Looking back: Mixing Methods in Migration Research Conference

Last October, the Mixing Methods in Migration Research took place online. Mixed methods research is known to increase understanding and therefore perfectly suitable to capture complex phenomena such as migration. Despite its widespread approval, the actual integration of methods in migration studies is still limited. In this conference, we brought together academic researchers interested in and/or experienced with mixed methods research in the field of migration. The aim of the conference was to raise and discuss challenges and considerations associated with doing mixed methods research and together move towards a true blending of methodologies. In this short contribution Nella Geurts – the main organizer of the event – reflects on the two-day conference.

Professor Jørgen Carling (PRIO Migration Centre) kicked off the conference with his keynote on how migration research can thrive on methodological divides. In this keynote, Carling addressed various questions ranging from what counts as mixed methods and what its purpose is, to how methods can be mixed in practice and what the possible pitfalls are. In conclusion, Carling argued that we should all be alerted to the potential of mixed methods research. To do so, the integration of the methods should be planned well, and the implementation of all methods should be well executed. The keynote was followed up by two discussants. Joris Schapendonk (Radboud University) discussed how reflection on our methods used is necessary and proposed that there are two versions of mixing: the mixing of two ingredients that create a new reality and ground for knowledge, and the mixing of things that un-mix. In order to let mixed methods research thrive, these non-mixable ingredients should be taken into account and addressed. Next, Nella Geurts (Radboud University) questioned how more mixed methods research can be enabled in the future. In light of promoting more open-research practices, she argued how reusing both quantitative and qualitative data may be part of the puzzle for a future in which mixed methods research can be put in practice more often and easily, also by those who have less resources or time to gather data themselves.

After this first session, there were two workshops. In the first workshop, organized by Niels Spierings (Radboud University), participants discussed the key(s) to publishing mixed methods research. By exchanging experiences and thoughts, this workshop set up a battle plan and wish list to make sure mixed methods research gets published and funded. In the second workshop, organized by Nella Geurts (Radboud University), early career researchers shared and discussed their plans and the practicalities they run into with respect to doing mixed methods research, and brainstormed about how to overcome challenges faced.

On day two of the conference, Rossalina Latcheva (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) provided a keynote on how mixed methods approaches can help overcome the intricate relation between migration research and the dominant political discourses about migration. In this keynote, Latcheva put the thesis to the fore that there is no context-free (migration) research, as research does not occur in a vacuum. Latcheva argued that contexts not only shape practices of migrants and others, but also shape the ways in which we study migration-related phenomena: the categorizations we apply, the methods used and who we in- and exclude in our research. This keynote was followed up by two discussants. Marcel Lubbers (Utrecht University) wondered how we as researchers can respond to the tension between using labels – and thereby creating inequalities – and not using labels – and therefore silencing these inequalities. This tension may be acknowledged and addressed in doing mixed methods research, as such a design allows for using the labels as well as discuss how they are experienced by people. Roos Hoekstra-Pijpers (Radboud University) also discussed the use of categories and how mixed methods can help to give voice to marginalized groups. Hoekstra-Pijpers discussed approaches of other researchers that do away with categories, for instance by adopting a place-based perspective, and how these stand in the way of mixed methods research. How can mixed methods relate to such alternative approaches? Latcheva and Hoekstra-Pijpers agreed that researchers need to be aware of the risks of using categories and also the risks of not using them.

After this second keynote, there were two workshops. In the first workshop, organized by Nella Geurts (Radboud University), participants shared their ultimate dream with respect to a mixed methods project. By practicing out of the box thinking, instead of immediately taking into account budget and other practicalities, this workshop showed that by first dreaming big and deciding on what is possible afterwards allows for gaining new perspectives and inspiration in one’s mixed methods research design. In the second workshop, organized by Tine Davids (Radboud University), participants discussed how applying mixed methods confronts us with particular issues of knowledge production and how power is constructed in the way that research is communicated and written. A recommendation to migration researchers would be to make responsible knowledge by being explicit about how the researcher is part of the research process. The conference was closed with a virtual chance to meet each other and discuss insights gained on

All in all, we look back on a fruitful and inspiring event which gave us much food for thought. In the Mixed Methods Menu below, you can find the main insights of this conference. On behalf of the other organizers of this event – Tine Davids, Niels Spierings and David de Kort – I would like to thank DAMR for their support in bringing about this event, as well as RUNOMI and Radboud Social Cultural Research.