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Migration and globalization from the ground upUCLA Professor Laurie Hart. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Migration and globalization from the ground up

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By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, September 6, 2016 — Anthropologists who study globalization, says Laurie Hart, “are interested in the relationship between the intimate and the global, between global structural forces and intimate experience.” For students struggling to understand migration and globalization, she notes, anthropology offers an ethnographic perspective that helps them relate these concepts to the everyday experience of ordinary people.

Hart joined UCLA in fall 2015 with a dual appointment in the Department of Anthropology and the Global Studies Program of the UCLA International Institute. A veteran of global studies, having taught the subject for over 20 years at Haverford College, she has research interests in ethnicity, civil war, borders, displacement and migration – topics at the forefront of contemporary global politics.

This fall, she will be teaching two undergraduate Global Studies courses: “Globalization, Borders and Migration” (Glbl St 160) and the senior seminar, “Understanding Violence: Global Ethnographic Perspectives” (Glbl St 191).

Greece and the contemporary migration crisis

September 2015. Refugees arrive on Lesvos from Turkey by dinghy, behind a huge pile of vests. (<a href="">Photo: Freedom House, 2015</a>; cropped. Courtesy of Flckr.) Hart, who has conducted ethnographic research in Greece for decades, got an up-close view of the migration crisis there this past summer. Together with anthropologists from Greece and Europe, she taught international graduate seminars at the University of the Aegean on the current border crisis during the month of July. Located in Lesvos, where 500,000 war-driven Syrian and other refugees landed on a tiny strip of beach in 2015–16, the university finds itself in the middle of the crisis. The island now contains several holding camps containing thousands of refugees and migrants who are caught in stateless limbo, now that the rest of Europe has closed its borders.

“While the crisis is less visible in the international media this summer, on the ground it is very clear that the situation is both urgent and chronic,” reports Hart. “The recent repressive crackdown by Turkish leader Erdogan has added to the instability of the situation for refugees.”

Waves of refugees and migrants have been arriving in Greece since 2014, creating an enormous economic and political strain. The country was already suffering a severe economic downturn caused by the austerity policies imposed in the wake of the 2009 Greek debt crisis and subsequent EU-negotiated bailout packages. The EU has left Greece largely to its own devices to handle the migrants.

The situation stabilized somewhat after the EU and Turkey concluded an agreement in late 2015. Under that agreement, Greece agreed to return migrants who arrived after the March deadline to Turkey and Turkey took steps to prevent migrants at the border from departing for Greece. However, many migrants already in Greece will remain in camps for prolonged periods due to mandated legal review processes and boats still arrive in Lesvos from Turkey, despite the embargo. Both the poor economic picture and a resurgence of far-right, anti-immigrant political parties in Greece and throughout Europe are complicating a systematic, long-term resolution of the crisis.

Teaching migration and globalization

When teaching globalization, Hart and her students “read intensively in ethnographic texts by anthropologists who have done long-term field research among people who live on territorial borders, who have crossed the border, or who have experienced migration, and who analyze these border conditions from a theoretical and comparative point of view,” she says.“Our texts are geographically very diverse, ranging from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, to the closer-at-hand U.S.-Mexican border.”

“I had wonderful students— incredibly diverse,” says Hart. “For the midterm,” she recounts, “their assignment was to interview someone who had crossed a nation-state border and to use what they had learned from our class readings and discussion to explore their interviewee’s experience. And they did some amazing, perceptive work, often drawing on their own or their parents’ experiences of migration,” she recounts.

Reflecting on her summer and the magnitude of the migration flows toward Europe, Hart remarks, “It’s a very interesting and challenging time to be in Global Studies at UCLA because I have an opportunity to bring awareness of what’s going on in Europe to students who often feel it is remote from their lives.

“I would like them to see Europe in a global context as a living place that is experiencing cataclysmic events, and to understand the way in which the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and extreme North-South inequality are affecting Europe and the U.S., as well as the ordinary lives of people everywhere,” remarks the anthropologist.

“I think it's an important moment to recognize that Europe — and, of course, Greece itself — is not an ‘old classics’ topic, but a very contemporary urgent question,” she continues. “The impact of migration in Europe — and the looming British exit from the European Union — will be very provocative for thinking think about what a modern state is and how global North-South inequality and conflict affect the meaning and impact of modern state boundaries.”

From the ethnography of religion to the study of displaced peoples

Hart’s first book, “Time, Religion and Social Experience in Rural Greece” (Roman and Littlefield, 1992), is an anthropological study of the practice and understanding of Orthodox Christianity among formerly Albanian-speaking farmer-herders in the southeastern Peloponnese in Greece. Although she has continued to publish ethnographic studies on Greece, the anthropologist has also been drawn toward the study of people displaced by war and economic circumstance in other parts of the globe.

