Focus "Migration and border regime studies"

Especially useful for our research projects about the governing and governance of migration in Europe is the concept of regime. It describes regulation as a more or less messy ensemble of practices and knowledge-power-complexes and therefore not as a system implemented by state powers or powerful societal groups. Rather it aims at describing regulations as products of negotiations and conflicts between different protagonists, which does not mean locating state and the movements of migration on opposite sides. A dichotomy like the one between migrants and state cannot be formulated using regime theory, because it directly aims at deconstructing supposedly bigger entities like the EU, thus enabling an ethnographic perspective. We are, according to such a ethnographic perspective, arguing for a perspective that does not only look at programmatic turns of regimes, but also at subjectivizations in practice and thus also at techniques and protagonists. We are arguing for a cross-sectional "regime" perspective – alternatively we would also speak of "assemblages". When using regime or assemblage theory, negotiations, emergences, transformations and genealogies become prominent. A perspective like this is knowledge reflexive: it asks how categories like "migration" or "migrant" became possible and how they connect with other rationalities like humanitarian or human rights discussions, thus building new ensembles but also new subjects.

A perspective of "research on the move" methodologically means to start with single points in negotiations and conflicts or processes and to follow their trajectories and connections afterwards. This means disentangling complexities and to follow the actors or respectively to reconstruct their movements. Thereby we understand our research projects to be spotlights on changes and transformations of the current migration and border regime. They open a punctual access to a permanent changing knowledge-power-network.
We try to answer the following questions in our projects, which are tracing different aspects of the current migration and border regime:

  • How can the humanitarization or human rights transformation of the border regime be described? When and under what circumstances can it be observed? How are these "humanitarian power" and the securitization of border and migration politics connected to each other?
  • How are environmental refugees and flight caused by environmental or climatic changes constructed as an object or category, thus becoming the object of asylum politics and its regulations?
  • How do current practices of migration governance become discursively and practically manifest? How can (EU-)European rationalities, intentions and desires directed at migration, be researched and represented? What does understanding migration governance as assemblage mean for research on Europeanization?

Research projects within this focus:

Reza Bayat
Trauma Narratives of Iranian Refugees and asylum-seekers in Germany
In this ethnographic research project, I focus on the question of trauma narratives and discourses of and around Iranian refugees and asylum-seekers in Germany. This project addresses on the one hand the construction, propagation, and instrumentalizations of trauma, suffering, and victimhood narratives for the production, regulation, and administration of Iranian refugees as objects of trauma and controllable, racialized others. On the other hand, through following the lives, narratives, and life-stories of groups of Iranian refugees in Germany in order to both deconstruct the hegemonic narratives of trauma as well as closely examine the different dimensions and aspects that are invoked under the sign of trauma (by the state, individuals, humanitarian organizations, NGOs, and the Iranian refugees themselves). Research Questions: Under which circumstances do Iranian refugees and asylum-seekers feel mentally not well? How do they deal with these situations? How do different actors deal with and articulate Trauma and illness? And which narratives, discourses, and subjectivities are produced around/through trauma? Methodology: Based on ethnographic data, this project uses biographical interviews with Iranian refugees and asylum-seekers, participant observations, expert interviews with psychotherapists as well as activists in humanitarian organizations in Germany.

Sebastian Benedikt
Beyond Rightlessness? An ethnography of illegalised migrants and their struggles for law from below
While the human rights of migrants are overtly and systemically violated along the external borders of Europe, this thesis sheds light on the intra-European borders as interstices between the rule of law and illegality, where migrants struggle to re-establish their rights. Showing that law is contested within Europe, the dissertation focusses on migrant practices that question law as a technology of power. Along the northern Italian border regions, where illegalised practices of migration are confronted with illegal forms of migration control, the thesis analyses migrant agency from a legal anthropological perspective, to explore the ways in which migrants mobilise law “from below”. Following the hypothesis that in the struggle for asylum, mobility and housing, migrants re-appropriate rights that are denied to them, with a multi-sited ethnography, it is scrutinised how migrants claim rights according to their perceptions, establishing a particular understanding of law that stands opposite to the coloniality of law and its narratives of rightlessness.


