Writing a history of the “long summer of migration”: Reflections on activist-academic practices


In this paper we reflect upon our work in camps along the so-called Balkan route in 2016, from a perspective that merges activism, academic insights, and political orientations. Our experiences, the materials we collected, and subsequent reflections led to the creation of the exhibition “Yallah!? Along the Balkan route,” which is located at the intersection of activism, art, and science. In this paper, we contemplate different areas of tension that emerged in our work as supporters of the struggles for open borders from an academic and activist perspective. We also reflect on how we gained specific knowledge through participation in that struggles.


One day in March 2016 we are sitting in a semiformal refugee camp close to Idemoni, a village on the Greek side close to the Greek-Macedonian border. We are sitting in front of the border fence with a Syrian journalist and talking about the situation in Syria. He tells us about the divided city of Aleppo, one part belonging to Assad and the other to the rebels. It is not possible to cross the dividing line and visit family members on the other side. He talks about daily bombings, torn body parts, and how he has been working as a war journalist reporting on all this. He explains that journalists are the first to be killed because they inform about things that should not be too visible. He concludes: “Every day there was a massacre, everyday children died. But if I found a way back, I would go back. All this is better than here.We did not know what to say, realizing the great gulf between us while sitting next to each other and talking. (Personal notes, February 28, 2016)

This article reflects on the tensions existing at the nexus of scholarly and activist issues and practices. They are discussed regarding the experiences of the authors in Idomeni in March 2016 and in other refugee camps later that year too—ones in which the authors supported refugees’ fight for open borders. This article outlines an activist research approach, which we term “struggle as method” based on Lisa Riedner’s notion of “conflict as method” (2014, 2018).[1]

We draw empirically, and retrospectively, on our own activist-academic practices within the struggles for open borders along the so-called Balkan route. The practices discussed in this article derive from the experiences of a small team of four people (students, workers, and activists) who traveled to Greece and Serbia. We were based in a semiformal refugee camp[2] close to Idomeni, a village in Greece close to the Greek-Macedonian border, from February 21 to March 14, 2016. From July 14 to August 5, 2016, we were in northern Greece and visited refugee camps in Katsikas, Derveni, Softex, Nea Kavala, Lagkadikia, and Diavata. In March 2017, we visited Belgrade and spoke to people on the move in a park there as well as in a refugee camp close to the Serbian capital. During our time in Greece, we participated in leftist, self-organized structures providing infrastructural support to refugees. We accompanied refugees in their day to day lives and wrote blogs[3] about their ongoing struggles for open borders. We spoke to many people in these camps, and were able to record 32 audio and video statements from people on the move in English, Arabic, Farsi, and Kurdish.

We followed ongoing daily protests in Idomeni. We asked people protesting open questions: “What do you want people in Germany to know?” “What is going on here?” We recorded responses mostly in short statements close to the protest sites and sometimes longer, more or less political, talks in calmer settings. Our group documented the protests with video recordings and photographs.

The two authors of this article, together with a new team, later transformed the collected material into the exhibition “Yallah!? Along the Balkan route.”[4] This exhibition is located at the intersection of activism, art, and science, and was held in a number of German-speaking regions from fall 2017 to fall 2019.

The engagement at the borders we are reflecting on here started as solely an activist initiative. The two people writing this article only started to make use of their academic backgrounds later on in the project, when it came to creating the exhibition. When we entered the field, we did not discuss carrying out academic research. Nevertheless, we profited from academic insights into field research from Cultural Anthropology during our stay in the camps.

This article focuses on two areas of tension. The first is the breakdown of the Dublin Regulation in the “long summer of migration” (Kasparek and Speer, 2015), and the tensions arising within a humanitarian frame between control and agency. The second area of tension concerns activist-academic research approaches themselves. We will discuss problems of representation claims regarding participation in struggles (Riedner, 2015, 2018) seeking to produce a counter-knowledge “from below” against hegemonic governmental knowledge forms.

