Ada Demaj – Encountering the Other and Building Third Spaces through Migrant Travels

My research will focus on a specific kind of travel, return visits, as experienced by 1.5 generation Albanian women migrants to Canada. Considering return visits as movements between a place of current residence and a place of ‘origin,’ or birth or previous dwelling (for a significant period of time) and back again, as undertaken by migrant groups (see David Duval ‘Conceptualizing Return Visits: A Transnational Perspective,’ in T. Coles and D. Timothy (eds) Tourism, Diasporas and Space. London: Routledge, 2004), I will undertake interviews with participants in order to get at the structural features of this type of travel–in other words, I will attempt to realise a phenomenology of their travel. Ultimately, I will delve into the political and social implications of this kind of travel, and try to relate my findings to other types of travel as well. Focusing on 1.5 generation migrants is particularly challenging, not only because the existing research on the experiences of this group is minimal, but also because these individuals life possess experience from inhabiting at least two different countries, which has implications for how they identify (with) themselves and how they relate to other people, places, and to moving across places.

It is likely that the daily lives of this group of women would be marked, to different degrees and in different circumstances, by sedimented manners of bodily comportment, linguistic features, and social and cultural patterns which stand out from or do not fit easily into their country of residence nor their land of ‘origin.’ Thus, it is perhaps appropriate to theorize the relational positioning of 1.5 generation Albanian migrants in Canada with respect to themselves, to others and the world as ‘in-between’ or ‘multiplicitous’ relations. Multiplicitous identity, elaborated by Latin-American feminist theorists such as Gloria Anzaldua, Maria Lugones, Mariana Ortega and others, is a useful concept for my research because it describes the existential and relational situation of people who are not ‘at ease’ in mainstream society due to their multiple (often subordinated) simultaneous affinities, belongings, and positioning. I place this alongside Maria Lugones’s concept of ‘world-travelling’, that she describes as the resistant practice of shifting from being one person to being another person undertaken by multiplicitous selves in order to survive and enrich their lives (see María MaLugones, Peregrinajes/Pilgrimajes: Theorizing coalition against multiple oppression, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). Taken together,  these notions of multiplicity can allow me to connect Lugones’s partially metaphorical use of ‘travel’ to a phenomenology of travel across space. Simultaneously, Lugones’s use of ‘world’ in ‘world-travel’, though again partially metaphorical, can provide some meaningful contributions, in theory and practice, to an understanding, of space that does not reduce space to an unchanging, fixed, surface.

Doreen Massey explains that ‘space is the condition for multiplicity,’ in the simple sense that without space there could not be difference or ‘the existence of more-than-one-thing’ (‘Space, Time and Political Responsibility in the Midst of Global Inequality (Raum, Zeit und politische Verantwortung inmitten weltweiter Ungleichheiten),’ in Erdkunde, 2006, pp. 89-95). However, space is not only a container for multiplicity or a stage where it plays out; rather space itself is a multiplicity of trajectories since everything that dwells in and makes up space is forever changing, on-going, and in process. This leads Massey to read travelling as movement ‘across stories,’ which means that all who travel across and dwell in space have a responsibility in its constitution. I will take up Massey’s call for a praxis of spatial responsibility that addresses inequality by seeking more ethical relations between humans and non-humans. My central research question is: How can a phenomenology of travel contribute to theoretical, activist, and everyday practices of sharing the world more ethically? This more general question is tied to a narrower inquiry about the experiences of the return visit participants in my study have, as I ask whether, at any point in the travelling process, questions emerge for the travellers regarding the possibility of their own participation and political role in global and local relations of power.

A preliminary understanding of ethical relationality involves the erasure of inequalities, the preservation of difference, and the blossoming of the becoming of each being affected by the relation. To unpack this very sensitive and large topic of ethical relationality, I will engage with some of the most recent work of Luce Irigaray, which delves precisely into this topic. Picking up some elements of the dialogue that Luce Irigaray initiated with prominent phenomenologists, I will also revisit Merleau-Ponty’s (1968) concept of the ‘chiasm’ as a model for ethical encounters (see Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The visible and the invisible: followed by working notes. TriQuarterly Books, 1968), without forgetting Irigaray’s insightful critiques of this work in ‘To paint the invisible’ (in Continental philosophy review 37.4, 2004, pp. 389-405). An investigation of Merleau-Ponty’s ‘chiasm’ can be useful for a phenomenological exploration of travel since I begin my project from a partial understanding of travel as an encounter or a spatio-temporal intertwining between different beings that are irreducible to each other. My engagement with Merleau-Ponty’s work will also take up his chapters on space and motility in Phenomenology of Perception as starting points for delving into a phenomenology of travel. To help me interperet this work, I will again use some of Luce Irigaray’s latest work: her chapter on ‘Mutual Hospitality’ (in The Conditions of Hospitality, Thomas Claviez (ed). Fordham University Press, 2013, pp. 42-55), as well as chapters from In the Beginning She Was and Sharing the World, that I will put in dialogue with Merleau-Ponty yet again, to draw out some of the relational considerations of travel, which are crucial to my project.