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In this fourth blog post, I will examine different perspectives on the so-called temporal turn in migration studies by describing its origins, main characteristics and protagonists, together with the main recent tendencies in research focusing on time and migration.  

© Alexandra Pereira, CECC, UCP, 2022

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According to Melanie Griffiths (2022), states govern through temporal rationalities: immigration policies are littered with temporal considerations and time produces statuses. Time can be the glue that bonds us together or it can become a form of exclusion. As a technique of power that turns people transient, time emerges as oppressive, contradictory, uncertain, untrustworthy. Different temporalities might be related with staggered time, sticky time, or with stasis/stagnant time. Exactly ten years ago, Griffiths, Anderson et al. organized in Oxford a Symposium on the theme of migration and time. Ten years later, there has been an explosion of research on this issue and Griffiths (2022) enumerates the main emerging areas:

  • Speed/tempo;
  • Rhythms;
  • Transience & permanence;
  • The tenses;
  • (A)synchronicity.

She notices that we could, nonetheless, have more works on migration and speed (rapid changes, speed of deportation, etc.). Meanwhile, engaging works are coming forth on topics such as repetitions and reversals (since the migration trajectories are rarely linear).

Carling (2022) has examined what legitimates the temporal turn per comparison with other alleged turns in migration studies – such as the cosmopolitan turn (Nedelcu, 2010), the local turn (Scholten, 2020), the transnational turn (Levitt & Nyberg Sørensen, 2004), the reflexive turn (Amelina, 2021), the material turn (Wang, 2016) and a few others. Graph n. 1 shows the frequency of time-related terms turning up in publications (articles of 12 migration journals) over the time span of 20 years:

Graph n. 1 – Frequency of time-related terms in publications (titles, abstracts and keywords of articles in 12 migration journals); Sources: Carling and PRIO, 2022; Web of Science; sliding averages

We can observe that since 2011 the number of time-related terms increased exponentially. Carling also mentions the seminal works by Cwerner (2001), The Times of Migration and Griffiths, Rogers and Anderson (2013), Migration, Time and Temporalities: Review and Prospects to show that 20 and 10 years after their publications, respectively, the number of works on migration and time has increased substantially. Besides linear time and subjective times, works also reflect upon diverse times.

Brenda Yeoh (2022), from the National University of Singapore, is another fundamental author and researcher associated with the temporal turn in migration studies. This author has analysed topics such as the temporalities of the transnational families, “doing family in times of migration”, cosmopolitanism and its exclusions, the connections of time with the notion of place and the construction of history, nostalgia and heritage, care temporalities and gender politics in Southeast Asia, or temporary migration regimes and their sustainability in times of Covid-19.

The notions of entrapment and waiting gain prominence in the study of time and migration. Concerning the notion of entrapment, Stefania Yapo (2022), from the University of Trento, states that the entrapment metaphor helps her to mitigate the assumptions of the normative approach (citizenship/naturalization is the right to have rights; formal inclusion equates substantive inclusion into citizenry; naturalization entails acceptance of the rules of the game, thus reflecting an inclusive system) and of the instrumentality turn (strategic/instrumental agency of individuals in citizenship). In line with current understandings, naturalization terminates the entrapment. Enjoying inclusion means being a part of the privileged group and feeling/performing as privileged. Regarding the notion of waiting, I will give as an example the paper “La Espera: The Embodiment of Waiting at the US-Mexico Border” (2022), by Veronica Montes (Bryn Mawr College, USA) and Erica Busse (Macalester College, USA). These authors examine a group of deported immigrant women who in 2014 founded DREAMers Moms (DM) USA/Tijuana AC[1]. They investigate their post-deportation experiences and the effects of what they refer to as embodiment of waiting and how the waiting time impacts their relationship with members of their families. Their guiding questions were: How do DM live their experience of waiting? How is the waiting time embodied and how does this change over time? What are the different forms of waiting? How does the waiting time differ among DM and their families? Therefore, their paper contributes to further our understanding on the intersection between migration, family separation, waiting, and immigrant’s subjectivity.

Two other relevant topics to consider, when studying time and migration, are:

– The Temporalities and Return (e.g. for returnees in Afghanistan, they are very gendered – Cf. Acik, Kakar, Kakar & Keles, 2022[2]). A “new” migration research area is connected precisely to gendered return mobilities and return mobilities of second generation (the so-called “roots migration”/”ancestral return”).

The Chronopolicies, or the relations between time and power. For Roza Tsagarousianou (2022), from the University of Westminster, a different chronopolitics can frequently be found in the voices of migrants.