Acting in a Humanitarian Framework between Control and Agency

“What we witnessed in the long summer of migration in 2015 was and is not a refugee crisis, but a historical and structural defeat of the European border regime” (Hess et al., 2017, p. 6). The term “long summer of migration” expresses a situation in which “refugees had forced the Austrian and German governments to open their borders in a humanitarian gesture” (Hess and Karakayali, 2017, p. 26). In 2015 a corridor with complete infrastructure from Greece to Central Europe emerged through a series of formal and informal agreements and cooperation initiatives between states situated along the route, being fostered by the European Union. Within this corridor, agents of security as well as formal nongovernmental organizations and ad hoc volunteers were all involved. It can be understood as a humanitarian corridor (Moving Europe, 2016), one emerging as a humanitarian response to the open and visible brutality of state agents and to violent clashes between border guards and refugees along the Balkan route (Moving Europe, 2016).

The corridor arose as a special form of internal border (Hameršak et al., 2020), effectively a humanitarian border “holding together in an uneasy alliance a politics of alienation with a politics of care, and a tactic of abjection and one of reception” (Walters, 2010, p. 145). This humanitarian corridor was then later described as a “formalized corridor” (Beznek et al. 2016; Speer, 2017; Hameršak et al. 2020) so as to emphasize diverse and dynamic processes. From the perspective of the transit states, rational self-interest played its part, with formalization primarily an acceleration of the transit procedure (Speer, 2017), creating an extra-legal space of exception (Sperr, 2017; Kasparek, 2017) serving to bring back under control the dynamics of movement of thousands of migrants (Beznek et al., 2016; Moving Europe, 2016; Tošić, 2017; Kasparek 2017; Hameršak and Plese, 2018). The historical importance of the formalized corridor lies not, therefore, in its closure but in its “formation and its unexpectedly long existence” (Speer, 2017, p. 76).

When we set out on the route, the corridor was not yet closed—although how long it would remain open was contested. We observed several protests. Often, we heard the Arabic slogan of Syrian rebels: “Who does not participate has no courage.” We argue here that, of course, refugees are agents in their own struggles. They are not passive objects, they have agency, and they know how to act in difficult and violent situations. “When I decided to come, I knew it would be difficult. But I decided”—so one woman told us in Halle, Germany, in April 2017. We discuss the power of refugees in two respects. First, refugee “non-movement”—defined as collective actions by non-collective actors; practices carried out by a larger number of ordinary people. […] They contribute significantly to social change” (Bayat, 2012, p. 31). Refugees questioned the Dublin Regulations through everyday practices of collective disregard. The refugees crossed borders and fences repeatedly as part of collective movement in large numbers, a relevant and specific form of resistance and power of action (Moving Europe, 2016; Hess and Karakayali, 2017).

The second source of refugees’ power lies in their visibility within the humanitarian discourse. In Germany at the time, a “welcome culture” was staged and a “civil welcome society” arose (Karakayali and Kleist, 2015). Humanitarian narratives were at play in other countries along the route as well (Greenberg and Spasić, 2017; Jakešević, 2017; Sardelić, 2017; Bužinkić, 2018). Following William Walters, important is “knowledge which problematizes the border as a site of suffering, violence and death, and a political zone of injustice and oppression” (2010, p. 150). While critical theory and research has highlighted the governmental strategies and effects related to humanitarianism, we should not forget that there are other forms of humanitarianism too—notably ones emanating from grassroots activism and campaigns (Allegra, 2017; Brković, 2018, 2020). The established humanitarian regime has potential effects on migrants’ ability to cross borders. One form of agency from below lies in rendering visible brutality, harm, and human rights violations. Following Judith Butler et al., “vulnerability is part of the very meaning and practice of resistance […] characterized by interdependency and public action”(2016, p. 7).

