The Art of Arriving


Migration and integration are not only the subject of sociological research, but also a main topic in artistic practices that aim to challenge established views on (forced) migrants, to provide forms of representation beyond ethnic ascription or even images of alternative (and utopian) social realities. Exploring the art’s transformative potential for the sociology of migration and integration was the main objective of the transdisciplinary research project 'The Art of Arriving: Reframing "Refugee Integration"'. Therefore, a so-called 'real-world laboratory' has been implemented, where sociologists accompanyed artists with creating and recipients with interpreting aesthetic expressions. It was the aim to provide a space where scientific and non-scientific actors cooperate in the joint production of knowledge by researching, experimenting and learning from each other.

(1) In a first step, artists from the areas of music, literature and photography were invited to translate their experiences and perceptions of arrival - understood as a longer lasting process - into aesthetic expressions. Three artistic teams were be recruited, each consisting of one artist who has experienced recent flight (Syria), one artist whose refugee experience lies in the past (former Yugoslavia) and one artist without any refugee experience. The research team accompanyed these artist teams and observe and record the joint work.

(2) The aesthetic forms of expression created in the process were then interpreted in group discussions with four participants (recipients) each. Data analysis was carried out by applying the documentary method.

(3) In a final step, the findings from the analysis of the production process and the group discussions were fed back to the artists. The resulting conversations were also be examined from a sociological point of view.

It was the aim to examine, if and how the meaning-making processes involved in creating and interpreting of art can foster reframing 'refugee integration' concepts and provide alternative views on the arriving of refugees. The findings might contest and revise the traditional sociological toolkit for understanding integration, which was developed in the 20th century and shows limitation when applied to contemporary societies. The concepts of 'assimilation', 'acculturation', or 'integration' for instance, are of limited analytical value in research on 'postmigrant societies', characterised by 'super-diversity' and new majority-minority relations. However, by also focusing on the different logics of knowledge production in science and the artistic field and by shedding light on the challenges of mutual translation between sociology and the arts, the potential as well as the limitations of this transdisciplinary approach will be discussed. 


Research Funding

Research Funding

FWF. The Austrian Science Fund.

1000 Ideas Program