  • Offe, J., Benedikt, S., Eger, H. 2022. “Access to (reproductive) health care for migrant women in Germany: legal restrictions for undocumented women and EU migrants.” Parallel report on the ninth state party report of the Federal Government of Germany to the United Nations, prepared for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Submitted in June 2022. München: Médecins du Monde Germany – Ärzte der Welt e.V. /Doctors of the World Germany.
  • Benedikt, Sebastian. 2020. “Camplessness and the (non-)reception system: the emerging of migrant informality in northern Italy from a human rights perspective.” Deusto Journal of Human Rights, n. 5, June 2020.
  • Benedikt, Sebastian. 2019. “Along the Brenner Route. The emerging of informal refugee camps in Europe. Bolzano: a case study research.” Lungo La Rotta Del Brennero. Bolzano: Antenne Migranti, Fondazione Alexander Langer Stiftung.

    • Valeria Hänsel
      Managing Migration: Die Re-Stabilisierung des Europäischen Grenzregimes in der Ägäis nach dem ‘langen Sommer der Migration’ durch Inhaftierung und Abschiebung
      Das Promotionsprojekt widmet sich der detaillierten Beforschung der Auswirkungen der EU-Türkei-Erklärung im ägäischen Raum, die 2016 eine der zentralen Antworten auf die Fluchtmigration nach Europa bildete. Es wird aus einer regimetheoretischen ethnographischen Herangehensweise analysiert, wie die griechischen Hotspot-Inseln durch die Erklärung in eine Sonderrechts-Zone verwandelt wurden und welche Auswirkungen dies für Schutzsuchende hat. Ein besonderer Fokus liegt auf der Analyse der Inhaftierungs- und Abschiebepraxis und der damit verbundenen Detainability und Deportatbility im Transitbereich der griechischen Inseln, die erhebliche prekarisierende Auswirkungen hat. Dabei wird auch die Situation von Migrant_innen nach ihrer Abschiebung in der Türkei untersucht und analysiert, wie Menschen einerseits in türkischen Gefängnissen festgesetzt, und andererseits in ständiger Mobilität gefangen gehalten werden. Abschließend soll der Frage nachgegangen werden, was dieses Phänomen für die Konfiguration des Europäischen Grenzregimes seit 2015 bedeutet und wie die Folgen des EU-Türkei Deals das kommende Europäische Grenzregime prägen und beeinflussen.


      • Hänsel, Valeria; Kasparek, Bernd (2020): Hotspot-Lager als Blaupause für die Reform des Gemeinsamen Europäischen Asylsystems? Politikfolgenabschätzung des Hotspot-Ansatzes in Griechenland. Online:
      • Hänsel, Valeria; Hess, Sabine; Schurade, Svenja (2019): Refugee Protection. Country Report Germany. Respond Working Paper. Online:
      • Hänsel, Valeria (2019): Gefangene des EU-Türkei Deals. Die Erosion des Europäischen Asylsystems auf der Griechischen Hotspot-Insel Lesbos. Online:
      • Hänsel, Valeria; Hess, Sabine; Kasparek, Bernd (2019): Border Management and Migration Control. Country Report Germany. Respond Working Paper. Online:
      • Hänsel, Valeria (2018): The prison within the prison within the prison. The detention complex of Moria Camp. Deportation Monitoring Online:

