“Agency across Borders. A Lifecourse Perspective on Social Protection, Citizenship and Mobility”

Start: October 2014 | Researcher: Dr. Eberhard Raithelhuber; Eszter Ipó (Student Assistant)

  • Rationale:
    Traditionally, people’s achievement of agency in the course of their lives is conceived within the institutional and structural dimensions of the nation-state, especially with regard to the domains of social protection and citizenship. Nevertheless, with the increase of mobility and migration across borders, the question of how individuals achieve agency needs to be understood in a different manner. One major reason for this is that the role of the nation-state and its function as a container for social protection and citizenship can no longer be taken for granted. This also has implications for policy, particularly with regard to issues of social inclusion, social cohesion and political legitimacy.

  • Research question:
    Against this background, the overall ambition of the research project "Agency across Borders. A Lifecourse Perspective on Social Protection, Citizenship and Mobility" is to gain a nuanced understanding of how people achieve social agency under conditions which are shaped by mobility and migration, especially with regard to social protection and citizenship. The project focuses on the intersection of lifecourses, (trans-)locations, and (informal) intermediary structures and practices. The project starts out from the assumption that different processes in the context of migration most likely bring about uncertainty and dynamization which impact on people’s social agency, often in the context of transitions. The situation of newcomers, in particular, can thus be understood as a sensitive period in which achievements in social protection and experiences of citizenship have to be rearranged and (re)negotiated to an exceptionally high degree.

  • Methods and design:
    ACROSS combines a longitudinal perspective that understands the achievement of agency against the background of individuals' lifecourse, using an ethnographic approach that looks at the achievement of agency within concrete contexts and practices. This means that the project analyzes fairly informal organizational structures and social practices that take on an intermediary function for migrants, especially in situations of transition and transformation. The project collects data through repeated life story interviews and through participant observation, document analysis, photographs and informant interviews.

  • Contribution to knowledge:
    The presented research binds together three areas of research: (1) The project relates research on agency as a situational achievement within lifecourse research inspired by educational studies to research on agency and migration in transnational studies. (2) The project connects to the emerging study on social security and migration. In these studies, which are oftentimes anchored in social anthropology, (national) institutional perspectives are counterbalanced through a more detailed, functional and dynamic understanding of people’s individual social protection arrangements. (3) The project docks with current research in sociologically oriented citizenship studies in which the practices of citizenship-making and unmaking are reconstructed.

    The project will generate a new understanding of how individuals achieve agency in the context of mobility and migration, concentrating on the dimensions of social protection and citizenship from a lifecourse perspective. In a wider sense, the project will contribute to a more complex understanding of the interrelatedness of welfare/social policy, migration and citizenship on both a conceptual and an empirical level. ACROSS will thus produce important knowledge for policy makers in this domain and for professionals in social services. The project reacts to the fact that knowledge within the proposed transnational and trans-local perspective still has a research gap, which has to be filled to be able to meet societal challenges based on scientific findings and empirical data.
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