Simultaneously, we observe that perspectives from within Anthropology and History are increasingly temporal and criticize the obsession with Western Time. There are also interesting works coming up on acceleration and stasis. We will now ellaborate specifically on: 1) the temporalities of transnationalism; 2) the temporalities of migration governance; and 3) the future of time in migration studies.


       1. Temporalities of Transnationalism

Özge Bilgili (2022)[3] is one of the authors connected to the transnational turn in migration studies – this author analysed, for example, the evolution of migration trajectories and transnational social networks over time (2021). According to Thaseen Shams (2022), immigrants live their lives across national borders – she introduced a new analytical model in her work: the multicentered relational framework (with 3 points or centres: Homeland, Hostland and Elsewhere). This author examines how, why and where the relations between centres become salient and how Elsewhere comes to be. Contexts shape Homeland images over time and the notion of diaspora shows how members of a dispersed population are connected to their Homeland and Elsewhere, but it sometimes neglects their receiving context. Shams found out that how her participants self-identify does NOT affect how they are perceived in the Hostland. Thomas Lacroix (2022)[4] examined exilic memories: between nostalgia and trauma (namely Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews). The diasporic memories were linked to community building through social movements. But what is the cosmopolitan fabric of transnational communities of circumstances? What are the current social mobilizations forging at the moment? These groups are much more heterogenous than for previous generations (and include both migrants and non-migrants – there are much broader mobilizations, there is a cosmopolitan conscience). But will they forge transnational communities? Lacroix doubts. When addressing diasporas, not just the place of departure is important, other places hold specific meanings for certain populations (e.g. Montecasino; or specific places like former plantations for the Black American Atlantic diapora and others: they are places of memory/lieux de memoire).

For Maggi Leung (2022), transnationalism is connected to the notions of timescapes, time patterns, sequences, temporalities, and generally to all the temporalities beyond simultaneity. This author has done much research on the “ethnic Chinese” moving to France and to Germany and she poses many questions about positionality. The premise is to shed light into the ineluctable association between time and transnationalism. “What are the multifaceted, conceptual and methodological roles of time in transnationalism research?” – according to her, researchers seek to uncover how time has shaped the transnational thinking in the past and to set an agenda that systematically incorporates the temporal approach in order to enhance its contribution to research.


       2. Temporalities of Migration Governance

Saharoui (2022) examined the cases of Melilla and Mayotte and how healthcare workers were faced with the biopolitical management of mobility over there. Migrants’ lives were on stand-by: Saharoui encountered migrant women dispossessed of the control over their own lives, fundamentally constrained on the capacity to lead a meaningful life on their own terms. The management of migrants’ time thus constitutes a tool and a way to micromanage the life of migrants at certain sites. Uncertainty regarding the duration of stays in the centres is fundamental for the feelings of worry felt by migrants. Pregnant women had to wait in Melilla until after giving birth (e.g. for 40 days); most were left with a sense of arbitrariness. The role of humanitarian aid workers was central. In Mayotte, a significant percentage of population is forcibly removed/deported each year: rapid, massive and continuous deportations (this author analysed the roles of midwives in that location). Professor Loren Landau (2022)[5] mentions that when we start to look closely at forms of governing mobility in Europe, keeping people in different times is critical to keep them separate and isolated, even if they literally share the same physical space. He examines the reframing of development and the idea of progress: this old colonial, racial, problematic idea – a spacial-temporal project according to which Africans needed to be “dragged to the future, to progress”. But now we listen that there is a future for Europeans and a different future for Africans (different futures, distinct times): a kind of new imperial project, to disciplinate Africans and make them “be the best they can be” (“your future is here in Africa, if you come to Europe, your future will not be good”). That is, trying “to stop Africans from doing something that will hurt them before they do it” – there are forms of intervention that really try to control people. In South Africa, violence against migrants is becoming a crucial part of mobility governance – what is the role of time in this? For example, while we see that a migrant from Mozambique can distance himself socially and temporally (self-alienating himself) from South Africans, we also see these boundaries taking place amongst South Africans: they think foreigners have become a problem for progress, for development, so future is being lost (a future promised that “we’re not going to achieve and that’s because of migrants” – even if they share the space, these boundaries prevent them from sharing time). On a side note, Landau mentions that we always see xenophobic people as backward-thinking but it’s actually their future that they’re worried about. Temporality undergrounds our conceptions of rights, solidarity, justice, etc. – this raises troubling concerns over temporal governance and the ethics of accommodation. We have to start with the definition of governance. Looking beyond specific scales and spaces and modes of regulation in certain places. Maybe there’s no universal definition of governance. It’s really useful to think about people’s futures and what they expect that it’s coming to them, the trajectories they imagine themselves on, whether they see the Other hindering or helping them in their own path. It is worth debating the ethics of different futures. We have to be warry of people who say one people’s future should be disentangled from another, but we have to encourage debates at the same time.

