians can assert their Whiteness as press coverage positions them as ‘of Europe’. At the same time, however, as one commentator put it, they are seen as only ‘relatively civilized, relatively European’. The figure of the ‘Eastern European’, as I argue in an article that is under review with the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, has been ambiguously racialized in the Western imagination. Accordingly, representatives of British government, as cited above, spontaneously imagined displaced Ukrainians as potential fruit pickers or security threats. These representations are not mere rhetoric, as I elaborate in the mentioned article, but have contributed to justifying restrictions to rights and mobilities within the emergent pre- and post-Brexit border regime.

The ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme reflects two key principles of this evolving immigration regime – sponsorship and everyday bordering – which exacerbate the precarity and disposability of people who move to the UK, and individualize the responsibility for asylum.

 Firstly, sponsorship is a key pillar of the restrictive post-Brexit immigration regime. The 2020 immigration law introduced novel requirements for labour migration to the UK – including sponsorship by a prospective employer, evidence of language skills and the meeting of a minimum salary threshold. The latter does not apply to visa applicants who come to work in shortage sectors, such as care or seasonal work. The idea of sponsorship renders workers dependent on their employers’ specific requirements and preferences at any given time – and makes them more disposable.

 Rebranding the idea by extending it to private homes, the government has now introduced the rationale of sponsorship into the asylum system. This increases displaced people’s dependence on individual good will – but also their precarity and disposability. Having escaped the trauma of war, they are entirely reliant on their sponsor’s mood or even financial need to host them in their private space. This reliance significantly reduces their autonomy in extremely challenging personal circumstances. Sexualized representations of ‘Eastern European’ women, moreover, may invite transgressions and exploitations for domestic, care or sex work.

 The sponsorship scheme, secondly, reinforces another key principle of Britain’s immigration policy – the individualisation of responsibility for the management of Britain’s borders. Immigration laws that introduced the so called ‘hostile environment’ from 2014 onwards require landlords, health care practitioners, educators or employers to ascertain a person’s legal right to be in the UK. The governments ‘Prevent’ agenda has put front-line staff and ordinary citizens in charge of preventing political radicalisation. Effectively, the responsibility to detect illegalized border crossers, and prevent terrorist attacks, has thereby been attributed to individual members of society. In a similar move, the sponsorship scheme individualises the state’s public responsibility to offer asylum and puts the onus on individual citizens to deliver Britain’s international legal obligations. The appeal to individual generosity, even if it practically extends the number of people who can receive sanctuary in this instance, further erodes the human right to asylum.

 The British public should be lauded for its welcoming attitude towards Ukrainians displaced by war. This solidarity, unfortunately, has been hijacked by a government that has no intention to meet its international human rights obligations. Countries in Europe’s East, in turn, should be lauded for waiving visa requirements – but also reminded that the right to asylum is universal and carries the same obligations towards globally displaced people.

These preliminaries settled, he did not care to put off any longer the execution of his design, urged on to it by the thought of all the world was losing by his delay, seeing what wrongs he intended to right, grievances to redress, injustices to repair, abuses to remove, and duties to discharge.

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Posted in Migration Comments



The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR).