Migration, Time, and Temporalities: International Conference

Oliver Kühschelm, Centre for Historical Migration Research / IGLR; Anne Unterwurzacher, Ilse Arlt Institute for Social Inclusion Research/UAS St. Pölten; Research Network for Interdisciplinary Regional Studies; Annemarie Steidl, Department of Economic and Social History, University of Vienna; Slovenian Migration Institute ZRC SAZU; Mirjam Milharčič Hladnik / Aleksej Kalc, (Scientific Research Centre at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts
St. Pölten
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
04.05.2023 - 05.05.2023
Magret Berger, Zentrum für historische Migrationsforschung, Institut für Geschichte des ländlichen Raumes, St. Pölten

The interdisciplinary conference marked the second installment of the three-part series, "(Researching) Migration: On New Paths, in Each Direction?". Scholars from various disciplines within the humanities, historical social sciences, and political sciences used the lens of time and temporality to explore migration processes of the 19th to 21st centuries.

In her keynote lecture from the perspective of human geography, LINN AXELSSON (Stockholm) emphasized that state borders structure time experiences in processes of migration and mobility. Rather than being a spatially fixed entry point that people cross on their way into a country or out of it, borders are spatially ambiguous and tied to regulatory arrangements that reach deep into the state’s own territory and also beyond it. Any attempt to cross the border is preceded by contact with a set of requirements and institutions that determine the legitimacy of this plan. This is how borders connect to a diverse range of temporalities, which are applied to individuals depending on their social status and the categorization of their mobility. For instance, the paperwork for highly skilled and qualified individuals, or essential agricultural workers, often receives expedited processing, while less educated or skilled migrants and asylum-seeking war refugees encounter delays, confusing, and contradictory bureaucratic demands. As a result, individuals in these distinct categories have to navigate the spatial and temporal aspects of borders in different ways, which leads to vastly divergent migration experiences.

Several sessions explored the temporal aspects of labor migration, such as the 'Gastarbeiter system,' that intended to bring workers to host countries for specific jobs and limited time. MARIA ADAMOPOULOU (Florence) investigated Greek guest workers' perceptions of time in the 1960–1989 period, highlighting the challenges that migrants with rural backgrounds faced when adapting to faster-paced urban life. VERENA LORBER (Linz) delved into labor migration during Austria's "economic miracle years”. She discussed the unintended consequences of labor migration policies that by means of a rotation system tried to ensure that after a time guest workers would again leave the country. This opened a rift between people who nevertheless stayed long-term and a society that was not prepared to include them in any way apart from the temporary function they were to fulfill at the work place. Still in 2023 the Austrian prime minister was not beyond declaring that it had been a “mistake” to call in “guest workers”. Thereby he treated labor migrants and their descendants as a cause of disturbance in the time line of the national narrative. Another topic of discussion were the temporal dimensions of return migration, which among other things reconnects the time space of those who stayed and those who return for a visit or long-term. NATASHA RUŽIĆ (Zagreb) discussed recent return migration in the case of Croatia and explored how biographical time as structured by life-course events (completion of training/education, marriage, retirement) interacts with the experience of returning.

MARGARITA DOUNIA (Athens) and MIHA ZOBEC (Ljubljana) explored “epistolary time”, the role of letters to bridge the disconnect between migrants and their families at home. Dounia analyzed a case from post-World War II Greece: the correspondence between a young man who was sent to the US to pursue his studies and his siblings and mother at home. Zobec drew on a collection of letters from a family that in the 1920s left the Italo-Yugoslav borderland to settle in Argentina. Both discussed how gender related to different ways of constructing and perceiving time. The subsequent discussion raised the question to what extent today's communication via social media has fundamentally changed the temporal experience of migration from the perspectives of both migrants and those who stay behind. Correspondence via letters was marked by a desire for simultaneity, which was thwarted by spatial distance. However, the increased speed of contemporary communication has not made disappear an unattainable yearning for presence and simultaneity.

HANS PETER HAHN (Frankfurt am Main) and MIRJAM MILHARČIČ HLADNIK (Ljubljana) examined temporalities of opportunity. Hahn advocated for a reflexive approach to migration studies that does not attempt to construct a “migrant identity” but considers a broad range of emotions and multiple belongings. Hladnik took as her case a border region between Yugoslavia and Italy: for centuries the region of Goricia had been a multicultural space and a contested territory when in 1945/47 a new state border cut “across the people”. Hladnik’s talk explored how in this context young people on the Yugoslav side of the border imagined their futures. There were those who wanted to leave at a time when opportunities for legal emigration were few. Their expectations were in part shaped by a long-standing culture of migration. Others stayed and hoped for upward mobility in the newly built town of Nova Goricia that was planned as a “lighthouse of socialism”.

