Conference on Migration, Work and Identity
Peter Ludvigsen, Workers museum Copenhagen
Michael John (University of Linz, Austria)
Uffe Østergaard (Danish Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies)
Udo Wiesinger, Museum Arbeitswelt Steyer
Thursday 22. – Friday 23. November 2001
Download conference-papers (pdf-file). [Also published – except ‘Installation artist. Sculptor. Khaled D. Ramadan’ – in Worklab Newsletter no. 5 ]
Organised by The Workers’ Museum for Worklab (The International Association of Labour Museums) as a part of the Culture-2000 supported project Migration, Work and Identity.
Seven museums of working class culture and industrial history in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria and Spain have formed a partnership to focus on the highly topical question of migration. The purpose of the project Migration, Work and Identity is to contribute to the European debate on cultural diversity, with the expectation that greater knowledge of the different migrant communities within the EU will improve mutual understanding and tolerance. The partners will share their work with each other and the public by means of national and international exhibitions, conferences, web-site and publications, thus developing a European perspective on migration
The project’s second conference will be held at the Workers’ Museum in Copenhagen Thursday 22. – Friday 23. November 2001. The first was held in Manchester November 2000. The sessions will be held in the former Workers? Assembly Hall of 1879. Colleagues from universities, museums, immigrants? organisations and other organisations are invited to participate. The themes of the three sessions of the conference are Migrants and work, Migrants and museums. The conference language is English.
The EU project
The background for the conference is the Worklab partnership programme, ‘Migration, Work and Identity’ selected by the European Commission to be part of its Culture 2000 programme. The co-ordination of the project is being undertaken by the Workers’ Museum in Copenhagen.
The starting point of the project is the relationship of the ‘new Europeans’ to their new country of residence. Amongst other organisations, museums too have an obligation and a responsibility to study the heterogeneous migrant groups living within Europe, show their culture in the museums and make the migrants use the museums.
The first conference of the project held in Manchester November 2000 had 50 participants discussing the theme Migration, Work and Identity. The papers from this conference are to be found in WORKLAB Newsletter No.4
During the second conference we now narrow the theme to Dreams and Walls. This theme will thereafter be the leading theme of the museums creation of exhibitions as a part of the dissemination of the project: During the last decades of the 20th century many people from Africa, Asia, Caribbean Islands, The Middle East, Balkan States and Eastern Europe have been invited to or dreamt of a better life in Europe. They are however often met by walls – administrative, cultural, linguistic and social – and do sometimes create their own walls.
Migration, Work and Identity started in 2000 and runs for three years organising conferences, seminars, exhibitions, web-site and publications. Hopefully the work will go on for many years, as an integrated part of the museums? activities. Equally hopefully, the results of the project will contribute to European discussions and initiatives on these issues. Therefore it is important to stress that the conference is open to all organisations and single persons who work with or are interested in – Migration, Work and Identity.
The programe on this web-site will be updated regularyly
Minutes from the conference
The conference took place a couple of days after the Danish general election, during which the issue of migrants in Denmark dominated the campaign. Still feeling sore from the election result, Peter Ludvigsen’s ironic comment at the opening of the conference was “Welcome to Denmark, we don’t like foreigners”. However, we foreigners enjoyed a very hospitable and stimulating conference.
The conference offered a rich mixture of speakers who looked at this highly topical theme of migration into Europe from a range of professional, intellectual and ideological perspectives.
Some speakers posed questions:
* Thomas Faist (University of Bremen, Germany) asked, why are there so few migrants from so many places and so many from only a few places?
* Michael John (University of Linz, Austria) asked whether the xenophobic response of some Austrians to migration was unique or whether it was shared by other European countries?
* In his concluding remarks Uffe Ostergaard (Danish Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies) asked why and when did migration become a problem?
Other speakers discussed projects they are working on:
* Khaled Ramadan (artist) described how he uses his Lebanese origins in his art and talked of how racism leads people from the Lebanon to be branded as either thieves, drug dealers or terrorists.
* Bengü Kocatürk Schuster (DOMiT Archive and Museum of Turkish Migration, Cologne, Germany) described the work of DOMiT to record and preserve the history of Turkish migration to Germany.
* Deidre Figueredo (Craftspace Touring, Birmingham, England) described the work of Leicestershire Museums Service in representing South Asian communities in Leicester.
* Jette Lykke Jensen (Danish Federation of Trade Unions) spoke about the work of the Danish Federation of Trade Unions to encourage integration of migrants.
* Rainer Ohliger (Network Migration in Berlin, Germany) described the project to establish a European Migration Museum.
* Umut Erel (Hamburg and Nottingham Trent University, England) presented her research on the lives of Turkish migrant women in Germany and Britain.
* Ann-Belinda Preis (UNESCO, Paris) argued that whilst nations restrict the movement of people across borders, globalisation is inducing people to cross borders. She suggested that states should take up the notion of “sustainable pluralism” in order to deal with this reality.
* Mehmet Ümit Necef (University of Southern Denmark) argued that immigration is a challenge to two fundamental traits of wealthy Western countries: that they are nation states and they are welfare states.
* Ulf Hedetoft (Aalborg University, Denmark) described the work of the Academy of Migration Studies in Denmark
The talks inspired many informal discussions over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here are summaries of just some of them:
Evidence suggests that it is harder for migrants to find work and become integrated in Nordic countries which have a high level of social benefits and a highly regulated labour market. In order for the costs not to escalate and to nurture a sense of entitlement, welfare states must be closed systems which keep strangers out. For example, Sri Lankan Tamil migrants to Denmark encounter a “case-work culture” where bureaucracy and labour regulation keep them out of work. Whereas in the UK, Tamils have existing networks of relatives which help them get work, albeit unofficially. Are welfare states really to be blamed for problems of migrant integration? Dare we suggest that the minimum wage should be reduced?
Is a European equivalent of New York’s Ellis Island Museum desirable?
How can migration best be presented in museums? By means of networks of small community-based projects or a flagship Museum of European Migration? Is it a question of one or the other? Can elite, capital-intensive projects exist alongside small projects or do they inevitably draw funding and energy away from such projects as DOMiT?
Museum professionals were called the “pragmatic ones” , in contrast to academics who focus on theory. Is this a useful distinction to make? Do museum workers simply interpret and present the ideas of the theoreticians? Or do they also have their own distinctive way of working which is grounded in a theoretical perspective? One thing which distinguishes museum workers from academics is that the presentation of their research – in a form which a wide range of people can understand and enjoy – is a crucial part of their work.
Many speakers focused on the content of their talk rather than its presentation. Speakers who came from a museum background were able to hold the attention of the audience because they used such things as slides to illustrate their talk. This is one reason why it is important that museum projects like Migration, Work and Identity (MWI) enter into the debates about migration. Museums can present material in forms like exhibitions which a range of people can enjoy.
And connected to this, how can the ideas presented by the speakers be used to inform the work of the MWI projects? Inevitably, the work of the partners will benefit from the contextual information and ideas which the speakers offered