People on the move were able to make use of a humanitarian approach by criticizing structures and people responsible for false humanity.” These individuals are able to adopt and adapt humanitarian arguments to demand unredeemed promises. In many interviews, then, people questioned European or German humanity; additionally We don‘t need false humanitycould be seen on a cardboard sign during protests in Idomeni. “Is this what your humanity looks like?” a person from Afghanistan asked in a camp near Belgrade in May 2017. Another young man told us in Idomeni in February 2016: “The European Union knows no mercy. They are watching us and make promises to us and nothing changes at all.” A woman in Nea Kavala, a refugee camp in Greece, summed up the situation there in July 2016 as follows: “We are only letters to them, nothing more.” Another person in Idomeni, speaking in February 2016, was more pointed besides: “They don’t give a shit!

Others contrasted their experiences in Europe with the situations they had faced in their home countries, challenging the Eurocentric view of the Old Continent as a place of human rights:We had our freedom. We were rebels and protesters in Syria. Here we are in jaila person in Idomeni told us after the border closure in March 2016. The judgment made by a person in a refugee camp in Nea Kavala in July 2016 catches Europe in its own misguided self-image meanwhile: We came here to Europe because people here are civilized and advanced. At least that’s what we thought.

Europe was criticized for making people vulnerable and for rendering false humanity visible, as articulated by a young man in Belgrade in May 2017: If you want to kill us, kill us directly. Finish, finish the game. We are playing a game. We’re the football, you know? One kicks us, the other side kicks us. On the border is the goalkeeper. And he kicks us; they catch us and send us back. So we are the football, and we don’t know when the game will be over. 

Activist-Academic Research Struggles

In this section we discuss engaged anthropology and reflect on our own academic-activist practices. We begin with a review of the main results of the “Writing Culture Debate” and the “Crisis of Representation” before moving on to activist-academic practices of social criticism, advocacy, and struggle as method.

Within cultural anthropology, reflections on power relations between the research field and researchers have become an increasingly important theme. The Writing Culture Debate in the 1970s and 1980s shifted the self-understanding of anthropological writings from the idea of objectively observing the truth, captured in texts, to the process of constructing knowledge and truth (Clifford and Marcus, 1986; Marcus and Fischer, 1986; Berg and Fuchs, 1993). The idea developed that academic writing creates the worlds it describes and that “ethnographic studies can legitimately be called fictions” (Clifford, 1993, p.110). Interwoven with findings from feminist academic criticism and postcolonial theory, power dimensions in the field, the subject position of the researcher, and the process of producing knowledge became central features of reflexive research practice. The relation between the subject and object of observation began to be questioned (Holmes and Marcus, 2005; Faubion and Marcus, 2009), along with the modes of representation of “the other” (Said, 1979; Stacey, 1988; Escobar and Restrepo, 2005; Browne and Nash, 2010; Fabian, 2014). The idea of “situated knowledge” (Haraway, 1988) became central, recognizing that our knowledge is always local, fragmented, and situated in a particular context.

Ethnographic research is based on participation and observation. It is precisely here that the production of knowledge passes through sensations, interpretations, and the researcher her or himself, who becomes the medium of knowledge production (Duden, 2004; Bendix, 2006). The central problems, ones that every researcher has to deal with, can be summarized in terms of questions of representation: Who speaks for whom? Who is heard, and who remains invisible? Which dimensions of power are reproduced or undermined? What kind of power relations are at stake, reproduced, and questioned through different kinds of research and knowledge production? Who profits from the research?

Through these debates, new forms of writings—ones more experimental and creative—were discussed that make the researcher and the context of the research visible. New fields of Anthropology such as Science and Technology Studies emerged, with the relationship between researcher and the researched no longer following the classical approach of studying down; studying through or studying up were now possible too (Nader, 1969; Wedel, 2004; Hannerz, 2006; Reinhold and Wright, 2011). Furthermore the simple exploration of locally fixed and locally ascertainable cultures was questioned (Abu-Lughood, 1996; Ferguson and Gupta, 1997; Welz, 1998), opening up the field to multi-sited ethnography (Marcus, 1995) able to follow the contours and networks between people, ideas, and objects (Welz, 1998; Burawoy et al., 2000; Hess, 2005).

