11 June 2021 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Supplied
Prof Joy Owen believes in the mutual intellectual push between research supervisor and student.

Prof Joy Owen, Head of the Department of Anthropology, and two of her students, Ingrid Juries, PhD student and Mamokoena Mokoena, Master’s student, presented a paper exploring the experiences of migrants, at the virtual Oxford Migration Conference that took place from 10 to 11 May 2021 under the theme Borders and Justice.

According to Prof Owen, their paper Bordering on complexity? African migrants’ narratives of boundary creation and dissolution, “tries to make a particular intervention in the transnational migration literature – inclusive of diasporic and refugee studies – which speaks to the complexity of reception in ‘host’ countries”.   Their paper and presentation were included in Routed, a special conference magazine. 

The mainstream portrayal of migrants and residents is that of one-sided aversion and sometimes violence, which gives rise to xenophobic attacks. However, the work done by Prof Owen, Mokoena, and Juries illustrates the ‘rather messy experiences’ of both migrants and citizens and the interpersonal relationships that may result from it.  “These relationships are not merely riddled with negative experiences, but also positive, life-affirming experiences for both migrant and citizen,” says Prof Owen.


Xenophobia in South Africa

South Africa in particular, has seen a rise in xenophobic attacks and xenophobia in general, which begs the questions – do we need more research on the matter? Prof Owen says no. “There’s vast literature on xenophobia, and more recently xenophilia – ‘the love of the other’. We need more research that demonstrates the ways in which non-citizens have become part of the South African socio-economic and political fabric,” says Prof Owen.

The complexities of our history in South Africa, that of migration and settlement. “How we narrate those stories, and what we focus on, confirms how we define ourselves as contemporary South Africans, inclusive of migrants in our midst,” says Prof Owen.


Mutual intellectual push

For Prof Owen, it is important to reiterate that although Juries and Mokoena are under her supervision, they were also her collaborators for the conference presentation. “Their contemporary knowledge and understanding of the intricate and embattled experiences of migrants in South Africa is growing,” she says. It is a privilege for her to witness the fast, immediate intellectual growth of her students and their academic prowess while being pushed intellectually herself. “That is fundamentally the role of education, is it not? To keep pushing beyond the knowledge we have accrued in service to society,” Prof Owen says. 

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