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Kiana Sakimehr Dissertation Proposal Defense

May 12 @ 11:00 am - 1:00 pm

Emotions and Migration: An Analysis of Emotional Transnationality and the Possible Transitions in Emotions among Afghan Refugees Settled in the US


On August 20, 2021, after nearly twenty years of war in Afghanistan, the US announced the
completion of its withdrawal from the country. The hasty, chaotic, and poorly organized withdrawal of
the US from Afghanistan accelerated the collapse of the US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani, and the
Taliban’s return to power. As a result, a large number of people rushed to Kabul International Airport,
where thousands were able to catch an evacuation flight to flee Afghanistan and be settled in another
place. One of the places where Afghan refugees were resettled was the US state of Michigan. According
to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Global Michigan, as of
February 8, 2022, 1,639 Afghans have arrived in the state of Michigan. By focusing on this new refugee
influx, my research investigates the often-neglected emotional aspect of migration and how it shapes
peoples’ interpretations and perceptions of their new reality as refugees.

My study analyzes Afghan refugees’ experience of “emotional labor” (Hochschild 1983, 2012)
and the possible emergence of new “emotional grammars” required for maintaining kinship ties and
performing intimacy across space (Mckay 2007). By focusing on the wide-ranging functions of emotions,
this project examines the possible transitions in emotions that might lead to the reconfiguration of a new
“emotional self” (Lupton 1998) with regard to expectations of living in the US. Moreover, the role of
institutional structural possibilities and constraints regarding these transitions in emotions will be

While scholarship on migration and transnationalism has been productive in investigating
different aspects of the migration process and migrants’ lives across national borders, little has been said
regarding the centrality of emotions in shaping migrants’ perception and interpretation of migration.
According to existing literature, the predominant focus on migration’s political and economic dimensions
has led scholars to overlook emotional factors involved in migration. This sidelining of emotions stems
from the long-standing separation of reason and emotion, which sees the latter as “irrational” and not
worthy of analysis (Boccagni and Baldassar 2015, 77; Mai and King 2009). Moreover, the two main
theoretical approaches to emotions in anthropology (cultural constructionist and universalist biological,
which reflect the dichotomy between mind and body) seem inadequate to the analysis of emotions in the
context of migration (Ewing 2005). Building on anthropological theories of emotion, which argue for
analytical frameworks that try to bridge the dichotomy between mind and body, my research focuses on
emotional processes related to migration in terms of discourses, practices, and embodied experiences
simultaneously (Svasek 2010).

This research will be based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in Michigan. Data will be
collected through participant observation while volunteering at three different refugee centers. In addition,
through semi-structured interviews and informal conversations, Afghan refugees’ narratives in the form of
storytelling will be collected. Moreover, to explore the embodied aspect of emotional experience, I will
create and analyze a set of observational data based on interactions with refugees using interviews,
observations, and recorded fieldnotes.

Date: Thursday, May 12, 2022

Time: 11:00 a.m. EST

Please contact Kiana Sakimehr at sakimehr@msu.edu for the Zoom information.


May 12
11:00 am - 1:00 pm
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