Our main concern here is how the performativity of knowledge production can be used in the sense of consciously engaged research. Following John Law and John Urry, “social investigation makes worlds, then it can, in some measure, think about the worlds it wants to help to make” (2004, p. 391). If our writings and methods create the world and are never absolutely true, but depend rather on our individual point of view, we can discuss how to use “the power to bring new worlds into being [and] become open to possibility rather than limitations of the possible” (Gibson-Graham, 2008, p. 3). We understand our work as a productive interaction between academic and activist knowledge (König and Steffen, 2013), where the difference between the two “dissolves as soon as we look at the concrete ethnographic research practice” (Riedner and Weissmann, 2013, p. 196). However, “in such a situation, contradictions and tensions inevitably arise – a paradox that has to be endured” (König and Steffen, 2014, p. 272). While debates on engaged anthropology in Germany are still in their infancy, in the Anglo-Saxon context they are highly developed, differentiating between engaged anthropology, action anthropology, activist research, and public anthropology. Setha M. Low and Sally Engle Merry (2010) cluster these modes of engagement into six specific domains: sharing and support; teaching and public education; social critique; collaboration; advocacy; and, activism.

“Thank You for the Media!”

Thus far we have described a contested political situation along the so-called Balkan route between the control function of humanitarianism and the agency of people on the move themselves. We decided to focus on our accompaniment and support of the latter’s ongoing protests, which were directed at the politics of exclusivity, because the visibility of the perspective “from below”—or, better, migrants’ perspectives—seemed to be of great relevance. Methodologically we can situate our practices here under the research approaches of social critique and advocacy. In terms of social critique, we tried to understand the effects of policies on the people at the borders and highlight the “linkages between individual or group suffering and structural factors by examining harms in historical context and within relations of power” (Merry and Low, 2010, p. 208). One relevant aspect of social critique that we were able to grasp quickly during our stay in Idomeni concerns the depoliticizing humanitarianism described above, against which we tried to highlight the agency of people on the move themselves.

However, this humanitarian control function of the corridor was not the only prerequisite for the official closure of the route. In Idomeni in winter 2015/2016, having the right papers was the ticket to entering the corridor. Only people able to prove a certain citizenship were allowed to cross borders, thus creating a hierarchy. Many of those who were no longer allowed to pass borders were excluded and sent away from the official camps, saw food supplies cut, or were evicted by the police and brought to detention centers. Although some of the protesters continued to call for unity among the various status groups, this filtering by nationality had a number of effects on solidarity between refugees of different origins. “We’re all refugees here, why is there a difference?” a woman from Afghanistan told us in Idomeni in March 2016. We analyzed this as a policy of splitting up different groups of refugees in order to minimize their subversive power and to prevent them from challenging borders by passing across them collectively, in the sense of Asef Bayat’s (2012) “life as politics.” We described it as the old way of governance of “divide and rule.” A refugee we spoke to depicted documents and citizenship as follows: “The papers are like money, they are like gold now. It is more important than being human. Without papers, you are nothing, not a human being”(Interview in Idomeni, February 28, 2016).

We also tried to make the diverse critiques of refugees visible by sharing them on our blog. In an advocacy sense, therefore, we attempted hereby to “assist [local] communities in organizing efforts, giving testimony, [and] witnessing human rights violations”(Low and Merry, 2010, p. 210). In one case, we also encountered police violence in the form of brutal revenge after protests. People called us at night when they realized that some protest leaders were attacked and severely beaten by the border guards. We found the affected people in the hospital and in the camp, connected them with lawyers, discussed matters with them, and tried to support one person in bringing their case to court. We collected witness documents such as the following, which we published together with a larger report:[5]

And suddenly three men crossed the Macedonian border. They were the heads of the protest, which was here on the tracks. […] The Macedonian soldiers recognized them too and one told him to raise his hands, so he can search him. The police, the Macedonian soldier, punched him in the face. […] One of the soldiers starts to kick him at every point of his body – into his face, on his legs, in his side, on his back. […] They beat him up so violently – it was terrible. Then they started to stun him with stun guns. And then they brought him back to Greece – one of them. They have taken one of them with them, they did not send him back to Greece. I do not know what happened to him, if they have let him go or taken him with them. I do not know. But the other two were sent back to Greece. (Eyewitness report from March 6, 2016, in Idomeni)

