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

by Anja K. Franck

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Submission summary

Authors (as Contributors): Anja Franck
Submission information
Preprint link: socarxiv_rgwds
Date submitted: 2022-03-13 14:19
Submitted by: Franck, Anja
Submitted to: Migration Politics
Ontological classification
Academic field: Political Science
  • Migration Politics


Humor is widely recognized as a fundamental aspect of the human experience, that has historically also played an important role in the way marginalized groups comment on and mock power. Yet, in migration research, the methodological and analytical value of the humorous has been more or less entirely overlooked. Rather to the contrary, migration studies has overwhelmingly centered its analysis around suffering and tragedy and, in the process, migrant trajectories have become depicted as endeavors that are largely devoid of humor, laughter, wit, irony, and play. This article, however, suggests that the almost single dedication to hardship in migration research has implications for the types of knowledge that we (re)produce around migrants’ experiences, subjectivities and struggles. In fact, it argues that our humorless representation of migrants risks feeding into de-humanization processes that tends to exceptionalize migrants’ experiences and subject positions. Offering an ethnographic account from fieldwork in Lesvos the article not only highlights how migrants do laugh at their own circumstances and the technologies put in place to control their lives and freedom of movement – but also how such laughter does political work in the way migrants narrate and navigate their experiences. In doing this it focuses on humor as a refusal to normalize conditions of subjugation, as a form of ironic truth-telling and the work that it can do to expose the absurdity of violence.

Current status:
Has been resubmitted

Submission & Refereeing History

Resubmission scipost_202205_00006v1 on 10 May 2022

Reports on this Submission

Report 2 by Munira Khayyat on 2022-4-27 (Invited Report)

  • Cite as: Munira Khayyat, Report on arXiv:socarxiv_rgwds, delivered 2022-04-27, doi: 10.21468/SciPost.Report.4993


1. This is an excellent paper that I was very happy to read. It is well written and sharply framed and convincingly argued.
2. It is a much needed contribution to the field of refugee and migration studies as well as work on war and violence that provides a necessary corrective to the ways in which refugees, migrants and those who live in war are grasped as subjects. It shows that these subjects are not mere victims but active shapers of their lives and makers of their destiny even when the circumstances are terrible.
3. The political implications of the paper are excellent both in academia and beyond for the way it insists on new understandings of refugees and migrants and the ways they navigate worlds in which they are not wanted.
4. The ethnography is compelling and the bibliography strong.


1. I would have liked a more sustained ethnographic engagement - to know more about how Qasim and friends made their way after Greece, if only in footnote. This would show the humanity beyond the academic project which I think is important to this paper.
2. I suspect humor is more a male/public stance in the world of (Syrian) refugees. How is humor gendered? Naturally the refugee experience is starkly gendered so how does gender play out in the way in which it is refused/resisted? Somehow this is not addressed in this paper. It need not be dealt with in depth in this paper, but I think it is necessary to note.


This is an excellent paper that should be published. It makes an important and necessary intervention in its field and I hope it is widely read and cited.

Requested changes

There were two typos I noted:

This proposal is met by quiet mumbles and headshakes in the group. Not entirely sure what our stance on this matter is, one OF the men lean forward, smiles and says in an exaggeratedly innocent voice:

Consider for instance how Qasim’s companions would rely on smiles and an innocent voice when calling EU policies “a little bit STUPID”

  • validity: top
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Report 1 by Kim Huynh on 2022-4-4 (Invited Report)

  • Cite as: Kim Huynh, Report on arXiv:socarxiv_rgwds, delivered 2022-04-04, doi: 10.21468/SciPost.Report.4852


1. Opens eyes to the existence and political impact of humour among migrants. Gives us permission and encouragement to register and analyse these humorous acts. Very important scholarly contribution.
2. Superb first half of article in which the analytical framework is established. Succinct, comprehensive, logical and compelling.
3. Walks the walk with a sprinkling of "in jokes" about the snarkiness of academia and Reviewer Two.


1. The autoethnographic section is appropriate but is not entirely convincing. It is like the build up is too long and the punchline doesn't quite hit the mark.
2. Similar issues arise with questions over what is "everyday resistance" and its efficacy. I can see how the Titanic and jibe at the EU form moments of i) truth, ii) refusal, iii) reprieve, but not necessarily iv) resistance.


1. This is a superbly conceived and executed article, deserving of publication. It should give lots of researchers pause and could generate further valuable research in varied disciplines.

Requested changes

1. This is not a deal breaker, but is there an additional example or a way to highlight how these examples are forms of political resistance? For example, how they show the emperor has no clothes. Or in the "everyday resistance" stuff by James C. Scott he talks about about how acts of pilfering or go slow strikes, may be not directed squarely at dominant power, but can accumulate in uncoordinated ways to impede or even wreck it.
2. Good at the end to rearticulate and emphasise the importance of this framework for migration studies - to acknowledge and appreciate humour. And how we can do this.
3. Very last line is a quote from Reiss. Better to end with something original from the author or migrants and a rerun.

  • validity: top
  • significance: top
  • originality: top
  • clarity: top
  • formatting: excellent
  • grammar: excellent

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