LiA Spark Talks Series: Responsibility of academics in the so-called refugee crisis


Sparking a discourse cross-cutting professions, social backgrounds and beyond the conference room:


What is the responsibility of academics in the so-called ‘refugee crisis’?

We are currently working on a new project. In the experimental form of a Spark Talks Series, we discuss, by crosscutting professions and social backgrounds, the responsibility of academics in the so-called ‘refugee crisis’. Our interview partners include academics, lawyers, activists including those with the legal status of asylum seeker or refugee.

In fall 2015, LiA’s researchers started reflecting upon one of the biggest humanitarian and political crisis Europe has faced: the increased inflow of persons in search of protection in Europe, or what has commonly been termed as the ‘refugee crisis’. In particular, we started questioning ourselves about the role academics could and should play in this context. In order to reach a broad audience, LiA initiated the ‘Spark Talks’ series: in the experimental format of short video clips, different actors (academics, members of international institutions, political activists, including those with the legal status of ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’) share their views and ideas on the issue.

What is the responsibility of academics and how can academics intervene when a social crisis hits?

The discussions on the role of academics in the ‘refugee crisis’ can be attributed to two levels: the practical and the normative.

On a practical level, we are and have been discussing, what role academics could realistically play in the ‘refugee crisis’. What are the expectations of affected people and people working on the ground towards academics? What kind of support could academics offer? Do the voices of academics matter for individual border litigation or for steering policy-making?

On a normative level, we are exploring the relationship between academia and politics and the limits of academic claims of objectivity. We also discuss the genuinely personal components of these questions. It can be difficult to maintain a balance between personal political views and the role of independent experts, a dilemma many scholars and especially junior professionals face when dealing with highly politicised topics.

We choose the format of the Spark Talk Series, in order to be as inclusive as possible. The participants and targeted audience of our spark talks are scholars interested in issues of human rights, migration and social justice; but also activists, migrants and professionals working as migration lawyers or for NGOs. An important goal of the Spark Talks Series is to make the voices heard of actors that are personally affected by the ‘refugee crisis’ and yet, often excluded from the public and academic debate. Those, carrying the legal status of ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seekers’ are often marginalised and presented as victims rather than right-holders or political actors.

The Spark Talks series creates a space for debate that enables mutual learning beyond hierarchies by crosscutting social milieus and academic disciplines.

First, the recording and publication of video clips creates a platform for those who often get excluded from the debates taking place in talk shows and in universities settings. In the Spark Talks Series, those who had to flee from their home countries participate in the discussions as experts, and not primarily as victims.

The Spark Talks Series can unveil barriers of language, make a contribution against the lack of interaction of the different people involved and work against misunderstandings and wrong assumptions. The format allows us to conserve the knowledge and to also make it accessible in the future and from outside the conference room. The ultimate aim is not to frame a debate, but to spark one, to encourage participation, to let it grow and take different directions and to build a foundation for mutual learning and urgently needed cooperation.

For more information, contact: [email protected].

All material posted on this blog is posted in the name of the EUI researchers involved, through the Human Rights Working Group, and not in the name of the EUI.