Family figurations in displacement: Entangled mobilities of refugees towards Germany and beyond

Release date: 2022-07

Refugees rarely flee in isolation. Instead, their everyday lives and mobilities are fundamentally shaped by the broader set of social relations in which they are embedded, particularly by their families. Drawing on interviews with sixty displaced people living in Germany and in-depth case studies of the trajectories of refugees from Eritrea and Syria, we reconstruct the role that families and other social relations transgressing national borders have played in their mobility to Germany and how their lives have been rescaled since initial displacement. Based on central ideas from figurational sociology, which we link with scholarship on forced migration, transnationalism and family relations, our paper identifies four specific family figurations in displacement that represent typical mobility patterns and constellations of ‘doing family’ in transnational spaces: the lone yet connected traveller; the reunited nuclear family; the transnationally separated family; and the transnationally extended family. We argue that family figurations in displacement are, on the one hand, decisively shaped by specific family relations and distinct displacement trajectories with various phases of family separation and reunion. On the other hand, they are fundamentally configured by migration regimes and asylum systems that substantially constrain the opportunities to live dignified local or transnational family lives.

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