MARLENE MÜLLER-BRANDECK (Munich) scrutinized "temporalities of exclusion". In her research she investigates the experiences of refugees at “social docking sites” such as schools or doctor’s offices. In modern societies these are crucial places of inclusion or exclusion. ANNA PRASHIZKY (Acre) explored second-generation Russian-speaking migrants' interactions with Mizrahi peers. Both groups tend to live in the urban periphery. Different time spaces shape their interactions: a historical-chronological time-space that refers to the place of each group in the history of the Israeli nation since the 1950s, in both cases marginal but in different ways and to a different extent; a traditionalist Jewish time-space, the annual cycle of religious rites; and a suspended time-space of feeling stuck at the margins, both spatially and socioculturally. SEBASTIAN TREMBLAY (Flensburg) argued that in Germany the claim to have absorbed the lesson from past Nazi atrocities constructs a “European time” that can serve as an instrument to legitimize the exclusion of migrants. For example, it treats queer migrants from Arab countries as representatives of homophobic cultures that lie beyond the European time zone.

The closing panel discussed the heteronomy of refugees and their dependence on the asylum system from historical and contemporary perspectives. BENEDETTA FABRUCCI (Trieste) investigated the case of transit camps in Trieste during the 1950s, where refugees experienced an excruciating time of waiting under highly precarious living conditions. ZOÉ CRINE and FRANCESCA RAIMONDO (Louvain) talked about the Belgium asylum system today. They examined how it forces refugees to navigate a dynamic between not having enough time and having too much of it. Non-transparent asylum procedures disempower refugees who find it hard to achieve more than just a fragmented understanding of the procedure. Asylum seekers thus feel immobilized and unable to plan for their future. The presentations observed that the meaning of this forced waiting time differs for female and male refugees. This once again emphasized the gendered experience of space and time.

In summary, the conference provided a productive forum for discussing migration in historical and contemporary perspectives. The research presented at the conference focused on reconstructing the experiences of migrants and relied mostly on qualitative approaches. Narrative interviews, personal testimonies, letters and correspondence figured prominently as sources. Among the topics discussed were the intricacies of how the subjective time of migrants interacts with social, institutional, and national time regimes, the way specific means of communication (letters) shape the experiences of migrants and non-migrants, and how power differentials impact on the scope of agency, make migrants wait or have them struggle with the opaqueness of institutional time regimes.

Conference overview:

Panel 1: Working time
Chair: Anne Unterwurzacher (St. Pölten)

Maria Adamopoulou (Florence): Fast forward: the Greek Gastarbeiter’s perceptions of time in their migration journeys 1960–1989

Verena Lorber (Linz): “I didn’t think I would stay here this long”. State and individual perspectives on the temporality of labor migration to Austria in the 1960s and 1970s

Natasha Ružić (Zagreb): The influence of temporal aspects of return migration and decision-making processes for Croatians living abroad on their potential for return

Panel 2: Epistolary time and the experience of migration
Chair: Mirjam Milharčič Hladnik (Ljubljana)

Margarita Dounia (Athens): The multiple temporalities of migrant family letters: a case study from post-WWII Greece

Miha Zobec (Ljubljana): The family Guštin and its experience of temporalities between Argentina and the Italo-Yugoslav border


Linn Axelsson (Stockholm): Borders as time-spaces of authority: The regulation of cross-border movements and rights

Panel 3: Temporalities of opportunity
Chair: Annemarie Steidl (Vienna)

Hans Peter Hahn (Frankfurt am Main): The freedom of the migrant. Temporalities of mobile biographies

Mirjam Milharčič Hladnik (Ljubljana): The contested future: the subjective perception of time and temporality among young migrants along the western Slovenian border 1947–1962

Panel 4: Temporalities of exclusion: time as a foreign country
Chair: Oliver Kühschelm (St. Pölten / Vienna)

Marlene Müller-Brandeck (Munich): The temporal inclusion of refugees in societal docking sites: insights from a sociotheoretical research project

Anna Prashizky (Akko): “A desert city surrounded by mountains, where everything closes on Shabbat”: second-generation Russian-speaking migrants narrating the Israeli periphery

Sebastien Tremblay (Flensburg): Erasing queerness through European time: coming to terms with the National Socialist past and the exclusion of queer migrants in 21st century Germany

Panel 5: Heteronomous time – when time is not on your side
Chair: Aleksej Kalc (Ljubljana)

Benedetta Fabrucci (Trieste): A time of waiting: foreign refugees in Trieste’s transit camps in the 1950s

Zoé Crine (Louvain) / Francesca Raimondo (Louvain): “To me it’s just a stamp”: times, temporalities and shape of vulnerabilities in the Belgian asylum system