Playing on the Move: Rethinking Sport, Migration and Play through Inter-relationality

Convenors: Estella Carpi (University College London), Chiara Diana (Aix-Marseille University, Universitè Libre de Bruxelles) & Stefano Fogliata (University of Bergamo)

In the wake of the latest migration trajectories around the globe, humanitarian xorganisations together with national institutions have increasingly been relying on play and sports as a back-route to “integration” and “social stability”. The values that societies assign to play and sports activities mainly for youth are thus well encapsulated by protection, discipline and education.

At the same time, migrant communities autonomously organize in performing the ‘simple playing of games’ (Bourdieu, 1978), where sport turns into a social urban arena deeply linked to the everyday need for creative activity, the imaginary, and play. In this case, to think human mobility with the lens of “play” provides us with a new way of seeing relationality entangled with spatial appropriation and reproduction.

In this framework, play and sports, which do not necessarily complement each other, are deployed as vehicles to address broad societal issues, such as socio-spatial marginalisation, war recruitment and economic or political vulnerabilities. Drawing on the experiences of (un)forced migration and development of humanitarian practices, this panel aims to contribute to those debates that maintain that play activities and sport are an end per se or to frame them as catalysts for political, cultural, educational or religious formation processes.

The panel is particularly interested in ethnographic works tackling the intersection between international mobility and play/sports activities mainly (but not only) in Middle Eastern and other societies that have become home to Arab background diasporas. A deeper understanding of the leisure time trajectories may thus turn into an alternative point of observation that slips away from the institutional narratives regarding migrant communities, marginalized neighbourhoods or refugee camps. In this framework, how can an ethnographic approach itself on the move contribute to unveil ambivalences and contradictions of everyday life in such socio-spatial contested spaces? Lastly, it seeks to provide a terrain of discussion regarding what ludic and physical activities do to the agency of children and youth, particularly in light of the economic and existential uncertainties and opportunities that human mobility entails. Which are the benefits and limits of ethnography in understanding the processes of social change through sport practices? In an attempt to move beyond the definition of development and humanitarian agendas, how do children and youth on the move make sense of ludic and sports activities?



Bourdieu, P. (1978), Sport and social class. Social Science Information 17(6): 819–840

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