        • Karl Heyer
          Organised Disorder? Controlling Migration in the Italian Regime of Arrival and Reception
          The Regime of Migrant Arrival and Reception in Italy is, at its core, strongly characterised by underlying patterns of structural non-information, incoherence and ambiguity. This touches almost all aspects related to (irregular) migration: from crossing the Mediterranean and the subsequent sorting procedures in the so-called hotspots, spatial and temporal limbo-situations due to remote reception facilities and/or prolonged waiting times, to legal laxities and blind spots surrounding the reception system and its facilities.
          The project builds upon the hypothesis that in this complex situation, control over migration is not enforced despite structural ambiguities and incoherences, but rather through them – effectively combining the many fragmented mechanisms and disparate practices of various actors into a form of "control by confusion". This heavily relies on the materialities involved, namely space, time, and the bodies of the subjects of control themselves.
          Within the framework of Ethnographic Border Regime Analysis, the project builds upon aspects of Multi-Sited Ethnography as well as Trajectory Ethnography approaches. Fieldwork is being carried out mostly in Sicily, involving expert interviews, document analysis and participatory observation.


          • kollektiv orangotango+ (Hrsg.). 2018. This Is Not an Atlas: A Global Collection of Counter-Cartographies. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag.

            • Antonia Jordan
              Transkontinentale Migrationsbewegungen vom afrikanischen auf den amerikanischen Kontinent: Neue migrationspolitische Verbindungen unter Berücksichtigung der Auswirkungen der EU-Migrationspolitik
              Das Promotionsprojekt leistet einen interdisziplinären Beitrag zur Analyse unionseuropäischer Migrationspolitik und deren Auswirkungen auf das globale Migrationsgeschehen. Es nimmt bislang kaum beachtete Süd-Süd-Migrationsrouten in den Blick und zeigt an deren Beispiel, inwiefern sich die europäische Migrationspolitik sowie die Externalisierung der europäischen Außengrenze auf globale Migrationsrouten auswirken und diese verändern. Die Entwicklungen auf anderen Kontinenten in den Fokus der Forschung zu rücken, ermöglicht es, die EU und ihre Migrationspolitik auch abseits eurozentristischer Blickwinkel zu betrachten. Konkret wird das Promotionsprojekt der Frage nachgehen, welche Konsequenzen aufgrund der restriktiven EU-Migrationspolitik in Süd- und Mittelamerika sichtbar sind. Zudem wird analysiert, welche persönlichen Entscheidungen, Motivationen und Ressourcen afrikanische Migrant:innen auf den amerikanischen Kontinent führen. Ziel ist die Auseinandersetzung mit den komplexen Folgen der europäischen Migrationspolitik außerhalb der EU. Dafür werden EU-Policy-Dokumente vor dem Hintergrund einschlägiger Ansätze kritischer Migrations- und Grenzregimeforschung sowie postkolonialer Studien ausgewertet und diese mit qualitativen Interviews sowie einer ethnographischen Grenzregimeanalyse ergänzt.


              • Oettler et al. (2020): Versöhnung auf den Begriff gebracht: kolumbianische Perspektiven. In: Gewalt und Konfliktbearbeitung in Lateinamerika. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft GmbH & Co. KG, S. 211–232.
              • Oettler et al. (2018): Imaginando la Reconciliación. Estudiantes de Bogotá y los múltiples caminos de la historia colombiana. Publicado: Fundación Heinrich Böll Colombia, Bogotá.

                • Khorshid Khodabakhshreshad
                  Neue Konjunkturen der Flüchtlingsunterstützungsarbeit. Zwischen Willkommenskultur und Refugees Welcome. Eine ethnographische genealogische Spurensuche
                  Innerhalb des um die Diskurse von Willkommenskultur und Refugees Welcome konstruierten Feldes untersucht Khorshid Khodabakhshreshad genealogisch die Entwicklungen, Veränderungen und Verschränkungen im Macht-/ Wissenskomplex. Dabei geht sie den Fragen nach, wie Zugehörigkeiten und Ausschlüsse im Feld formiert bzw. hervorgebracht werden/wurden, wie die dabei relevanten Grenzziehungen, Veränderungen und Widersprüche verlaufen und konstruiert, aber auch wie Räume geöffnet werden, und wie diese aufeinander bezogen sind bzw. zusammenwirken. Darüber hinaus untersucht sie, wie sich in diesem Bereich aktive Menschen durch ihre Aktivität politisieren, sich ihre Wahrnehmungen von Migrationspolitik ändern und welche Politisierungen gegebenenfalls stattfinden.

