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ACMS Research

The Centre’s interdisciplinary research is organised around five primary themes with individual projects often spanning two or more research areas. Masters and Doctoral students regularly nest their work within the Centre’s short and long term projects.

Representation and knowledge production: 

Exploring the politics of producing, communicating and using knowledge to improve responses to migration in southern Africa

To inform the development of improved responses to migration within southern Africa, the politics of producing, communicating and using knowledge need to be better understood.

Concerned by the multiple intersecting factors associated with power and representation in research, this theme aims to experiment with different approaches to the study of migration, including: photography and documentary projects; the mapping and visualisation of research data; ways of translating and communicating research; and, the role of advocacy research.

This theme includes the MoVE:Method:Visual:Explore project which focuses on the development of visual and other involved methodologies to research the lived experiences of migrants in southern Africa. MoVE explores the co-production of knowledge through the development of partnerships with migrant groups, including LGBTIQ migrants and migrants who sell sex. With the aim of developing improved ways to integrate social action with research, MoVE involves collaboration with migrant participants, existing social movements, qualified facilitators and trainers, and research students engaged in participatory research methods. Various visual methods - including photography, narrative writing, participatory theatre, collage, poetry - and other arts-based approaches are explored as ways of producing, analysing, and disseminating research data.

Socio-spatial transformations

The movements of people create new social spaces while potentially transforming the institutional, economic, and physical infrastructure around them. Informed by foundational questions in comparative politics, human geography, and sociology this theme explores the constitution of social subjectivities and citizenship across a diversity of African sites which are origins, stations or destinations for people on the move. 

Using quantitative, qualitative and visual methodologies to explore how human mobility is reshaping Africa’s socio-economic landscape across multiple dimensions: migratory trajectories and patterns of on-going mobility; linguistic, ethnic and religious heterogeneity; economic inequality; institutional and organizational affiliations, nationality, ethnicity, sex, household structure; and translocal connections and social networks.

Regulation of law and policy

Research undertaken in this theme seeks to understand the de facto regulation of territory and people in spaces characterised by ongoing mobility and heightening socio-economic heterogeneity. Drawing from international relations, public administration, and law and society, it both documents the social and legal frameworks governing movement and migrants’ activities while questioning their practical outcomes and relative significance.  It works from the perspectives that, while the most important regulations may be linked to formal structures (laws, by-laws, and official regulation), across much of Africa regulation comes via radically decentred institutional systems of power and authority.  
The objective of research undertaken under this theme is largely non-normative: to neither condemn nor condone. Nor is it to guide immediate policy interventions. The emphasis instead is on understanding the nature of these complex, potentially dynamic regulatory regimes and to reveal the mechanisms through which they are forged and legitimised within or beyond the law. In doing so, projects document and theorise potentially competing systems of legitimacy, rights, and political authority. Through its focus on systems regulating access to space (e.g., land ownership, housing, business locations) and mobility (e.g., transport, rights to settle, ability to trade and engage elsewhere), the research will begin to reveal the contours, components and potential consequences of individual and collective poverty reduction strategies as well as speak to a broader literature on territoriality, the regulation of urban space, the meaning of law, and the meaning and practice of diversity in contemporary Africa.

Production and livelihoods

Migrating for work remains the most common form of international mobility in the world. Although southern Africa has had a long history of formal labour migration regimes, contemporary forms of movement are diverse and complex.
This research theme focuses on the policies, and practices of labour migration, and the work and livelihoods of migrants in South Africa. Using mixed methods researchers aim to understand the position of migrants in the labour market, the responses of government and trade unions to labour migration, and the everyday experiences and outcomes of migrants as they carve a living in South Africa towns, townships and cities.


Unhealthy migration:

Investigating migration as a key determinant of health and wellbeing in southern Africa

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is a region associated with high rates of population mobility – mostly associated with movement within and across national borders to access improved livelihood opportunities, a high prevalence of communicable diseases - notably HIV and tuberculosis, and inequity in health and wellbeing. Migration is acknowledged to be a central determinant of health and wellbeing, and the bidirectional nature of this relationship – with health and wellbeing influencing migration – is increasingly recognised.

In spite of this, policy, programmatic, and health system responses to health and wellbeing within the SADC region fail to engage with the movement of people. Key to this failure is that discussions related to the development of responses to population mobility and health are inherently political, often fuelled by anti-foreigner sentiments and unsupported claims negatively associating migrants with the spread of communicable diseases. Evidence-informed responses are lacking and current health responses – including communicable disease control programmes – will continue to struggle unless the movement of people is considered.

This research theme explores migration as a social determinant of health and wellbeing, and explores the associations between policy responses and the lived experiences of diverse migrant groups in the region. The sociological transformation of stigma, particularly in relation to HIV, is also explored.

Involving a series of unique research and public engagement projects, the migration and health project southern Africa (maHp) aims to explore (and evaluate) ways to generate and communicate knowledge in order to improve responses to migration, health and wellbeing in the SADC region. Multiple disciplinary perspectives, mixed method approaches, and the involvement of various stakeholders - including migrants themselves – are central considerations.