The Four Pillars of ReROOT: Arrival, Infrastructure, Newcomers, Integration
Karel Arnaut & Bruno Meeus
Half-way into the field research in nine different sites across the EU, Turkey and the UK, this policy brief sketches out the basic tools and insights with which our four year project seeks to realise its ambition. ReROOT has the huge ambition to revolutionize the way we think about migration, and above all, the way we, as migration societies, ‘do’ migration. Two operations are central to the critical shift which ReROOT seeks to accomplish: (1) our entry point into migration is arrival while (2) it conceives of ‘doing’ arrival as ‘infrastructuring’. This novel take on migration has profound effects on the way we approach integration and position newcomers.
Arrival as departure
Surprisingly perhaps, we see ‘arrival’ less as an endpoint than a point of departure. Arrival in ReROOT’s understanding is a condition of (always temporary but possibly quite long-term) settling/inhabitation that allows one to prepare for the future while reassembling the past. ‘Present’, ‘past’ and ‘future’ refer to times as much as to spaces and social circles where these ‘times’ take place. Arrival is thus a time-space patchwork of relatively stable surroundings enabling as well as limiting and orienting people to (re)connect and re-source, or what we efer to as ‘reroot’. This ‘rerooting’ should not only be understood as taking place within a (pre-existing) situation but also as building or transforming these surroundings in a process of collaboration and interaction with a wide range of resident actors.
When migrants and residents engage in building and transforming the arrival situation, they are involved in a process of infrastructuring. Infrastructuring is a broad term which helps grasping a number of qualities of the surroundings in which migrants and residents find themselves upon arrival of the former.
- Infrastructure 1.0. The term infrastructure obviously highlights the materiality of the surroundings in which migrants find themselves upon arrival. Infrastructure 1.0 highlights the relevance of affordability, technical and aesthetical qualities of housing and shelter, the differential access to water and gas, the crucial connection to the cables, wire and WiFi sigals that distribute electricity and internet . This is infrastructure 1.0, provided, built and transformed or indeed infrastructured by a range of commercial, state and collective actors, often including migrants themselves.
- Infrastructure 2.0. ReROOT’s vision of infrastructure beyond ‘infrastructure 1.0’ seeks to cover what is often called ‘social infrastructures’: education and health institutions, employment agencies and a wide range of social services. All these may either be meant specifically for newcomers ‒ think, for instance, of language or ‘integration’ courses ‒ or address the population at large. Instances of the latter are public parks and transport, health provisions, public administration, etc. to which migrants, depending on their legal and residential status, have some degree of With infrastructure 2.0, a group of social professionals emerges, who, in interaction with a range of others, are key infrastructuring actors in bringing this social infrastructure to life in interaction with migrants..
- Infrastructure 3.0 explores to what extent the myriad situated sharing and caring, exchange and communication of migrants, family members, friends, social professionals and others, has an infrastructural quality: in their concerted action, these practices orient people’s lives. They constrain and control, channel and orient the social mobilities of migrants. Infrastructure 3.0 is close to the way social infrastructure has been used in Feminist literature. It takes shape in concrete settings such as family homes, diasporic networks of kin and acquaintances, settings of work, trade and consumption, religious and cultural associations, grass-roots activism, leisure, etc, but its crucial infrastructural quality is perhaps not immediately clear.
As can be guessed from the above characterisation, the choice of ‘infrastructure’ and ‘infrastructuring’ is motivated by the fact that it enables us to grasp the richness and complexity of the building and transforming work shaping the newcomer’s arrival situation. Indeed, more than the seemingly stable, entrenched, if not fossilised terminology of ‘infrastructure’ seems to suggest, ReROOT’s use of ‘infrastructuring’ in its more active mode, above all tries to grasp the dynamic process of repurposing and reshaping and the process of routinisation or ‘sedimentation’. In contrast to practices of reshaping, sedimentation refers to processes of gradual routinisation over time, through repeated action and constructing, repairing and reworking of built environment. Because of their ongoing stabilisation, these sedimentations structurally constrain and control but also channel and orient practices and representations taking place within the arrival situation.
As a result, the infrastructuring work in the arrival situation is eminently interactive: it somehow reworks what is there but does never fully escape the established norms and regulations. In spite of its obvious material overtones, infrastructuring indeed involves seemingly ‘non- material’ things such as a wealth of legal arrangements. The latter range from human rights to residence and labour regulation laws and are informed by (dominant but often implicit) discourses of diversity, inequality and racialisation. These discourses operate in everyday speech as much as in media use; they distinguish allochthones from autochthones, or deserving from undeserving migrants, ventilate stereotypes of national characteristics or racialisations of cultural or religious identities, etc. By incorporating all these ‘representations’ into infrastructure, ReROOT insists on the fact that these ideas also always exist in some material or social form or other: in objects and built environment, practices of violent policing as well as everyday caring and the elusive yet massively influential messaging in social media. One of the more recent instances of the powerful working of discourses in migration is the way in which the arrival of Ukrainian refugees has been ‘infrastructured’ in contrast to refugees from East Africa and the Middle East.
