International Conference "Forced migration"

International conference "Empowerment in times of refugee migration" on the November 15th and 16th, 2018 at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg


On the November 15th and 16th in 2018, 70 scholars from Germany and abroad came together to discuss sociological analyses and practical possibilities for empowerment with Brandenburg's social workers and politically active refugees. The languages chosen for the conference was a simultaneous combination of German and English. With respect of Ngugi wa Thiongo, the idea was followed not to solidify dominant structures by choosing one language with varying degrees of proficiency. Instead, the art of language mediation was understood as part of international meeting and as a dimension of empowerment.

In her opening lecture, Prof. Dr. Birgit Behrensen emphasized that climate change triggered by industrialization, the continuing consequences of the colonial era as well as imperially motivated escalations in regional crises and wars pointed to a sense of global interconnectedness. Accordingly, the goal of the conference was nothing less than to further develop conceptual models that could grasp the transnational interconnectedness of individuals and societies in their global multidimensionality and strengthen democratic coexistence. With reference to Zygmund Bauman, the focus was to be on the conditions for success of a solidary coexistence of natives and immigrants.

The event kicked off with a lecture by Dr. Natasha Kelly. Under the title of "Unambiguous-ambiguous: The `double consciousness' of Black Germans" she formulated a scientific-theoretical foundation, the starting point of which was W.E.B. Du Bois' theory of Double Consciousness. Dr. Kelly brought the audience along to develop an understanding of the impact of colonially shaped perspectives. The lively discussion made it clear how much the ongoing consequences on an individual and societal level shaped the way we live together.

Prof. Dr. Elke Hildebrandt from the School of Education in The FHNW University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland then addressed the issue of educational support for participation processes in early childhood. She presented empirical material from an open, participatory elementary school classroom. With the question whether such a way of working privileges western and middle-class children, she invited a controversial discussion on questions of cultural differences and on questions of the notion of achievement in educational contexts.

Dr. Marius Lubsa Matichescu from the West University of Timisoara, Romania, presented interim results of his quantitative research on the living situation of Romanians in other European countries. It became clear how different state integration offers have contributed to variations in individual action strategies.

A short and intensive workshop phase took place on the first day of the conference. In the working group of the Refugee Council Brandenburg, the interdisciplinary complexity, which the lobbying in the field of refugee migration needs, became clear. The working group from "Women in Exile & Friends" discussed challenges in accompanying empowerment processes. Here, among other places, "Women in Exile & Friends" can point to some notable results in the empowerment of women in centralized shelters in Brandenburg. A third working group was the "Geflüchtetennetzwerk in Cottbus" (Refugee Network in Cottbus). It became visible that it takes a lot of patience to advance self-organization in the hands of refugees. Since two other working groups were cancelled at short notice, a fourth working group was unpromptedly initiated. This was aimed at researchers from universities in order to identify common research interests. It became clear that interdisciplinarity and internationality can sharpen one's own research perspective, but that it takes time to develop mutual understanding.

The second day was opened by Prof. Dr. Vasiliki Kantzara from Panteion University in Athens, Greece. After taking the audience to visualize how the economic crisis in Greece since 2012 had led to impoverishment and hunger, Prof. Dr. Kantzara presented empirical results on the design of aid actions in Greece. Based on historical-scientific approaches to concepts of solidarity, Prof. Dr. Kantzara elaborated on social dynamics that she was able to identify in Greece after the adoption of the European austerity program. With great interest, the audience followed her subsequent explanations of how the established solidarity structures contributed to supporting the refugees arriving in Greece in large numbers since 2015. The subsequent discussion touched on current challenges such as the change in political mood towards refugees. Opportunities for cosmopolitan coexistence that persist despite this change of mood became clear.

Dr. Tania Sholina and Maria Guliajeva from the Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University presented as collaborators of Prof. Dr. Iryna Petriuk dynamics of empowerment of internal refugees and other refugees in Ukraine. The translation into German was done by Valia Vilchak from the International Relation Office of the University. The speakers highlighted, among other things, the life situations of international refugees who chose to remain in Ukraine on their way to wealthier European countries, of internal refugees seeking protection from the Russian-Ukrainian war, and of Ukrainians who lived abroad temporarily or permanently in search of work and economic security. The subsequent discussion focused on the constructional character of identity, which was simultaneously deconstructed as a figure of argumentation in times of transnational interconnectedness.

Further presentations were given by Narine George, Prof. Dr. Ulrich Paetzold and Prof. Dr. Heidrun Herzberg from the BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg as well as Prof. Dr. Beata Orłowska from the Jacob of Paradies University in Gorzów Wielkopolski in Poland.

As one would expect from a social science conference, there were more questions than answers in the end. On the basis of a discussion, which was carried by the idea of a science-practice-transfer, starting points could be identified to make use of the multidimensionality of transnational linkages, inequalities and injustices for the expansion of empowerment.