Dimensions of agency in transnational relations of Afghan migrants and return migrants

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Abstract

This article examines agency unfolding in the relationships that Afghan migrants and return migrants maintain with Afghanistan. Based on qualitative case studies of Afghan diaspora groups in Germany and the UK and Afghan return migrants in Kabul, we focus on how people engage with and position themselves in relation to Afghanistan. Drawing on Emirbayer and Mische’s tri-dimensional concept of agency in combination with Vigh’s idea of social navigation, we approach affective relations and forms of practical (transnational) engagement as expressions of agency. Research on migrants and return migrants is seldom brought together. However, exploring the types of engagement of these two groups with Afghanistan is telling for three reasons. First, it enables us to identify parallels and differences in the way Afghan migrants and return migrants relate to Afghanistan. Secondly, we uncover how ideas of change vary in different settings and under different socio-political conditions. Thirdly, we demonstrate that ties between people and place are not innate but an expression of agency and self-positioning. These in turn are contingent on individual characteristics and the context in which people are embedded. Compared to policy-oriented discussions on the migration-development nexus and on forms and outcomes of migrant engagements, our study yields a more nuanced understanding of entanglements between agency and engagement among Afghan migrants and return migrants.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMigration Studies
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2019

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