How does the local become mobile? This central question shifts conventional discussions about migration and the Other as either an opportunity or a challenge to be managed towards the practices that (re)constitute the local, social alliances, and potential solidarities. When migrants travel across national borders, their communicative practices travel too. By mapping the practices in time and space, one can understand in which “name” those practices speak and which values, emotions, or materialities they evoke, confirm, or actualize.The talk discusses first how the local has been theorized and demonstrates the dominance of sedentarist definitions of place, locality, and cultural group (Amin, 2012). Second, the concept of the hyperlocal is introduced as a heuristic frame to understand how physical and discursive place is co-constituted by situated communicative practices. Third, the talk illustrates by the example of Uyghur migrants from China to Europe and the U.S. that migrants (re)produce the local as ways of becoming, a future-oriented process driven by aspirations and desires. Processes constituting the hyperlocal can be emancipatory as they foster social alliances against social injustice, political authoritarianism, and marginalization and transcend affiliations based on the nation and ethnicity. This emancipatory potential outweighs the dangers of a return into the boundaries of a well-defined territory, cultural discourse, and ethno-nationalism, and a place that is understood as being more local than the local.
Saskia Witteborn is Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong where she directs the M.A. program in Global Communication. She is also Associate Director of the Research Centre on Migration and Mobility at CUHK. Saskia specializes in transnational migration and communicative practice. She has written on collective identity and situated advocacy and the intersections between new technologies and transnational political advocacy. Digital technologies and forced migration is another important focus of her research. She has worked with and on forced migrants over the past 15 years in the U.S., Germany, and Hong Kong and has been interested in how digital practice enables people arrested in space to mobilize socially and politically. Her work has appeared in leading journals such as the Journal of Communication, Cultural Studies, and Research on Language and Social Interaction, or the Journal of Refugee Studies. She has also contributed to edited volumes, such as Hegde’s Circuits of Visibility (NYU Press, 2011) and Volkmer’s Handbook of Global Media Research (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). As Research Associate with the University of Washington Center for Local Strategy Research and the Center for Chinese Media and Comparative Communication Research at CUHK, Saskia is very interested in comparative projects.