Leila Abdou (2022) thinks that in time and migration governance everything changes but everything keeps the same: there is a State tenancy. Several migration crises opened up new opportunities and challenges, they were critical junctures (e.g. Lampedusa) as new actors rose, defending non-deterrence approaches. Regarding status quo tendencies, she asks: “does it make sense to continue with the deterrence approach?”. There is evidence of its backfiring (and of its effects). The deterrence approach was established more than 30 years ago and it has remained central in EU’s action. We need to understand prevailing assumptions (and how they form) to understand policies and policy makers; migration is a very turbulent domain: things change and happen quickly. The response to Ukrainian refugees shows up as a bifurcation. For this author, governance comprises institutions, regulations and actors. Her approach is pretty much actor-centered: she tries to understand how actors themselves create the problems that they regulate. Currently we think about governance systems and there is another bifurcation: academic field vs. policy making. There is a tendency to discuss migration governance in technocratic terms and to describe it as concerned with the promotion of well-being for all stakeholders, migrants and natives, receiving, sending and transit states. Recent contributions question this technocratic perspective, interrogate political dynamics, power asymmetries in the governance of migration, and explore its temporalities and effects. She highlights key trends and dynamics in the governance of migration: by exploring shifts in the politicization of migration over time that have been shaping migration governance; by identifying techniques aiming at the dissuasion of migration through temporal governance and moralization; by scrutinizing current and recent migration agreements in regard to their power asymmetries and their effects; or by interrogating how temporalities of migration governance are gendered.


       3. The Future of Time in Migration Studies

According to Russell King (2022), from the University of Sussex, time has always been part of the study of migration. And it has always been a part since the beginning of IMISCOE Network[6] as well, included in Cluster C7 research line, led by himself. He points out four fundamental theoretical roots that we must consider when addressing time and migration: Tornsten Hägerstrand’s time geography; Wilbur Zelinsky’s hypothesis of the mobility transition; Henry Lefèbvre’s rhythmanalysis; and Saulo B. Cwerner’s The Times of Migration (2001), perhaps the most significant paper ever written on time and migration. King refers that time is multi-scalar in two senses: the lenght of temporality and the scale of influence. He proceeds with a typology of time affecting mobility/migration: linear chronological time; biographical time (and generational time); structural time (e.g. Fielding’s thoughts about structural time, University of Sussex); and unpredictable events. He then mentions the importance of migration chronotopes (based on Mikhail Bathkin’s scholarship on the chronotope) and asks: “does the temporal turn in migration studies imply renewed attention to the topos (topoi) of migration/(im)mobility?”. The answer is yes, it implies attention to space, place, distance, routes, boundaries, spatial imaginaries… and to the re-spatialising time in migration. Karimzad and Catedral (2021) wrote a new book precisely entitled “Chronotopes and Migration”. Finally, King (2022) mentions one thing that surprises him: the absence of historians on debates concerning time and migration (their engagement has been very small – what do they have to say about time and migration?). And he wonders about “contrapuntality” – since he wrote a paper with two colleagues about two parallel migration streams, could these perhaps be seen as contrapuntal movements?

Parvati Raghuram (2022), from the Open University, points out the very different range of methodologies used to study time and migrations, from big data to the biographical times of the researchers. Regarding research and time, she recalls that in a paper on oral history Raghuram suggested 3 orders of time: biography (one act of composition across time); to find out what are the categories through which the individuals analyse their time (structural and biographical times, that Russell talks about, actually get mixed in the narrative of the individuals); and the time of the story. She believes that it is important to think about “how do I work with time?”. Here, the idea of “contrapuntal reading” (which is borrowed from music reading) comes forth, ie. the ability to combine the reading of different lines. Some conceptual issues are: to think about “what’s with time and over time”; time is also “used and used up”; “time and inheritances” (that is, questions of power: how do we think about a past that preceeds us and a future that exceeds us? – to quote Heidegger); it is also important to think about the time-spaces of the categories around migration. What do we leave behind then? According to Raghuram, we leave the politics and ethics of the research that we do – that is, producing change through research and contributing to a better world. In recent works, the idea of crisis is abundant (the residual, the reemergent, threats), however we will be able to connect throughout these futures in our research. She then gives as examples Saïd, Jane Eyre by C. Brontë, or the book Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (she asks: “what if we heard that from the colonies and not the reading rooms in England?”). This concept of contrapuntality borrowed from music allows us to compare with different places (for Raghuram, these other places are often India), to think about composing oneself (when one is asked one’s experiences and expectations – e.g. in a questionnaire), to question the relationship between time and money and urgency in research (e.g. during the Covid-19 pandemic, at times we had to stop everything and just feed people). School textbooks that researchers leave behind will be there for a long time as well…

