Change in Motion: Environment, Migration, and Mobilities

Call for Papers: Workshop at the Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute in Berkeley

Academics, journalists, NGOs, and institutions of global governance increasingly speak of ‘environmental migrants’ and ‘climate refugees.’ But what separates an environmental migrant or climate refugee from another migrant, refugee, or asylum-seeker? In international security discourse, anthropogenic climate change has been conceptualized as a threat multiplier, inextricably entangled with myriad push factors: floods, droughts, resource and border disputes, the spread of disease, increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather. Yet climate change can also be erased from migration narratives. Depending on one’s perspective, climate change is only ever an indirect cause or responsible for nearly all migration. 

We invite scholars from across disciplines to share work that explores the multifaceted interdependencies and entanglements between migration and environmental change. As such, we aim to challenge the assumptions and power relations often inadvertently or implicitly reproduced in research that reads the intersection of mobility and environmental change only in its most pronounced manifestations. By incorporating a variety of research foci and methods, we aim to shed light on how conceptions of climate, migration, and intersections thereof shift according to our scholarly perspectives: the temporal or geographic scale at which we consider a given crisis or migratory pattern, or whether we examine environmental change on a local, national, hemispheric, or planetary level.

This workshop convenes historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and geographers, as well as media, literary, and legal scholars. Contributors are welcome to explore any periodization that they deem appropriate; geographic area and theoretical approach are also open. We invite contributions that will engage with – but are not limited to – the following areas of inquiry:

  • Landscapes and their inhabitants
    How and where do we consider the migration of both humans and non-humans? What mobile subjects, histories, and narratives act within and upon certain landscapes? How do we draw distinctions between the built and natural environments in the Anthropocene, a geologic age defined by human impact on the environment?
  • Legal frameworks and structures of power
    How does climate change necessitate governance on both a hyper-local and international scale? How do laws and treaties such as the Kampala Convention in the African Union or the Temporary Protected Status in the US grant or restrict a voice, visibility and definition to certain relationships between the environment and migration?
  • Temporalities of crisis
    How is time constructed in response to climate change, which results in both slow violence and sudden catastrophe, degradation, and disaster? What temporal scales are invoked by environmental migration? How are senses of longing, belonging, and permanence expressed and experienced? What of the stories of those who wish to stay or who are left behind?
  • Inequalities of representation
    How are historically racialized, gendered, and classed distinctions in mobility reproduced in narratives around environmental migration, particularly in the Global North? For instance, despite the US’s history of Dust Bowl migration and displacement by California wildfires, the government-funded resettlement of predominantly Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw communities in southwestern   Louisiana was heralded in the press as the first instance of US ‘climate refugees.’ What are the stakes of conceptualizing instances of environmental migration?
  • Disrupting causality
    Migration itself can cause environmental change. For instance, the forced migration to and within settler colonies was upheld by resource exploitation and resulted in land erosion; migrant labor often undergirds petroleum extraction in the Arabian Gulf; in China and India, rural-to-urban migration has led to drastic increases in air pollution. How can we account for the feedback loop of migration and climate change?

Please upload a brief CV including your name, institutional affiliation, and email contact and a proposal of no more than 300 words by January 22, 2020 to GHI’s online portal. The organizers will cover basic expenses for travel and accommodation. Please contact Heike Friedman ( if you have any questions regarding the procedure of submitting your information online. For questions regarding the conference, please contact Sarah Earnshaw ( or Samantha Fox (

Successful applicants will be notified by the end of January 2020.

We will ask accepted applicants to submit your previously unpublished paper (of about 4,000-5,000 words including references) by April 20, 2020, as we envision engagement with pre-circulated papers and aim to publish selected papers in a peer-reviewed venue.

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