Beyond this case, we aimed to provide space for people to express their respective demands and views. We asked people on the move what information and requests they wanted to convey to those from Northern European countries such as Germany. We collected many contemporary witness documents, in which these individuals described the situation faced or criticized the local and global politics of inequality. The situation worldwide or the influence of the West on the conflicts from which they had fled were cited here, such as in the statement “this president [of Afghanistan] was not elected by the people of Afghanistan” made by a woman from there in Idomeni in March 2016. In Diavata refugee camp, Greece, another woman from Afghanistan told us angrily, in July 2016, about the involvement of the West in her native country and how it avoided any responsibility for the refugees subsequently coming to Europe. Accordingly, these migration flows were produced precisely through these policies: “Bomb Afghanistan completely so that we are all destroyed at once.” A young man from Syria, meanwhile, argued in Idomeni in February 2016 that: “Every country sells weapons. Everyone supports any group while they fight.”

We discussed the political situation in Germany and Europe and the changing right-wing narratives with different people stuck at the borders. In the debates on the murders at the offices of the newspaper Charly Hebdo in Paris, France, in January 2015 or on the attack of Anis Amri on the Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, in December 2016, people from Muslim countries were described as a threat to security in general. From the perspective of people stuck at the border, the debates should be more nuanced and situated in their wider context: “Many people say that if they go back to Syria, they will have to fight for [Islamic State] or Al-Nusra. This is the only work in war in Syria” a man in Idomeni explained in February 2016. Another young person from Afghanistan noted in May 2017 in Belgrade: “Christian? Muslim? That means nothing. If you have a good heart, that’s all. You were born in a Christian country; I was born in a Muslim country. So this is my fault?”

Even though we sought to publish original statements and support people making violence visible, ultimately the power of representation remains with us. We cut the audio statements, we put them on our blog, we spoke with only a handful of people, we framed the statements with small explanatory texts, we contextualized them, and we published the material through our networks.

A fundamental dilemma of a lot of ethnological work becomes apparent here, namely, the focus on the perspective of disenfranchised, marginalized and discriminated people and groups, who, nevertheless, only have their say through the mediation of the researchers, with whom the power of representation ultimately remains. (Schramm, 2013, p. 222)

The relevant question here, one that we cannot definitively resolve, remains who benefits from the insights gained through participation—namely by receiving attention and acknowledgment. Activism on the Balkan route was, meanwhile, well recognized in Germany, both within leftist circles and wider society (Reflectionist collective, 2016). The enormous focus on policy negotiations regarding the Balkan route interlinked with the discourse of the welcome culture, and white Germans helping there had the effect of giving attention and recognition to refugee struggles in Germany. Resources for and recognition of solidarity work in Germany became noticeably less important and less visible, which had an impact on the self-organized struggles of refugees in Germany. The Lampedusa in Hamburg[6] or the Refugee Activists of Oranienplatz[7] in Berlin, for example, hardly got the chance to draw attention to their own claims during the long summer of migration. In the context of helping, “the mass media put white Germans without any refugee or migration background in the spotlight” (Danielzik and Bendix, 2017, p. 198). In our situation in Idomeni, it meant being in danger of speaking for people instead of supporting their attempts to build self-organized structures or to further realize existing ones capable of being heard.

Even if we could not overcome the problem of representation, our approach of recording voices to spread refugee perspectives was greatly welcomed. Many people in the refugee camps came to us and wanted to make a statement. We also found messages such as “Thank You for the Media!” written on banners or pieces of cardboard, which referred to the importance of increased visibility in the German and European discourses. The option of creating visibility and audibility, which we have, is a resource that we can use—one, of course, also appropriated and consciously used by people on the move themselves too. These individuals realized that they could make use of us and other media outlets to express their views on the ongoing contemporary debates and to produce a counternarrative to criminalizing and racist European tropes.