From the above sketch of ReROOT’s general perspective on migration as explained through the key terms ‘arrival’ and ‘ infrastructure’, one may rightly infer that an alternative view on integration is part of our revolutionising endeavour. Overall, two positions can be discerned when it comes to integration: either it is up to the migrants (newcomers) to adapt to, try to fit or find their place in, the new environment they are entering. Alternatively the main challenge is situated with the receiving society that needs to open up, suppress mechanisms of exclusion and xenophobia and make social and physical space for new arrivals. In practice, imaginaries and regimes of reception can be situated along the continuum between both extreme positions.
In response to this potentially polarising situation, ReROOT suggests a double step forward. The first is an exploratory step. While trying to get rid of the normativity underlying the above continuum, we look at integration as what people in a banal way do in society: they make do in the social environments they are operating in; they are always somehow integrating: engaging in a ongoing negotiation of their aspirations within limiting and enabling social environments. These negotiations are eminently complex and composite, because migrants and non- migrants alike socialize/integrate not just in one (abstract) society or even community but in a multitude of ‘circles’ in different relationships and capacities ‒ as mother or colleague, as churchgoer or employee, as pupil or client, etc. Exploring and describing these integrational negotiations, their sites and relevant actors, is what ReROOT researchers have been engaging in over the last year.
Moreover, this exploratory work prepares for a second, ‘normative’ move. In the pluriverse of circles where people ‘integrate’, there are norms and values, regulations and ideologies at work. These require documentation and reflection since the relative successes and failures, gratifications and frustrations of this dispersed, non- contiguous ‘integration labour’ will depend on them. Underlying the reflexive and interactive way in which ReROOT researchers try to unpack these multiplex normativities, is the conviction that such local integration is only rewarding/productive if participants, oldcomers and newcomers, are engaging in making ‘integration’ work, through a process of common worldbuilding.
In order to distinguish itself from other more mainstream views of integration, ReROOT speaks of ‘minor integrations’ referring to the two ‘moves’ presented above: the everyday and the polycentric ‒ the ‘banal’ practices of making do in society and the small-scale, local normativities at work and brought to bear on these locales by the people constituting it.
Newcomers old and new
Finally, ReROOT seeks to move beyond the strong, almost obsessive focus on the ‘we-they’ division when it comes to migrants and, above all, newcomers. Fifty years after Europe began closing its doors for the migrants it had so eagerly invited in after WWII, the mirage of closable borders has become internalised by large sections of the population and has been deeply entrenched in mainstream policies. In spite of manifold attempts by migration scholars to denounce the selectivity of closed borders for people as nativist, xenophobic and racist in nature, the ‘closed-borders-are- possible’ discourse is widely established and has found its ultimate target in focusing on ‘the newcomer’.
Generally speaking, the idea of ‘newcomers’ is nourished by sharpened anxieties over their strangeness, their unfamiliarity with the new environment, and the unpredictability of their intentions or aims. ‘Recent newcomers’, the term ReROOT uses in its title, is the even more radical variety of this and is a key term in the dominant crisis discourse when it comes to recent migrations. Since at least 2015, but in fact since the gradual closing of Europe for more or less organised, regular migration in the early 1970s, Europe and the EU have been operating in a crisis mode, inspired by the idea that it can close its borders. ReROOT deeply questions the wilful surprise’, time and again, over the fact that people keep on migrating into Europe in smaller or larger numbers on the rhythm of political and violent conflicts, economic debacles, and increasingly, ecological/climate emergencies mainly, but not exclusively in the global south. Beyond our critical encounter with the term ‘(recent) newcomer’, ReROOT also works towards its constructive re-signification. This is based on the fact that ‘newcomer’ points towards an ‘early’ arrival situation which offers a kind of openness and malleability for policy makers to actively engage, support and co-orient the emerging infrastructuring of migrants
ReROOT builds on continuities against crises
Using ‘arrival’, ‘infrastructure’ and ‘minor integrations’ as key tools to counteract the utterly unproductive crisis view of migration that dominates discourses nowadays, ReROOT insists on both longer-term and shorter-term continuities. The longer term perspective is that ‘we are all migrants’ if you go back in history far enough. Indeed, through a process of continuous and widely documented autochthonisation/ nativisation people gradually identify as natives, not in the least in relation to relative newcomers that enter their lives and life worlds. In the shorter term, ReROOT argues that it is wise to acknowledge the acceleration of more or less recent globalisation processes including migration. In order to handle this ‘overheating’ of global mobility, it is all the more important to learn from the past arrival situations and organise a quicker turnover (exchange, collaboration) of knowledge, expertise, and experience in matters of common worldbuilding, among relative firstcomers and latecomers, older and newer newcomers, alike. That is what ReROOT is documenting, unpacking and learning lessons from as we speak.