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Language Acts for the Archives of Contemporary Migration


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How can language act for those whose lives are suspended in long periods of administrative and physical precarity? And what acts are needed to enable sense to emerge and find form despite the pressures of minimal or non-existent shelter, frequent displacements into different linguistic environments and nation-states, and the circuitous and often indecipherable nature of administrative processes?  

The Language Acts for the Archives of Contemporary Migration workshop will gather scholars in the fields of translation and multilingual studies, human geography, and public-outreach professionals from the museum world to explore the materials generated by a series of small-scale workshops at a public library in Paris. During these sessions, young asylum seekers produced a series of one-off books with a common but flexible format that are gradually constituting a new collection for this library. The materials that were examined at the workshop were produced during two series of workshops in Paris – in spring 2018 and spring 2019 – and exemplify extremely different types of language acts, from rudimentary description often accompanying drawings, to multilingual narrative, poetry, and ‘self-help books’ for people in equivalent predicaments (The Book of Sport for young illegal migrants). Produced in a collective environment by people of varied educational and geographical backgrounds, the books will be preserved as an integral part of the library reserves, and as such constitute not only a future resource, but also a physical representation of a world that still lacks an infrastructure. During the workshop, this collection will be presented and discussed as a contribution to a development of that ‘infrastructure’. 

This workshop, supported by AHRC’s Small Grants Scheme of the Language Acts and Worldmaking programme, aims to support and develop the collaborative structures between UK-based scholars working in the field of translingualism and the contemporary urban environment and the work of the University of London Institute in Paris. 

The workshop is currently being rescheduled for autumn 2020 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Typesetting in wood, photo by Raphael Schaller from unsplash