“Struggle as Method”—Going One Step Further

In the following section, we want to go one step further. In our stay at the borders we did not just record voices and spread views. We tried to go beyond just monitoring the protests. We thought about how we could make best use of our resources and privileges while attempting to build relations with people on the move. We also tried to connect with local people to acknowledge the diversity of struggles encountered. We hence now build on and expand Riedner’s aforementioned concept of “conflict as method,” which we frame here as “struggle as method.”

By reflecting on hierarchies, we tried to make use of our privileges and resources. We collected money by means of an appeal for donations; we were mobile (with a car available) and able to organize things and collect information; we had technical infrastructure support such as computers, cameras, and sound-recording equipment. In addition to such physical devices, we come from political movements possessing also specific knowledge and with access to particular networks and information.

We contacted some of the organizers and leading figures of the protests in Idomeni at that time. We tried to find out what they needed and, from time to time, bought materials people told us would be useful. We purchased shoes, which were really needed for long flight routes, when people needed to walk long distances over invisible routes, or the border guards took them away during an illegal pushback. We bought spray-paint cans and materials for banners. Sometimes, we had political discussions with people in front of the border fences about the situations in Syria, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, and Germany and how they were interlinked. We were asked our opinions regarding ongoing struggles in Germany and how the protests in Idomeni could be better heard there. We were asked about right-wing attacks on refugees or the political debate and changing laws in Germany. Within our team, we considered how to intensify contacts and spread these individuals’ writings or press releases—instead of our own—via our networks. We also discussed how to extend our shared political discussions on what kind of support and collaboration people might find useful.

Methodologically, we tried to understand the perspectives of people on the move themselves. These practices refer to the concept of collaboration with the researched. In such collaborative approaches, the researched became subjects of the research. Researchers hereby work together with people in organizations or social movements or share the leadership of the research concept with the researched (Low and Merry, 2010; Kollaborative Forschungsgruppe Racial Profiling, 2019). Holmes and Marcus (2007) identified the relevance of “para-ethnography” within research, defined as knowledge-making by those within different fields of expertise. This knowledge-making comprises much more than facts; of relevance here are feelings, intuition, anecdotes, and similar too. These two authors claim that: “The traditional informants of ethnography must be rethought as counterparts rather than ‘others’ – as both subjects and intellectual partners in inquiry” (Holmes and Marcus, 2007, p. 236). While they describe this para-ethnography as capturing the peculiarities of research conducted in fields with experts, we use feminist and postcolonial theory to argue that para-ethnography is also relevant in hierarchical fields—where the supposedly inferior can be understood as experts on their situations, in fact.

Taking feminist and postcolonial critiques into consideration, critical research thus claims not to reproduce existing categories but to find practices that elude, refuse, and exceed existing categorizations (Foucault, 1993; Butler, 2002; Lorey, 2014). The research approach of the “Autonomy of Migration” tries to refute existing categories through its attribution processes, focusing rather on the practices of migration “to investigate what goes through these conditions of current forms of socialization in order to point beyond” (Bojadžijev and Karakayali, 2007, p. 203). This rejects the hegemonic discourses problematizing (flight-)migration as such, analyzing instead precisely these forms of migration governance (Bojadžijev and Karakayali, 2007; Karakayali, 2008; Riedner, 2014). Adopting this Autonomy of Migration point of view does not mean that we left our own subject position void or abandoned our own positionality within a hierarchical system; rather, it shows how the theory of situated knowledge opens up “scope for alliances and criticism that goes far beyond the perspective of being affected” (Schramm, 2017, p. 223).

