Insurgent Mobilities: An Ethnography of the Balkan Route as Movement

Collaborative Group

Dr. Nadia El-Shaarawi, Dr. Maple John Razsa


Global Studies


In 2015 and 2016, more than a million people traveled the Balkan route seeking safety in Europe. In what activists called the long summer of migration and mainstream media referred to as the European migrant/refugee crisis, people on the move made their way from Turkey, across the Aegean sea to Greece, up through the countries of the former Yugoslavia to Hungary and onward to Northern Europe. Along the way, they found activist allies who supported their movement and fought against the eventual closure of the route. For a brief period, the route disrupted the European border regime, an elaborate, robust, and expensive apparatus designed to prevent exactly such migration. How, in this era of proliferating and securitized borders, did this unprecedented movement of people from the Global South to Global North succeed? Anthropologists Nadia El-Shaarawi and Maple Razsa will coauthor an ethnography of the Balkan route that tells the story of the migrants who challenged and circumvented borders in their efforts to reach Europe in a struggle for what they and their activist allies called freedom of movement. Razsa has researched and worked in ethnographic filmmaking within radical activist networks in the former Yugoslavia and beyond, with a focus on direct action, migrant labor organizing, antiborder protests, and the radical political imagination. El-Shaarawi’s ethnographic work in the Middle East and North Africa has focused on urban displacement in the Global South as a form of containment and refugees’ challenging experiences navigating formal resettlement programs. Since 2015, El-Shaarawi and Razsa have collaborated on this project to investigate how migrants and activists opened the route through a series of clandestine and open border struggles. Together they have conducted participant observation at sites along the route and collected oral histories of migrants and activists to study the forms of collaboration and struggle that made mobility possible. El-Shaarawi and Razsa’s book puts the route in historical and social context to argue that the Balkan route can be read not as a humanitarian crisis, but as a literal social movement—where mobility itself challenged, for a brief moment, existing border regimes. Award period: September 1, 2018 through August 31, 2020