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Essay considers concepts of freedom, mobility in global migration

Wednesday, June 15, 2016



LAWRENCE — The Urarina, an indigenous group in the Peruvian Amazon, never carried national identification documents until they were forced to.

Their concepts of place, freedom and mobility are very different than most who today live in "first-world" societies. That's largely because most of the world is increasingly globalized. Technology has become more prevalent and bridged some gaps between previous geographic restrictions. To manage these changes, nations have facilitated immigration, which has entailed putting up physical and bureaucratic borders, and a University of Kansas scholar says now is a critical time to deconstruct ideas behind freedom and mobility.

"If we're in a position to address the human rights components, it's very important for us to plumb the depths of the philosophical dimensions of the very nature of freedom," said Bartholomew Dean, associate professor of anthropology.

Dean is the author of a book chapter on freedom and immigration in the June publication of the book "Keywords of Mobility: Critical Engagements," edited by Noel Salazar and Kiran Jayaram.

In his essay, Dean examines the ideas of "freedom of mobility" and "mobility of freedom" in the context that humans are seduced by the desires of overabundance instead of accommodating the shifting socioeconomic, ecological and geopolitical forces they face.

With immigration crises gripping both Europe and the Americas, Dean said "freedom of mobility" relates to the idea of whether people are able to stay put, leave and possibly return. It can become complicated as nations seek to regulate or impede the process by restricting individuals from legally crossing a border based on a person's country of origin, ethnicity or other factors.

This also can open up the door for black markets to operate outside government regulation, such as smuggling, human trafficking and other dangerous networks in ways that can endanger people attempting to migrate.

Or if migrants are imprisoned or expelled from a country, this level of punishment can greatly influence one's life as well, he said.

"Issues of freedom have to be addressed at a global level as well as looking at what local notions of how we locally, regionally and nationally construct these, because otherwise they come into conflict," Dean said.

As he dissected the term "mobility of freedom," he found deep contrasts in that concept, especially in indigenous groups like the Urarina, who for many years had no use or value for government-assigned identification cards because they had little contact with the Western world or occidental bureaucratic institutions.

"Today they must possess these documents in order for them to survive and to resist an ever-encroaching world that is keen on their natural resources and potentially displacing them and absorbing them into a society that hasn't historically looked very favorably on indigenous peoples," Dean said.

He said it's critical to delve deeper into keywords surrounding mobility and immigration, especially as roughly 80 percent of all refugees in the world spend more than a decade in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons.

Dean is an advisory board member for KU's new Center for Migration Research under the KU Institute for Social Policy & Research. Foundation Distinguished Professors Cecilia Menjívar and Victor Agadjanian of the Department of Sociology lead the center, which promotes and coordinates KU research on the causes, types and consequences of human migration at the state, regional, national and global levels.

"Our ability to travel or to stay home is under threat," Dean said. "I think it's important for those at the forefront of policy and helping formulate policy to address this and have an open debate about this issue of great consequence."

Photo by Bart Dean, Department of Anthropology.