CfP: The Politics and Poetics of Immobility: Asian Migrants (not) on the Move in (Post-)Pandemic Times


DATE OF EVENT : 14-15 March 2024
VENUE : Online via Zoom


In migration studies, immobility is predominantly conceptualized as a disempowering and involuntary experience, symbolizing the curtailment of freedom to move as a result of prevailing structural constraints. Scholarly investigations have devoted significant attention to the institutionalized and nation-specific “regimes of mobility” (Glick-Schiller & Salazar, 2013) that bestow varying degrees of conditional or unconditional mobility to certain individuals while imposing temporary or prolonged immobility upon others. Nonetheless, immobility does not invariably denote an involuntary circumstance, nor does it inherently culminate in negative outcomes. Scholarly discourse has shed light on the fact that immobility can also be voluntary or even desirable, arising from a lack of aspiration to relocate despite possessing the capability to do so (Carling & Schewel, 2018; Schewel, 2019). In such cases, immobility should be regarded as a proactive and purposeful practice that necessitates agency, involving extensive engagement in decision-making processes related to migratory and residential choices.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharper focus the paramount importance of immobility. Stringent border restrictions have erected substantial barriers to geographical mobility, affecting even highly skilled and privileged migrants who were previously accustomed to high levels of mobility. Amidst the ongoing global crisis, entrenched regimes of (im)mobility have been reproduced and reinforced in certain contexts, while undergoing critical evaluation and reconfiguration in others. The evolving terrains of (im)mobility, stemming from the pandemic and extending into the post-pandemic era, have engendered far-reaching implications at both the micro-level, affecting the migration trajectories and life experiences of individual migrants, and the macro-level, reshaping nation-state governance, economic development, as well as cross-border population dynamics.

While research on migration and (im)mobility under pandemic conditions has ramped up, the predominant focus remains directed towards migrant mobilities rather than immobilities. With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting established (im)mobility regimes and introducing immobility to broader migrant populations, it becomes imperative to examine immobility as a distinct phenomenon with its array of experiences, narratives, and consequences. Furthermore, since existing knowledge concerning pandemic-related immobilities has been largely shaped by a Western perspective, there exists a pressing need to cast light upon the Asian arena that has hitherto remained relatively understudied within scholarly discourses.

In this context, the present workshop calls for a comprehensive investigation into the experiences and practices of Asian migrants pertaining to (post-)pandemic immobilities. The primary objective is to offer novel perspectives and insights into the ongoing discourses surrounding the complexities of migrant immobilities in the pandemic context, focusing on the interplay between migration regimes and human agency, the spatial and temporal aspects of transnational lives, and the shifting dynamics that preceded and followed the pandemic. The workshop endeavours to encompass diverse studies, delving into the intricacy of migration and pandemic immobility from the perspective of individuals, households, societies and nation-states, and remaining attentive to experiences of both the privileged and the marginalised migrant groups.

Potential workshop participants are encouraged to submit original works that address the following areas of interest, which include but are not limited to:

  • How have governments in Asia regulated cross-border (im)mobilities and socio-spatial relations during the pandemic and its aftermath? How have these policies and measures affected the geographical (im)mobilities of migrants and their families?
  • What does immobility mean to migrants in (post-)pandemic times? How has geographical immobility affected various aspects of migrants’ life, such as family and social relationships, employment and career, financial situations, and physical and emotional well-being?
  • How have migrants’ (im)mobility rights been impacted by their citizenship and residential status in both the country of origin and destination? How, in turn, have the experiences of immobility amid the pandemic influenced their plans regarding future residential status and pathways to citizenship?
  • How do migrants make sense of and navigate immobilities during the pandemic? How has the pandemic influenced migrants’ decisions in relation to (im)mobility in the post-pandemic age? Do they choose to remain in their destination countries, return to their home countries, or move on to other places?
  • How has the pandemic reinforced, reproduced, or challenged existing regimes of differentiation and exclusion regarding migrant (im)mobility? Does the pandemic contribute to greater or lesser equality in access to mobility for migrants? Who are the privileged and who are the disadvantaged?
  • How has the pandemic transformed the meanings and social expectations surrounding immobility across Asian countries?


Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract (300 words maximum), and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission by 31 October 2023. Abstracts should include as appropriate a discussion of the paper’s main aim(s), conceptual framework/theoretical contribution, research methods and data, and key findings. Please also include a statement confirming that your paper has not been published or committed elsewhere, and that you are willing to revise your paper for potential inclusion in a journal special issue.

Please submit your proposal using the provided template to Ms Minghua Tay at Successful applicants will be notified by end November 2023. Panel presenters will be required to submit drafts of papers (4,000-6,000 words) by 16 February 2024. These drafts will be circulated to fellow panelists and discussants in advance. Drafts need not be fully polished. Indeed, we expect that presenters will be open to feedback from fellow participants.


Dr Yang WANG | Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Dr Wei YANG | Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Dr Bernice LOH | Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Dr Theodora LAM | Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Prof Brenda S. A. YEOH FBA | Asia Research Institute & Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

Contact Information

Ms Minghua TAY
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore