The Importance of ‘Home’ and ‘Home Making’ Practices Within Migration, Displacement and Resettlement

by Dr. Helen Underhill

This post introduces the Making Home Away digital archive of testimonies of migration, displacement and resettlement, and discusses ‘home making’ as an emerging thread within studies of contemporary migration.

Within the context of the so-called ‘migration crisis’ (or rather, media representation of ongoing human movement as a crisis and a threat) and the associated rightward lean in political systems worldwide, a nascent research field that approaches themes of ‘home’ and ‘home making’ within migration studies has emerged within the humanities and social sciences.

Photographs from Al-Azraq & Za’atari refugee camps, Jordan, 2019. Images by Yasmine Shamma.

As the refugee camps of Jordan gain in permanence each year, with no end to the crisis for those displaced by conflict in Syria, collaborative research on refugee ‘home making’ consults refugees and migrants as experts in their own experience, and challenges policy makers to implement solutions for integration that offer a sense of justice and reflect higher ideals of human equality and progressive citizenship.

‘Home’ works as a catch-all for a diverse range of practices and materialities (stories featured within the Making Home Away archive concern cooking, gardening, soft furnishings, clothes, belongings, memories, family relationships, and wider social structures). 

Photographs from Al-Azraq & Za’atari refugee camps, Jordan, 2019. Images by Yasmine Shamma.

As a research theme, ‘Home’ is resonant; it advocates for the idea that people need more than the bare minimum for survival, to make a life in a new place.  It is also aesthetically rich, satisfying our love of being invited into someone else’s space and seeing how others live.  Within projects such as the Making Home Away archive, addressing ‘home making’ is part of an attempt to recontextualise ‘the refugee’ and to inform public debate and policy changes that support truly successful integration within host countries. 

As population movement – driven by climate change, conflict and economic inequality – increases in political and personal significance in the coming decades, understanding how refugees make – and remake – home will form a vital part of theory and practice in situations of protracted displacement.  We hope that the testimonies and reflections scattered across the map of the Making Home Away archive will provide an opportunity for both scholars of migration, practitioners, policymakers and members of the public to spark new conversations around the fertile topic of ‘making home’.

The archive can be found at https://makinghomeaway.com/ – follow https://twitter.com/MakingHomeAway for updates as the archive grows, and for news about our forthcoming publication outputs.

This project was funded by the British Academy’s “Tackling the UKs International Challenges” grant.  It brings together work by principal investigator Dr. Yasmine Shamma (University of Reading) and co-investigators Professor Suzan Ilcan (University of Waterloo), and Professor Vicki Squire (University of Warwick).  For further information, please contact: makinghomeaway@gmail.com.

Dr. Helen Underhill is an anthropologist with a research history in Palestine/Israel.  She is currently Postdoctoral Research Assistant to the Making Home Away project at the University of Reading, and previously supported the REALM (Research and Empirical Analysis of Labour Migration) research project on race and gender in relation to Keralite migration to the Gulf states, hosted at SOAS (led by Dr Caroline Osella).  Her own research explores themes of mobility and morality which influence how artists produce the Palestinian art world through their interactions with each other and with the global art circuit.