In June 2021, a group of early-career researchers with an interest in rural areas got together online for the 2021 DAMR PhD event. While a lot of migration research revolves around big cities which attract large numbers of migrants, attention has been broadening as more and more research projects address migration into rural and marginalized areas around the world. The two sessions of this DAMR PhD event allowed early career researchers working on migration related topics in rural and marginalized areas to come together to exchange with each other and with advanced researchers from both rural and migration studies about methodological and theoretical challenges. In this short contribution, Jana Finke - one of the events' organizers - reflects on the two-day session.
The first session was all about who and what is out there when it comes to research on migration into rural areas. Who is out there? A lot of interesting and curious early career researchers we got to meet from disciplines like geography, psychology, law, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, planning, political science, education and history. What is out there? Participants conduct qualitative and quantitative on reactions to refugees in rural areas, bottom-up initiatives for and by migrants, reception and integration policy and infrastructure in small towns, experience and belongings of migrant youth, migrant/local community relations in villages and arrival infrastructures for labour migrants, migration and rural development. While some of us are doing their research as independent Master or PhD projects, others are affiliated to bigger research projects, such as the Horizon 2020 programs Welcoming Spaces, Whole-COMM and MATILDE.
In small groups we got to discuss methodological and theoretical challenges we encounter as we merge different fields of study as rural and migration studies. We took those challenges as a basis for our second session: a roundtable discussion and workshops with advanced rural and migration studies researchers: Dr. Marlies Meijer (Utrecht University), Prof. Sarah Neal (Sheffield University), Prof. Michael Woods (Aberystwyth University), Dr. Rosario Sampedro (University of Valladolid) and Prof. Birgit Glorius (TU Chemnitz).
Some of the questions that came up were how to overcome the rural-urban dichotomy: As became clear from the many places we do research in, rural areas are diverse and hold a variety of social and spatial characteristics. Also what is perceived as rural can be relative and also has to do with how a place is imagined in relation to the city. At the same time, we also discussed if and how life can be inherently different for migrants who live in marginalized rural areas as compared to urban centers: is there more “mixing” of people with different ethnic backgrounds in smaller villages than in bigger cities with big ethnic communities? A methodological challenge that came up is if and how ensuring anonymity and confidentiality can be more difficult to achieve in research when doing research in small villages and how to actively work together with marginalized rural communities and how to connect to their struggles arising from rural depopulation, economic decline and a lack of infrastructure.