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Reserach Projects

Outputs related to the research projects listed below can be found under "publications" and "activities"


Doctoral Research

Return to Pakistan: The Affects and Temporalities of Irregularisation

Summary of the Project

Germany became a desirable destination country for irregularised migrants from Pakistan between 2015 and 2018. Most of these people, usually young men, tried to regularise their residence by applying for asylum. However, overcoming involuntary immobility in this manner is not easy, and only a few can make a “credible” case for political or religious persecution according to the local asylum laws. An overwhelming majority of Pakistani asylum applicants––nine out of every ten––are denied asylum in Germany every year. Between 2016 and 2019, a record total of 32,080 first-instance Pakistani applicants were considered “undeserving” of refuge and refused asylum in Germany. Under such circumstances, removal efforts in the form of deportation and “voluntary” returns increased. The removal of these irregularised migrants is not only seen as a solution to deal with their “irregular” and unwanted presence in Germany but supposedly also serves as means to deter aspiring “economic migrants” from coming to the country. 

In this context, the project studies the removal processes of irregularised Pakistani migrants and their experiences of removal from Germany. In doing so, it complements a growing body of anthropological knowledge and ethnographic research on forced returns that focuses mainly on Africa and Latin America. In conjunction, it also studies strategies and resistance on the part of irregularised migrants to avoid removal, for instance, the secondary migration of irregularisecd Pakistanis to Italy, in order to avoid deportation from Germany. 

Framing migration, like all social pursuits, as intrinsically linked to diverse and complex emotions, the project takes a holistic approach to migration and particularly relational desires, pressures and strategies of people to overcome involuntary immobility. In a world where the efforts of overcoming involuntary immobility are by and large illegalised and irregularised, the project not only problematises the assumption that migration of so-called “economic migrants” is solely based on rational economic interests but demonstrates the functioning of an entangled emotional economy of migration and return.

The ethnographic fieldwork for this research was carried out in Bavaria, Germany; Punjab, Pakistan; and Northern Italy. In 2019, the research began by investigating the complex and often confusing situation of irregularised Pakistani migrants (primarily “rejected” asylum applicants) denied the right to stay in Germany. In this phase, it focused on the politics of deportation and the bureaucratic administration of “voluntary” return programs employed to encourage and expedite Pakistanis to leave Germany. Subsequently, using affect as an analytical lens in conjunction with temporality, the research shifted its focus to the experiences of removal. To this end, by working with (1) irregularised Pakistani migrants facing removal in Germany, (2) those who fled to Italy to avoid deportation from Germany and (3) deportees, but primarily returnees back in Pakistan, it studied the interconnected affects and temporalities that removal unfurls. In doing so, the project makes the micro-political, socio-cultural and religious lifeworlds of irregularised Pakistani migrants the locus of attention within the broader macro-politics of migration. Amongst other issues, it unpacks the critical role of Islam and destiny in the precarious migratory lives of irregularised migrants.


Martin Sökefeld (PI)

Usman Mahar (Researcher)

M.A. Research

The Erewhon of Youth:
On Ageism, Successful Ageing and the Impact of Our Life-Stories on Ageing

The research looked at how a person’s life-story shapes the course of his or her ageing process. I employed ethnographic fieldwork and the life-history method to look at the lives of two ageing South Asian migrants in Europe. The resultant case studies use grounded theory to delineate the two different and somewhat opposing pursuits in the post sixty-four stage of ones life. The research, therefore, at its core, problematises many of the taken-for-granted gerontological themes and concepts in contemporary times. In particular, it enquires into the concepts of ‘decline’ and ‘success’ and their relationship to old age. In other words, it questions the taken-for-granted assumption that ‘decline’ is, in its essence, negative and the only way to achieve ‘success’ in ageing is by fighting the ‘decline’ that comes with old age. 

Questioning some of the assumptions of the “successful ageing” model, I argue that our ideas about, and practices of ageing are shaped first and foremost by our life-stories, experiences, and various other non-biological factors. As such, there can be no universal vision or idea of what counts as “successful ageing” — in other words, achieving ‘success’ in the process of ageing is something that cannot be mass-produced. By deconstructing the contemporary  ideals of the “successful ageing” vision, we can not only see that it is rooted in a narrow biomedical and neoliberal understanding of a good life in old age, but also address its shortcoming apropos the real needs of our growing and diverse greying community.

While the successful ageing model asserts that it counters ageism, my case studies show that ageism can be countered without adhering to the said model. Moreover, instead of countering ageism, the said model can even promote a more pervasive kind of ageism. One that is internalised by the old. One that sends many elderly in search for what I call the Erewhon of youth — i.e. a utopia of eternal youth — which eventually results in what I see as social-senicide. Put simply; the successful ageing model contributes to a socially constructed ideal of ageing ‘successfully’ that is indistinguishable from the myth of eternal youth.

It is a well-established fact that a certain amount of cognitive and physical activity combined with good nutrition, as well as social some engagement is essential for a healthy life — no matter what your age. Without disputing such facts, I question the effectiveness of the successful ageing model with its blanket idea of success. Instead I argue for a more wholistic approach towards what it means to age well — one that is pluralistic. One that is at the least culturally diverse and phenomenologically inclusive.

Marius Parents.png

B.A. Research

Practicing Traditions: An Ethnography of a "WEIRD" People and Their Practice of Schützenfest

A ‘culture’ is often seen as a rigid system with relatively fixed components highlighted in traditions, values, norms etc. Where, even ways of greeting, meeting and eating – seemingly – become unconscious and mundane motor reactions, to be carried out as a form of protocol. The ‘agent’ within this system then, far too often resemble a mere cog in a – detached – machine of culture. A machine with perhaps a big warning sign that reads “CAUTION: Do not touch! This is how it has always been done.” Paradoxically however, humans are as often considered the producers of culture and not just its heirs and scions. Where agents are not mere pawns in a system – and sheer bearers of action – but also its craftsmen. Critical theorists have for most of history, viewed culture and the agent in light of either the former or the latter, never wholly seeking to resolve the structure and agency problem. Only one of these could be true; either the (wo)man was a product of culture, or culture a product of the (wo)man. Some post-modern critical theorists, however, tried to address the issue with practice theory. Recognising the constraints of a powerful system, they argue that the system can be made and unmade through human action. Practice, then, is the impetus [mechanism - force] behind the production and reproduction of such self-constraining systems epitomized in Ortner’s aphorism “history makes people, but people make history.” My ethnographic research illustrates this very theory in practice; typified by the German tradition of Schützenfest as practiced in the village of Lenhausen. I demonstrate - through my ethnographic research – the workings of a constraining system, as well as the human agency, in conjunction with each other.  Just as a grammatical conjunction links two components into a complex sentence [logically true if and only if each of its components is true], practice theory links the structure and the agent without contradicting the powerful role of either of them.

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