Moreover, Isabell Lorey (2014) criticizes a focus on subject positions linked to debates on intersectionality and calls for a focus on the transgression of categories—both practical and theoretical. For the purpose of exceeding existing categories, feminist theorist Rosi Braidotti (2011) goes beyond the description of a research view, outlining instead a utopian version of the European subject. In this philosophical and ethical construction, a new normative subject takes responsibility for previous productions of Europe such as Eurocentrism, racism, antisemitism, and fascism. In this utopian draft, the normative subject is based on the realities of the marginalized. Similar to the Autonomy of Migration, the perspective is turned upside down and consequently makes marginalized truth hegemonic and normal. Braidotti envisions a nomadic, multi-fragmented, hybrid post-European subject that becomes “minoritarian” in nature.

Starting from these theoretical reflections and utopian drafts on making research on an eye-to-eye level, how can we approach this in concrete situations? How can we collaborate and work together to become minor or to think with the idea of the Autonomy of Migration in mind? Without claiming to have found a perfect solution to all these problems regarding hierarchies, we have at least discovered beginnings and attempts to counter the effectiveness of ruling subjectifications. We had the possibility of joining in the perspectives “from below” by participating in the protests, talking to people, and asking how to support them with our resources. We can identify our practices on the one hand as collaboration, thereby understanding the refugees as experts on their own situations. On the other, we describe our methods as an analytical lens for the struggles encountered, which Riedner (2014) separates from the perspective on the struggles of those affected by power relations. The latter stresses the relevance of being a part of those struggles: “Concrete participation in negotiations seems to be very helpful in order to be able to adopt such a perspective and also to make a concrete contribution to emancipatory changes” (Riedner, 2014, p. 12). She called this approach, as noted, “conflict as method,” which we changed here into “struggle as method” given that we participated mainly in collective border struggles instead of various different conflicts. Following Riedner, we want to argue that it is vital to overcome the neutral position of the academic, to exchange with the field, and to change one’s own knowledge, view, and subjectification. Most relevant is to let the struggles have a subjective, physical, and material effect on oneself (Riedner, 2018).

From this involvement in the conflicts and struggles, a new perspective on the situation arose. However, Participation in such struggles and making use of privileges are not reducible to the production of situated knowledge. Involvement in the struggles and the gained knowledge were also key to developing forms of activism and solidarity transcending subject positions. Like Riedner suggested, involvement in the struggles had a subjective effect on our positions within the field. Some activists as well lose certain privileges in coming into contact with state repression. Nevertheless, what we have focused on here is how we acquired a special form of knowledge—which is itself part of the struggles occurring. These perspectives later resulted in the preparation of the exhibition “Yallah!? Along the Balkan route.” We benefited, therefore, from our multiple involvements as activists and academics, which cannot be easily separated within our practices on the Balkan route: drawing on our diverse involvement in (academic and activist) knowledge production, we could share a different narrative and different views from below on the ongoing processes at the borders. We were thereby able to analyze the ongoing situation as academics and activists, connect to refugees in discussing what to do exactly, and to reflect on our activist-academic practices as well as on our shared knowledge.

And the struggle goes on …

This article has explored how we dealt with the different areas of tension at the nexus of scholarly and activist discourses and practices, mostly consisting of questions of humanitarianism and representation in the field. We cannot claim that we avoided every pitfall, but we showed how we attempted to make use of our privileges by talking to the people involved and finding out what could be useful to them. We described how we were able to gain insights into the perspective of the struggles occurring, which led to an activist-academic production of knowledge. This knowledge about governance, repression, and agency was subsequently communicated to a wider audience through the exhibition “Yallah!? Along the Balkan route.”


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[1]      All quotations originally in German have been translated by the authors themselves.

[2]      The term “semiformal” expresses that the camp near Idomeni was initially self-organized and emerged spontaneously from among the people on the move themselves, but then over time various state and non-state infrastructures were added there.

[3]      http://travellingbureau.blogsport.eu/

[4]      http://yallah-balkanroute.eu

[5]      http://travellingbureau.blogsport.eu/2016/03/06/bericht-polizeigewalt-an-der-griechisch-mazedonischen-grenze/

[6]      http://lampedusa-in-hamburg.tk/

[7]      https://oplatz.net/

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