Valentina Mazzucato (2022), from Maastricht University, notices that most works on time and migration mention: time as a scarce resource, fragmentation of time, waiting, liminality, protraction of time, among other topics. But what is the temporal turn doing that we hadn’t been doing before? According to her, time can be fragmented into different topics and that helps us to focus. One of the areas we could look more into is this “bringing the past into the present”. While there’s a lot on waiting… we should question “how does that waithood relate with the waiting migrants’ experience in their countries of origin?”. And “how does it relate with waiting, once they are on the move?”. Another interesting area is linked with the notion of “social time”: looking at the social situationess of time (e.g. being stopped at the border means breaking one’s idea of cyclical time). Secondly, “how are we as researchers situated in time?”. Depending on where we are in our life cycles, we will ask very different questions, we will see and engage with respondents in distinct ways… What notions of time do we carry with us? Does this affect questions, concepts, methodologies, categories that we use when we study migration? Because categories carry a notion of time in them. Studying migrants is freezing time. Talking about “first and second generations” has implicit ideas about linear time within it. What don’t these categories allow us to see? Thirdly, time has been analysed in Anthropology for many decades now. There is a need to examine basic sociospacial conceptions through which time is constructed. Fourthly, the crucial idea of “time for research”: we have less and less time for research and that has a reflection on the type of work that we produce (or according to Bakhtin: “a story needs a beginning and an end”). We interview people and focus on what they say, but we need mixed methods especially using observation and moving beyond what people say (their narratives bring a linear time that might not have been there), and all this takes time.

Pawel Kaczmarczyk (2022), from Warsaw University, asks firstly: why should we talk about the temporal turn/why is it special? He notices that time and space are the major criteria to draw the demarcation line between mobility and immobility (as geographers have been saying for decades). The complexities of times and temporalities have been analysed from the 50’s and 60’s. Maybe it is not a turn, but rather a return. He also outlines two take-aways: 1. the sectorial perspective (there are some sectors where temporalities are extremely important, such as domestic and care work and agriculture, with rhythms of nature and markets, liminality and times involved); let us not forget that the temporal migration can also bring some advantages and opportunities (not just risks and threats); 2. new technologies (new media grows our capacity to capture the complexity of migration and in real time; so we have to deliver ethical solutions to deal with preemptive securitization). He finishes with his own big surprise: during the most recent IMISCOE Annual Conference there were 52 sessions about time and temporalities; however, there were just a few papers about the recent situation in Ukraine (of course it presents ethical and methodological challenges, it is a process in the making). However: what should be the response of the migration research community in the world? (there are intersections with temporalities in terms of speed, refugees, etc.). He mentions there is some complementarity of all the views presented, but right now there is an enormous pressure to produce research on displaced persons regarding Ukraine. Marta Erdal (2022), from PRIO – the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, ponders about who is contributing to these conversations and where/how? IMISCOE has travelled across time and space inside its own network. She distinguishes “time of research” from “time for research”; she makes a reflection on our own positionality and how that interacts with the times addressed; and she questions place and time (chronotope). Finally, Jean-Michel Lafleur (2022), from the University of Liège, points out some possible intersections of the temporal turn in migration studies with future conference topics: postcolonial migrations and legacies, or even migrations and inequalities.


Here is a paper I presented during the IMISCOE Annual Conference 2022, in Oslo: Time as Tool in Migration Governance: Temporalities, Uncertainties, Othering Processes, Protection and Oppression


*Please find the portuguese translation on the next page

*Para a tradução portuguesa da publicação, por favor aceda à próxima página 

[1] From 2003 to 2013, an estimated 4.2 million people were removed from the United States. Although the percentage of immigrant women deported during that period is publicly unavailable, a Freedom of Information Act request disclosed that the U.S. removed 24,870 women in 2013. Another report shows that more than 20,000 women are removed from the country annually. Many of these women were mothers who left children behind in the U.S.

[2] Middlesex University London and Women for Peace and Participation, UK/Afghanistan.

[3] MITRA IMISCOE/Utrecth University – European Research Centre on Migration and Ethnic Relations.

[4] SciencesPo/CNRS.

[5] Professor of Migration and Development at the University of Oxford, Research Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s African Centre for Migration & Society, and co-director of the Wits-Oxford Mobility Governance Lab (MGL).

[6] IMISCOE (International Migration Research Network) is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary research network in the field of migration, integration and diversity studies.


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