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Laughable borders: Making the case for the humorous in migration studies

Anja K. Franck

Mig. Pol. 1, 004 (2022) · published 14 June 2022


Humor is widely recognized as a fundamental aspect of the human experience, that has also played a vital role in the way marginalized groups comment on and mock power. Yet, in migration research the methodological and analytical value of humor has been largely overlooked. Rather, migration studies has commonly centered its analysis around suffering and tragedy and, in the process, depicted migrant trajectories as endeavors largely devoid of laughter, humor, irony and play. This article suggests that such humorless representations of the migration process – and indeed of the migrant subject itself – has broader implications for the types of knowledge that we (re)produce around migrants’ experiences, subjectivities and struggles. In fact, it argues that migration studies’ failure to recognize migrants as humorous individuals risks feeding into processes of exceptionalization and de-humanization through setting “the migrant” up as an obscure figure that lacks “essentially human” qualities. In order to make the case for the humorous in migration research, the article illustrates how refugees arriving to the Greek island of Lesvos in the early summer of 2015 laughed at their own predicament as well as the technologies put in place to control their freedom of movement and how their laughter, humor and comic displays did important political work in refusing subjugation, in speaking truth to power and in capturing the absurdity of the violence that they faced.

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