Dr Nando Sigona: Asylum seekers, Roma, refugees and minority groups

I do research on asylum seekers, Roma, refugees, minority groups, on undocumented migrant children and families and on stateless people. What I try to do is to explore the spaces between citizenship and non-citizenship and to show how, in contemporary societies, in super-diverse societies, it is no longer possible to address issues in terms of binaries between legal and illegal, citizen and non-citizen. We need a new way of looking at society which tends to focus, not on these binaries but on the various steps in between which are possible. The way that people relate themselves to the state has changed and is no longer now just the relationship between the state and the person, but there is also the human rights framework, the human rights obligation that intervenes. I think that work around superdiversity here at IRiS is really important because as an interdisciplinary institute, we tend to build links and develop new perspectives on these issues.

I think from my previous work, what seems to emerge is that society is changing radically and is becoming much more complex to understand. If you look at it through a superdiversity lens, you start to question some of the assumptions and the key concepts we use when we are talking about migration, for example the concepts of integration. Just think about a school in Newham, in London, in East London, where you go there and there are 60 different languages, kids from so many different countries. It is no longer clear who is the white person, who is the black, who is the native English speakers and who is not.  So for example, the school where I went for my research I was told that the main native English speaker groups are the Afro-Caribbean British people, while the main white group are the Polish migrants. So you can see the confusion and also the novelty of the situation. So when we are talking about integration for example, what are we talking about? Integrating into what? In a way, the baseline has changed. We need to think of new ways of re-imagining society and I think applying a superdiversity lens really can help.

I am doing my work in various directions but two in particular are relevant within the superdiversity agenda. Firstly, the question around methodology. How do we do research in an area where there is so much diversity? How do as a sociologist, as an ethnographer we go in the field and try to relate to so many different stories? So we need to think about new and different ways to discover society. This is the work I am trying to do. I started doing it by working with colleagues on a special issue on 'Ethnography, diversity and urban space' which came out in 2013 (with the journal Identities). The other direction of work I am doing is to look at the way that diversity and superdiversity are becoming terms that are used, not only by academics, but also by policy makers and are becoming part of the public discourses, and how this three dimension, the dimension of the imagination so the way we look at things and how we describe them as diverse, the way local authorities or politicians use diversity as a way of governing difference somehow. And also the way that the factual element of it, the fact that society has become more complex. All these threads relate to each other, it’s something relatively new and I am really trying to work around it now.

Dr Nando Sigona staff profile