In 2004, for instance, she edited and wrote the introduction to a volume of testimonies relating to ethnic relations and population displacements caused by the Bosnian war. The testimonies were gathered by Svetlana Broz, a medical doctor and the granddaughter of former Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito, “Good People in an Evil Time: Portraits of Complicity and Resistance in the Bosnian War” (Other Press, 2004; translated by Elena Elias-Bursac).

Philadelphia: A Puerto Rican neighborhood at 2nd Street just north of Allegheny Avenue. (Photo: <a href="">Spreadofknowledge 2015</a>, via Wikimedia Commons.) <a href="">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>. More recently, she and her husband, anthropologist Philippe Bourgois (professor of anthropology and social medicine, Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, and director, Center for Social Medicine and Humanities, Semel Institute, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA), worked for several years on a study of contemporary urban poverty among Puerto Rican immigrants living in Philadelphia. Tentatively entitled “Cornered,” the forthcoming book looks at “the management of poverty through incarceration and the medicalization of poverty in the contemporary U.S.,” says Hart.

“With the collapse of the older welfare systems,” she says, “the poor population in the United States has become more and more dependent on supplemental Social Security and disability income. So what the field research enabled us to see was that these twin apparatuses — disability, on the one hand, and incarceration, on the other — are the principal ways in which urban poverty is actually managed by the state at this point.”

“The project also took us to Puerto Rico,” she remarks, “which was part of what inspired me to teach the borders and migration course [in fall 2015]. The work I had done on borders, return migration and exile in the Mediterranean prompted me to explore the comparative case of Puerto Rico.” Whereas older patterns of migration often saw people make a transition and become upwardly mobile and rooted, Hart notes that among the poor today, we are seeing disrupted transitions or partial assimilations of migrants, who move between countries driven by meager prospects for economic survival and relative safety.

Research comes full circle

More recently, Hart has been completing extensive research in northern Greece for a book on the long-term consequences of the Greek Civil War (roughly 1944–49) on three displaced populations living at the border between (Former Yugoslav) Macedonia, Albania and Greece. They include a Macedonian-speaking minority, a Pontian minority and an Aromani-speaking Vlach minority. “All of these populations have experienced displacement from their homelands in one way or another,” explains the anthropologist. “And all of them have had to occupy the houses and properties of other people. They share quite traumatic processes of displacement and resettlement.”

Village of Antartiko, near the Greek-Macedonian and the Greek-Albanian borders.
(Photo: Nikos Patsiousi, 2014/ via Flickr). CC BY-NC 2.0.

The Macedonian-speaking population of northern Greece, she explains, “lived at the epicenter of the operations of the communist-led opposition forces in the Democratic Army of Greece, which was fighting the British and American-supported government in Athens.” Forced to flee, most of this population was evacuated to Eastern Europe in the last year of the civil war, including tens of thousands of children who ended up in orphanages or in homes. Many did not return until the 1980s, when a kind of unofficial amnesty became possible in Greece for some political exiles. Others never returned.

The Pontians were Orthodox Greeks who had lived in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) since antiquity. Most did not speak standard Greek, but the Pontian dialect or Turkish, before being resettled in Greece in 1922–23 as a consequence of the Greco-Turkish war. Their displacement was part of the first internationally sanctioned “exchange of populations” (in effect, a form of “ethnic cleansing”) between the two nations that sent Muslims living in Greece to Turkey and Christians living in Turkey to Greece. The Pontians were allocated houses and fields that had belonged to the Muslims who were “repatriated” to Turkey.

Western Macedonian region of Greece. (Photo: <a href="">Dimitris Kilymis; Flickr, 2012</a>). <a href="">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0</a>. The final minority population in Hart’s study are the Vlachs, former pastoralists who speak a Latin language related to Romanian. They were encouraged by the Greek government to settle in the border region in the early 1950s, the height of the Cold War, to help form a politically loyal force in that region. They, in turn, occupied the properties vacated by the Macedonian-speaking political refugees who left for Eastern Europe.

Says Hart, who earned an M.Arch. in architecture from UC Berkeley as well as a Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard, “In both architecture and anthropology, I have been in interested in landscape, territory and space — particularly, the processes of spatial segregation and hierarchy — an interest that links my work on Puerto-Rican hyper-segregation in inner-city Philadelphia with my work in Northern Greece.”

See New York Times article on Lesobos and the aftermath of the refugee crisis