Processes of Illegalized Migration from the Perspective of Biographical Research and Figurational Sociology: The Land Border Between Spain and Morocco


  • Gabriele Rosenthal Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
  • Eva Bahl Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
  • Arne Worm Georg-August-Universität Göttingen



biographical research, figurational sociology, combination of methods, ethnography, group discussion, narrative interview, migration and forced migration, border zones


In this article, we aim to clarify the benefit of perspectives derived from biographical research and figurational sociology in attempts to understand and explain illegalized migration. In addition, we intend to discuss the methodological implications of this perspective. The article is based on our research on the "social construction of border zones," which is conducted within the Spanish exclaves Melilla and Ceuta. We will concentrate in particular on the reconstruction of the experiences of migrants who were unable to "legally" cross the border between Moroccan and Spanish territory. On the basis of a contrastive comparison between three cases of migrants from various regions and social contexts (Syria, Mauritania, and Cameroon) with profoundly diverse migration experiences, we want to reconstruct processual structures of illegalized migration movements.

Our assumption is that the contextualization of migration processes within an individual's biography (and the biography's intertwining with wider collective and sociohistorical processes and conditions) will enable us to make an analysis of how the illegalization and criminalization of migration is constituted, experienced and processed. We also aim to analyze how notions of belonging are generated and used as instruments and effects of power in social settings and how changes in the sense of belonging are linked to different migration experiences. The reconstruction of migration experiences and of the dynamics of belonging demands a precise historical contextualization and diachronic analysis of the researched cases regarding local situations and their interplay with global or transnational processes and circumstances.



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Author Biographies

Gabriele Rosenthal, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Gabriele Rosenthal is Professor for Qualitative Methods at the Center of Methods in Social Sciences at the Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany. She is currently the president of the Research Committee: “Biography and Society” (RC 38) within the International Sociological Association (ISA). Previous positions included a professorship for general sociology at the University of Cologne and a professorship for social therapy at the University of Kassel. Since 1989 she has taught qualitative methods and biographical research as a guest lecturer at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel. Her major research focus is on the intergenerational impact of the collective and familial history on biographical structures and actional patterns of individuals and family systems. Her current research deals with migration, ethnicity, ethnic conflicts and trauma.
Publications (FQS)

Eva Bahl, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Eva BAHL, M.A., ist Ethnologin und Soziologin und seit März 2014 wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin in dem Forschungsprojekt "The Social Construction of Border Zones" am Methodenzentrum Sozialwissenschaften der Universität Göttingen. Ihre Forschungsschwerpunkte sind: interpretative Methoden, Migrations- und Grenzforschung, Geschlechterforschung, kollektives Gedächtnis und Erinnerungskulturen und postkoloniale Studien.

Arne Worm, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Arne WORM, M.A., ist Soziologe und seit November 2012 wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Methodenzentrum Sozialwissenschaften der Universität Göttingen (Abteilung Qualitative Sozialforschung). Er arbeitet seit Oktober 2014 im Forschungsprojekt "The Social Construction of Border Zones". Seine Forschungsschwerpunkte sind: Interpretative Methoden, Biographieforschung, Figurationssoziologie, Migrations- und Ethnizitätsforschung.



How to Cite

Rosenthal, G., Bahl, E., & Worm, A. (2016). Processes of Illegalized Migration from the Perspective of Biographical Research and Figurational Sociology: The Land Border Between Spain and Morocco. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 17(3).



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