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Directions in Displacement

The official blog of Virginia Tech's Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies

August 29, 2022 by Lois Nguyen

Directions in Displacement is the official blog of the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies at Virginia Tech. Founded in 2020, the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies supports transdisciplinary research that travels across and between issues such as displacement, resettlement, human rights, citizenship, statelessness, security, labor, housing, social services, community health, ecology, the arts, and justice. Through a displacement studies approach, we advocate for a “more humane, synergistic, interdisciplinary, cross-species, and planetary approach to migration” (Hester & Powell, 2022, p. 3). We argue that the notion of place as a construct that shapes and inscribes value to space is central to the study of dis-place-ment.

Focusing on displacement inspires questions that encompass but also go beyond a frame limited to terms such as migrant, refugee, asylum-seeker, and human parolee. This categorization contributes to a conception of individuals caught in fixed and permanent displacement. Rather, those who are forcibly displaced often construct their own narratives that counter the political inscription of such terms on certain bodies and instead describe the social, cultural, emotional, physical, and political impacts of violent uprooting, the active making of place, and how displacement effects us all though in varied and inequitable ways.

This blog aims to promote displacement studies as both “an intellectual approach and a political project,” thinking both with, beyond, and against the anthropocentric frame of stigmatizing categorization, examining the implication of multiple beings, organisms, and minerals in processes of migration and forced displacement (Hester & Powell, 2022, p. 4). Displacement requires planetary perspectives as the unjust treatment of humans through forced relocation signifies (and is often predicated on) injustices against the non-human world (Dryzek and Pickering, 2018, p. 67). We cannot approach issues of displacement, migration, and relocation with “abstract normativity,” but must acknowledge the specificity of each narrative and respond with “uncertain and situated engagement” (Zanotti, 2018, p. 7). Approaching displacement as a complex web of relations with broad effects requires methodologies and strategies that work to uncover and situate ourselves within the entanglements of multiple othered beings.

But how do we traverse the unfolding landscape of othered beings, organisms, and minerals in movement? Looking at directions in displacement draws attention to the experiences of moving and seeking even when we may not know where we are going. Whether we are engaged in listening, researching, or writing, questioning the structures that undergird displacement requires one to make continual departures from the assumptions undergirded by the same structures of power. Gloria E. Anzaldúa writes that being on both shores at once, seeing from the ground and above, is a necessary standpoint on the way to new consciousness. And yet she maintains that there are always other routes to new consciousness, whether one takes radical and visible leaps or pursues a path in the shadows. Through critical and situated observation, paying attention to the traces along the way makes visible what is left behind, what emerges, and what persists in processes of displacement. The goal is to pursue multiple challenging and rewarding directions with the hope of uncovering histories and futures of care, justice, empowerment, and radical (re)imaginings in the dynamics of displacement.

At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes. Or perhaps we will decide to disengage from the dominant culture, write it off all together as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route. The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react. Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza p. 100

† This statement stems and pulls from the vision put forth by the Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies’ Displacement Studies Manifesto: Toward a new planetary politics


Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands: La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books.

Dryzek, J. S., & Pickering, J. (2019). The Politics of the Anthropocene (First edition). Oxford University Press.

Hester, R. J., & Powell, K. M. (2022). Displacement Studies Manifesto: Toward a new planetary politics.

Zanotti, L. (2018). Ontological Entanglements, Agency and Ethics in International Relations: Exploring the Crossroads (1st ed.). Routledge.

For more posts from Directions in Displacement at Virginia Tech's Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies

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