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Accepted Paper:

Mobile research, WhatsApp conversations and the social navigation of migrant trajectories  

Author:

Nanneke Winters (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Paper short abstract:

Based on field research with migrants in transit across Central America, this paper explores sustained contact between migrants and researchers, and analyzes migrants' use of mobile communication technologies as part of the 'social navigation' (Vigh 2009) of an unfamiliar and uncertain environment.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores sustained contact between migrants and researchers throughout an extended fieldsite. When researchers follow the 'twist and turns' (Schapendonk & Steel 2014) of migrant trajectories, by traveling with migrants, visiting them or contacting them from their offices, much of this keeping in touch occurs at the researcher's initiative. However, the ways in which migrants themselves contact the researcher, send pictures, and share stories, offer a different glimpse of how they perceive and structure their trajectories. Based on field research with migrants in transit across Central America, we analyze migrants' use of mobile communication technologies as part of the 'social navigation' (Vigh 2009) of an unfamiliar and uncertain environment. How do they make sense of their journey through online connectivity? The mobile connotation of navigation fits a context in which migrants, migration landscapes and mobility researchers are often 'in motion'. Although we meet many of the migrants that we work with for only a few hours or days at specific places along their route, some of them keep in touch via WhatsApp. Their sustained contact allows room for our interlocutors to share more of their experiences, which may change along the route, and for us as researchers to fully recognize and consider migrants as multi-dimensional, agentic human beings. We also reflect on the methodological and ethical implications of using this kind of contact for our research. We thereby attempt to explore how an incorporation of sustained online and visual navigation may challenge our research convictions, perspectives and strategies.

Panel P097
Staying Tuned - Connections Beyond 'The Field'