IGP Stories

Migration, Diversity and Politics through the Psychoanalytic Lens

RELIEF Mass Displacement Africa America Asia Europe Pacific

By Dr Nikolay Mintchev

Migration and displacement are taking place on an unprecedented scale. The movement of people throughout the world is diversifying the demography of cities and challenging established norms of identity, community, and belonging. In many countries, it is also putting pressures on social cohesion, public services, and political stability.

Why is it that in times of unprecedented global wealth so many people are so disillusioned with their circumstances?

Learning to live with the realities of migration is a difficult endeavour. Part of the challenge is to develop pathways to improving quality of life for the cities and communities that are affected by the pressures of large population influx. This includes improving public services, educational opportunities and the quality of the built environment for all, regardless of whether the migrants/displaced will return or not. Another part of the challenge is understanding what it takes for people to live with one another in ways that allow them to thrive collectively. Here it is important to address the question of subjective experience as the assemblage of affects, desires, and psychic representations that define how people relate to themselves, others and the world as a whole: Why is it that in times of unprecedented global wealth so many people are so disillusioned with their circumstances, which they often see as worsened by migration? Why are populist movements on the rise in so many countries across the world, and why is it so difficult to break the cycles of hostility that are tearing societies apart? What does it take for diversity to be seen as a public value, rather than an obstacle to a better society?

We are all embedded in different social and political contexts

Recent research at the IGP has addressed these questions by exploring the subjective dimension of migration, diversity and politics through psychoanalytic concepts. Psychoanalysis since Freud has been preoccupied with exploring what it takes to live with others, emphasising the pleasures and satisfactions we get from social life, as well as the fears and anxieties that others evoke in us. Understanding self-other relations psychoanalytically is a theoretical matter, of course, because it requires a theory of the subject, but it is also an empirical matter, because subjects are always embedded in different social and political contexts, and animated by specific individual and collective histories.

"Migration and Diversity"

Our recent paper on "Migration and Diversity", published in the Routledge Handbook of Psychoanalytic Political Theory explores the multiple ways in which people engage with difference in their neighbourhoods and cities, as well as in distant places elsewhere. Drawing on case-studies from Lebanon, the UK, and Poland, we argue that in today's world on the move identity is built and sustained not only through face-to-face encounters with difference, but also through "imagined" relations to people we have never met. These experiences of self and others - whether proximate or distant - define how we envisage our future, as well as the future of prosperity, in a world where our lives are so intimately linked to the lives of others.

Image: Peter Mintchev


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