                  Nisrein Malkawi
                  The Violence against Syrian Woman: Field Study for the living Situation of the Syrian Woman in Zaatari Camp, Al-Mafraq, Jordan.
                  This Field Study will be in Jordan. Research focuses on tow Sections: The First Section is showing the Camp as Institution for protecting the Refugees and trying to save the Jordanian Borders. The Camp personifies the closed Community that can gather the Refugees. The Importance is showing the Conflicts and Commissioners for personifying the hierarchic, Authority and Authority Structure, which conclude the Discrimination and Exploit. Secondly this Study focuses on showing gendered Problems such as Violence against Women, emphasized on household Violence and youth Marriages.Methodology: Its depend on the gender and ethnographic Regime Analysis. It uses Participant Observation, formal and informal Interviews, qualitavie and narrative.

                  David Niebauer
                  Umkämpfte Raumordnungen: Politische Auseinandersetzungen um das Gemeinsame Europäische Asylsystem nach der Krise des europäischen Grenzregimes 2015
                  Das Promotionsprojekt beschäftigt sich mit den Asyl- und Grenzpolitiken der Europäischen Union seit dem „Sommer der Migration“ 2015. Im Zentrum steht die Frage, wie im Kontext von krisenhaften (Des-)Integrationsprozessen der EU zwischen Europäisierung, differenzierter Integration und Renationalisierung unterschiedliche Formen und Räume der Migrations- und Grenzkontrolle produziert werden. Das Projekt untersucht hierfür die Maßnahmen und Auswirkungen der Reformverhandlungen des Gemeinsamen Europäischen Asylsystems, die insbesondere in Bezug auf die Verteilung von Asylsuchenden von Uneinigkeiten und Blockaden in und zwischen den EU-Institutionen geprägt sind. Die Dissertation geht den Konfliktlinien in den Aushandlungen nach und analysiert, wie und wo unter diesen Bedingungen der umstrittenen und uneinheitlichen Asyl- und Grenzpolitiken der EU Migrations- und Fluchtbewegungen regiert werden. Dazu wird methodisch die Analyse von Policy-Dokumenten mit Interviewforschung kombiniert, während theoretisch kritische Ansätze der Migrations- und Grenzregimeforschung, der Europaforschung sowie der sozialwissenschaftlichen Raumtheorie nutzbar gemacht werden.

                  Seyma Saylak
                  Migrant Resistance at the EU-Balkan Border
                  West Balkan Route to Europe, which has become more visible after the 2015 so-called ‘long summer of migration’, has been reshaped in a reciprocal process through the years both by the people on the move and the policies on the level of nation-states and the EU. It’s one of the conflict zones where the migrant struggle occurs with solidarity and the fight for freedom of movement. Based on a field study the aim is to look at the knowledge produced by different political subjects for resistance at the Balkan-EU border.

                  Matthias Schmidt-Sembdner
                  Struggles of mobility in the Schengen Area - Ethnographic insights into the border areas Italy, Austria, Germany and France
                  In his dissertation, Matthias Schmidt-Sembdner deals with the reconfiguration of the Schengen Area and the constitution of the borders within Europe subsequent to the migratory movements of 2015. In the area of conflict between the (re-)nationalization of the migration and border policy in Europe, the efforts of The European Union to reform migration policy and the movement of migration, Matthias Schmidt-Sembdner looks at the micro political processes in the border areas he is examining. He wants to show how the practices of public authorities, migrants and non-state actors along the border crossing points affect the configuration of the Schengen Area and in which way they can be interpreted related to the reform efforts of the EU, exemplified by the Dublin System.


