Accepted Paper:

Hrig: The Role of Photography in the Burning  


Isabella Alexander (Emory University)

Paper short abstract:

I engage my fieldwork on the “temporary” settlement of sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco and analyze photography, as a research tool, process of community collaboration and means of dissemination, in places of liminality, where narrative and image are used to reconstruct a past and reimagine a future.

Paper long abstract:

This paper engages my current fieldwork, in which photography plays critical roles as a research tool, process of community collaboration, and means of wider dissemination. "Hrig," the Arabic term for "illegal" immigration, translates to "burning." It signifies the literal burning of one's identification papers, and the symbolic burning of one's past in hopes of a better life abroad. My research asks what this burning means for sub-Saharans who remain in Morocco - neither in their home countries, nor their desired European destinations. Since my questions center on an emergent form of migration leaving populations in "temporary" settlement, I must reevaluate traditional ethnographic methods. I argue for a reconceptualization of migrants not as interconnected between sending and receiving countries, past and future lives - but as largely disconnected from both. I have therefore adapted photo-elicitation to assess how individuals creatively narrate their pasts when linkages to home increase deportation risks. Douglas Harper (2002) claims that photo-elicitation not only educes more information, but a different kind of information. I consider how photographs that connect subjects to particular event (but are not reflective of their actual lives) conjure different responses than those that connect subjects to their pasts. While the former highlights migrants' memories of connection, the latter illuminates placement within larger social structures and commonly highlights migrants' memories of disconnection. I explore what is selectively revealed and concealed through narrative and image, as migrants attempt to reconstruct a past and reimagine a future, and problematize the role of photography in working with liminal populations.

Panel P28
Photography as a research method