Weatherhead Research Cluster on Migration

Building Inclusion and Sustaining Solidarity

Gone are the days when most forced international migration occurred along well-charted and predictable routes. People fleeing war, violence, climate related disaster, and other threats to their lives now routinely lack any official humanitarian assistance. Instead they are forced to resort to tortuous and improvised itineraries which not only expose them to serious, even life-threatening risk, but also bring them face to face with frontline host populations ill-equipped to receive and sustain them. 

Yet, despite their lack of preparation and necessary support, time and again, these frontline hosts rise to the humanitarian challenge—displaying remarkable material generosity and openness of spirit despite the disruption to their quotidian routine and the lack of effective institutional engagement. 

This pervasive aspect of frontline host behavior, which we refer to as empathic solidarity, is both critical and fragile. In such settings, the cost of inaction is high and potentially irreversible. Once allowed to take root, the dissipation of solidarity, and its replacement by hostility, from frontline hosts sets in motion negative and foreseeable outcomes widely documented in policy analyses across comparative contexts. Proactive state and international policies that anticipate and strengthen the empathic solidarity of border communities, could, by contrast, foster generative win-win outcomes.

While extensive political and scholarly attention has been paid to the brutal impact of migration-related systems on distress migrants, the impact on frontline hosts has received much less scrutiny and discussion. This absence needs rectifying; the frontline is often a new form of “center” for national debates about migration, identity, and national character. If effective communities of solidarity can be created and sustained, migration can enrich local settings in unexpected ways. The presence (or absence) of thoughtful, purposeful, and sustainable migration-related responses will be politically and socially meaningful for years to come. Scholars, students, advocates, and policy makers engaged with frontline hosts and with distress migrants need to come together. 

Our cluster facilitates this underexplored dialogue and generates a space for joint intellectual engagement with these pressing concerns. We aim to understand both the processes and mechanisms by which empathic solidarity toward distress migrants is built and sustained, as well as the triggers of attitudinal change among frontline hosts. Our cluster fosters a new intellectual constituency around the following main questions: 

  • What factors generate initial empathic solidarity toward distress migrants in frontline host communities?
  • What are the commonalities and differences in the manifestations of empathic solidarity across different contexts?
  • How and why does empathic solidarity shift over time?
  • What are the sustainers of empathic solidarity and how can it be replenished rather than dissipated?

The Weatherhead Research Cluster on Migration is chaired by Professors Jacqueline Bhabha and Sarah Dryden-Peterson.

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