                  • Schmidt-Sembdner, Matthias. 2019. Europa und die Bewegung der Migration. Das Dublin-System im Kontext nationaler Grenzkontrollen entlang der Brenner-Route. In: Konfliktfeld Fluchtmigration. Reinhard Johler, Jan Lange, Hg. S. 249-264. Bielefeld: Transcript.
                  • Schmidt-Sembdner, Matthias mit Bernd Kasparek. 2019. Renationalization and spaces of migration: the European border regime after 2015. In: Handbook on Critical Geographies of Migration. Katharyne Mitchell, Reece Jones, Jennifer L. Fluri, Hg. S. 206-218. Cheltenham & Northampton: Edward Elgar.
                  • Schmidt-Sembdner, Matthias. 2018. Grenzkontrollen als »dauerhaftes Provisorium«? Renationalisierungsprozesse im Schengenraum am Beispiel der Brennerroute. In: movements. Journal for Ciritcal Migration and Border Regime Studies. 4 (2). S. 57-76.
                  • Schmidt-Sembdner, Matthias mit Bernd Kasparek. 2017. Towards Democracy. Die Bewegung der Migration und die Demokratisierung des europäischen Projektes. In: Europe - what's left? Die Europäische Union zwischen Zerfall, Autoritarismus und demokratischer Erneuerung. Mario Candeias, Alex Demirović, Hg. S. 175-191. Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot.
                  • Schmidt, Matthias. 2015. Zwischen Moral und Skandal. Humanitarismus und Menschenrechte in der Migrations- und Grenzpolitik Marokkos. In: movements. Journal für kritische Migrations- und Grenzregimeforschung 1 (1).
                  • Schmidt, Matthias. 2014. Menschenrechte und Migration. Das Beispiel Marokko. In: Studien aus dem Münchener Institut für Ethnologie. Dürr, Eveline, Frank Heidemann, Thomas Reinhardt und Martin Sökefeld, Hg. Band 10.
                  • Schmidt, Matthias und Bernd Kasparek. 2013. Residenzpflicht. In: Widersprüche. 127. S. 43-48.
                  • Schmidt, Matthias, Antonella Giamattei, Bernd Kasparek und Sarah Sembdner. 2013. Italien: Vai Via! Zur Situation der Flüchtlinge in Italien. Ergebnisse einer einjährigen Recherche. München:

                    • H. Pinar Senoguz
                      Border Politics, Syrian Refugees and Violence in the Southeastern Margins of Turkey
                      New wars in the Middle East and geopolitical interests have generated mobilities and conflicts across the region and galvanized struggles that contest the borders across and within the nation, including symbolic boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. Following Didier Fassin's notion of border politics, the research project conceives the struggles over literal and figurative borders as indispensable for understanding how the Syrian immigration is governed and experienced in the southeastern margins of Turkey. The border politics among the state actors and ordinary citizens coalesce around the question of distinguishing between the acceptable and the unacceptable refugee, facing different categorizations that may fall often into exception in the realm of international humanitarian law. Drawing on a field study, the project aims at revealing how these struggles may oppose, reconfigure and worsen preexisting relations of inequality among the local and refugee communities.


                      • Notes from the Back-Alleys of a Turkish Border City: The Locals, the Syrians and the 15 July Coup Attempt in Gaziantep, field report, Harek(et)Act, 1 October 2016.
                      • Border Contestations, Syrian Refugees and Violence in the Southeastern Margins of Turkey. In: Movements: Journal for Critical Migration and Border Regime Studies, 3(2): 163-176.
                      • with Carpi, Estella. 2018. Refugee Hospitality in Lebanon and Turkey. On Making ‘the Other’. In: Journal of International Migration, Special Issue on Syrian Refugees: Facing Challenges, Making Choices, forthcoming.

                        • Marc Speer
                          In his PhD project Marc Speer is looking for and at the "humanitarian border" (William Walters) in Hungary, Serbia and the Ukraine. The questions he is addressing towards the research dimensions border crossing, imprisonment and living conditions of refugees is when and in what manner humanitarian power can be observed in them and thus in governing migration. Methodologically Marc Speer is using the ethnographic border regime analysis and activist research methods.