Border Figurations – Comparing Different Groupings with Ethnographic and Biographical Research Methods

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 11:57
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Eva BAHL, Center of Methods in Social Sciences, University of Goettingen, Germany
Arne WORM, Center of Methods in Social Sciences, University of Goettingen, Germany
In this paper we want to discuss methodical approaches and fieldwork experiences of our collaborative research project “The Social Construction of Border Zones” headed by Prof. Gabriele Rosenthal and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Our ongoing research on borders and migration in the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla is based on sociology of knowledge and figurational sociology and is conducted with a combination of biographical and ethnographic methods.

In the research project, we aim to reconstruct the perspectives, the respective collective histories and unequal power relations between different groupings that are involved in “doing border” in the Spanish-Moroccan border region. Ceuta and Melilla constitute the European Union's only land border on the African continent. High fences – increasingly fortified since the 1990s - surround both cities. Yet, a variety of interacting and interrelated actors, patterns of migration as well as different mobility patterns are constituting the reality of this border 'on the ground': Policing forces, migrants from very different societal and cultural contexts, local population on both sides of the border, NGO workers, and others. To reconstruct the diversity of perspectives, histories and interactions between these groupings, we apply a comparative approach.

Hence, we would like to present our methodological assumptions and examples of our fieldwork and discuss comparisons on two different levels: Firstly, how do we combine the different methodical approaches in our comparative research framework and what are the challenges and benefits of this combination. Secondly, we want to highlight in how far the comparison of members of very different groupings resp. the comparison of groupings is crucial for our fieldwork, for our theoretical generalizations and required in order to reflect on the “production of comparability” (Niewöhner/Scheffer 2010).