Migration and Labour in World Literature and Art – OBERT 2022


Round-Table Series on Migration and Labour in World Literature and Art

of the 20th and 21st Centuries


The OBERT research group on Migration and Labour gathers early-career researchers in French, German, Italian and Russian studies interested in exploring artistic representations of migration and labour from a transnational and comparative perspective. The group welcomes collaborations and aims to work as a world-wide network for researchers interested in these topics.


The specific impact and significance of art dealing with migration in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries across different countries, languages, media and genres have been acknowledged and marked by the production of an increasing number of scholarly contributions on this strand of world culture, often in a transnational perspective. The past two decades have seen an exponential growth of this field in different national and linguistic contexts and the refining of theoretical tools and frameworks.


Similarly, the importance of artistic representations of labour has been marked, at a transnational level, by the creation of the OBERT (Observatoire Européen des Récits du Travail) and by the publication of a limited – and yet significant – number of critical contributions which reflect comparatively on such questions (see Narrative contemporanee e lavoro in Europa, ed. by C. Baghetti, C. Milanesi and E. Zinato, special issue of Costellazioni,  12 (2020)).


Labour is one of the crucial relations that migrant subjects establish with their new homelands and, in many cases, one of the most profound reasons which drive and shape their trajectories and experiences of migrations. Labour is not always thematised as such in migrant narratives: however, it is often there, in the foreground or in the background, as a presence or as an absence, with very different connotations (from exploitation to emancipation), concealed by more powerful tropes and motifs such as home, food, and language (see Jennifer Burns, Migrant Imaginaries, Oxford, Peter Lang, 2013).


Given these coordinates, the aim of this research group is to establish a new field of research related to artistic representations of labour in narratives of migration and of migration in labour narratives, in a comparative perspective, across different languages, nations, genres, and media.


In order to fruitfully study migration and labour together we chose to organise a series of six monthly round tables (starting from January) on topics that relate migration and labour one to another. First of all, both notions of migration and labour present different issues about their definition since they are challenging and changing subjects; as a matter of fact their narrations give often a brand new point of view on reality that, most of the time, can be interpreted thanks to the notion of estrangement, irony, satire and playfulness.In labour as much in migration the body is at the center of the characters’ experience and is sometimes represented through estrangement, also because of the tortures – linked for example to deadlines and waithood – they are subjected to. Moreover, migration and labour stories in arts often include autobiographical materials that the authors insert in their fictional narrations out of their experience of automation.


The six round tables will be dedicated to:


1) Definitions (25 January 2022, 5pm UK time)

2) Estrangement (22 February 2022)

3) Body (March)

4) Torture (April)

5) Autobiography (May)

6) Automation (June).


The general aim of the round tables is to explore the way the lived experience of migration and labour relate to literary and artistic production in terms of both content (i.e., themes) and form (i.e., language and literary devices).


Please register via this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/18uQ4Q62RUwyb684w4OiPGCnwDfuKvTj-z4v2xJ5bq0/edit or email obert.migration.labour@gmail.com




Round table 1: ‘DEFINITIONS’


Defining a field of studies is always a paradoxical task. It is often needed as a preliminary action to ensure the accessibility and verifiability of research methods and findings. At the same time, destabilising what is fixed and crossing borders is at the heart of critical inquiry. This is all the more true in the fields of migration and labour, where movement and transformation are at the centre. The meaning of words is itself migrant and the result of a creation. In this round table, we would like to reflect on words and definitions employed in the fields of migration and labour (e.g. ‘migration’, ‘mobility’, ‘migrancy’, ‘labour’, ‘work’) in the light of this paradox.


Some of the questions we aim to explore in ‘DEFINITIONS’ include but are not limited to:


  • What do terms such as ‘migration’ and ‘labour’ mean?
  • To what extent can migration –  whose characteristics can be movement, change and instability – be defined (<lat. definire), namely to be pinned down to a single and stable meaning?
  • What’s the difference between work and labour, can they be complementary, can they give a global point of view on the topic?



The organising committee


Mohamed Baya (PhD Western University)

Erica Bellia (Postdoctoral Affiliate, University of Cambridge)

Bianca Rita Cataldi (PhD Candidate in Italian, University College Dublin)

Lauren Dooley (PhD Candidate in German, University of Cambridge)

Alessandra Giro (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 – Università degli Studi di Udine)

Katerina Pavlidi (PhD Candidate in Slavonic Studies, University of Cambridge)


Obert Definitions Flyer

OBERT Migration and Labour Working Group