Research on migration and the biographical approach: building a collaborative framework in the Portuguese context

March 1, 2011 to August 31, 2014
42 months

The goal of this project is to develop a collaborative framework for the study of migration in the Portuguese context. We address three specific questions raised by a biographical research approach: 1) What are the migrants' perspectives about their lived experience of migration? 2) What is the impact of an inquiry on the migrants' life and host society? and 3) How to acknowledge the migrant subjects beyond the sole (objectified) purpose of the research? The perceived scarcity of research which would depart from these three questions leads us to propose a project examining both the experiential perspective of migrants on the move across countries, cultures, languages, etc., and the dialogic encounter between researchers and subjects in the field. So we have based our research on a biographical approach capable of analysing the research's impact on the migrants' lives. We will conduct a study on biographical testimonies produced within the context of the project encounters. The narrative’s production context will be analysed along with the narratives themselves and the results shared with the participants, namely through a project documentary. Our study of migration in Portugal through biographical accounts, in dialogue with the results' representation, interrogates the migrant constructions of identity, belonging, difference, culture, as well as discourse, in relation to the wider socio-historical environments from research. We will examine the very context of research,understood in its multiple dimensions. The biographical research (BR) implies a fundamental shift in the way knowledge is conceived and produced among researchers and their interlocutors. Based on counter-hegemonic civic epistemologies (Santos 2004, 2009; Jasanoff, 2005, Allegretti 2009), our proposition aims at a) linking academic practices with experiential forms of knowledge; b) co-constructing knowledge with migrant subjects in Portugal; c) accounting for each participant's responsibility in the process. Biographical interviews, in-depth life stories, a biographical workshop and a documentary with migrants will be conducted within a collaborative frame, with interactive results and based on the team interdisciplinarity. Drawing from the theoretical field of biographical research (Delory-Momberger 2004, 2009), as well as from dialogical ethnographic encounters (Lechner 2009a, Rugira 1995) situated in multicultural contexts (Keating & Solovova 2008, Barbosa 2008, Koven 2007), ours is a pilot project exploring action research with immigrants in Portugal. The project has the partnership of the International Association for Biographical Research (Le Sujet dans la Cité), and the West Africa Institute for International Research on Regional Integration and Social Transformations. Migrant interlocutors will be contacted through local associations, direct contact and the media in order to recruit volunteers for this project. Our experience shows that field encounters, as well as careful analysis, and group work at biographical workshops produce ample results with transforming effects both for migrants and researchers (Lechner, 2009b). Previous investigations in clinical, urban/spatial, educational formal and informal migrant settings made us aware of micro-political functions accomplished by biographical research: it de-medicalizes “migrant condition” and de-pathologizes cultural difference, providing possibilities for dialogue between migrants and hosts (Lechner, 2008). Unlike the prescriptive attitude associated with hegemonic knowledge (im)positions, such dialogic possibilities may create opportunities for equality and justice. In this sense, the project takes into account a form of intervention within the current context of migration studies in Portugal, which we consider to be a civic epistemology. What is at stake here is the production of knowledge with migrants versus about migrants. Without falling into the pitfalls of “domestication” or “paternalism”, biographical research with migrants is a premise exploring theoretical, methodological and social/political values of epistemology. The original proposal presented to the volunteers will contribute to the production of new knowledge on migration, interculturality, and social cohesion to be disseminated through the expected outcomes. books, articles, documentary video, virtual archive of migrant memories, seminars, courses and final conference Bringing together scholars, migrants, and institutions in the research field, the project will have an impact over the general public, scientific community, migration policies, namely those related to migrant participation and multicultural social cohesion. Relying on its multidisciplinary and multicultural expertise, our team is sure to bring additional experiences within migration studies, thus contributing towards the production of a civic and political useful knowledge.


International Association “Le Sujet dans la Cité”; West Africa Institute (WAI) for International Research on Regional Integration and Social Transformations

Carlos Elias Barbosa
Clara Keating
Elsa Lechner (coord)
Giovanni Allegretti
Marina Galvanese
Olga Solovova
migrations, biographical research, civic epistemology, collaborative work
Funding Entity
Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology