Mobilities, Migrations, Reconfiguration of Spaces

Responsible: Denis Laborde, Esther Möller

Co-organization: Layla Kiefel, Ophélie Mercier

The Pole’s salient themes are: the transformation of spaces, the evolution of mobility and migratory processes. The temporal, social, and spatial dimensions of change are examined from an interdisciplinary perspective.


This Pole’s researchers are navigating the transformations and reconfigurations of space, in the context of changes in institutional frameworks, of its borders and of its populations. The Pole draws  on the findings of research developed at the CMB, such as the “Frontières fantômes en Europe centrale et orientale/ Ghost Frontiers in Central and Eastern Europe” project that it is expanding and reformulating from a fresh perspective. The Pole advocates an empirical approach that focuses on the back-and-forth between pinpointed terrains, the analytical categories, and the construction of theoretical positions. Another distinguishing characteristic of this Pole is that it takes Europe as a framework, focusing on specific areas, notably Central and Eastern Europe, France, and Germany. While focusing on inner-European perspectives, the Pole embraces also global dynamics, considers non-European spaces (North and West Africa or Latin America) and makes interregional comparisons. 

The city, the neighbourhood, the region, the border areas are also anchors for research strongly marked by the “spatial turn.” Europe is perceived as a Sozialraum [social space] whose coherence is examined.

Franco-German comparison is a strong point of research. The hypothesis of European convergence, or conversely, of a persistent difference in social processes between these neighbouring countries that are closely linked, is thus put to the test. Central and Eastern Europe as well as other regions of the world constitute other fields of research where regionalization processes, migration flows, and mobility are examined.

Comparative research on the societies of the two countries that lie at the heart of European space and its institutions enables a dialogue between French and German scientific traditions and approaches. The twofold concept space/migration highlights Franco-German differences: France is historically marked by footprints of its colonial past on migrations from the “southern lands,” while Germany is distinguished by its erstwhile Gastarbeiter policy, in a confrontation between centralist or federalist models of the State. We can thus measure the impact on current migratory processes, as well as on the overall attitude to migration.

Research on Eastern Europe is based on findings from the Frontières fantômes en Europe Centre-Orientale project that proposed a new way of thinking about the creation of “cultural borders” within Europe. Today, Eastern Europe reasserts itself greatly as a field to be investigated, whereby the recent destabilization in the East is once again offering a stress test for the European Union.

Three thematic topics are prioritised:

(1) Migration and Mobility: Actors and Practices:

The recent sharp increase in mobility and migration flow across national borders constitutes a major societal transformation. Mobility is generally considered a sign of socio-economic success. However, a large proportion of mobile people, such as refugees, live in conditions of great precarity. Consequently, social injustice is currently a central dimension of mobility. It is thus a question of knowing how mobility plays out within society and of identifying policies at a European, national, and local level that enhance or, on the contrary, limit mobility.

(2) Socio-spatial Differentiation and Polarization in the City

Mobility and migration flow amplifies the processes of social differentiation. Polarization is particularly visible in urban areas, primarily because of the existence of neighbourhoods impacted by ethnic and social segregation. Increasing rents and privatizing social housing make it difficult for relatively poor population groups to access affordable housing and adequate resources. Ethnic minorities are also often discriminated against. This Pole also scrutinises changes brought about by migration flow and mobility at the macro level; how they are interpreted in urban areas, and their impact for diverse groups of city-dwellers.

(3) Borders, Movements, Production of Spatial Differentiation within Europe

Here, we question the practices and processes involved in erecting borders, the constant changes in spatial differentiation phenomena, as well as the modes of legitimization for these differences. By availing of the research findings on border zones, we are in the position to ask the question concerning new regionalization in Europe, considered as dynamic processes. As such, Eastern Europe, once again undergoing major reconfiguration, has been impacted by renewed tensions and cultural and political representations with a strong “essentialist” component, is a priority area that the Pole intends to fathom.