Revisiting the Nomadic Subject

Many thanks to the Leverhulme Trust for funding this project through a Research Fellowship

According to a report of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, in January 2016 women and children on the move outnumbered adult men for the first time, comprising 60% of migrants crossing into Europe. In this Leverhulme funded project I explore the use of ‘the nomadic subject’ in feminist theory and politics. The main research question that I raise is whether nomadism has become a hybris, a concept politically loaded and irreparably infected with the unbearable heaviness of those who are not able to move and cross borders and boundaries—the dark side of the moon of privileged mobility.

To put it simply: can we still use ‘the nomadic subject’ in the era of the recent huge refugee crises, which have uprooted millions of people across the globe and have forced them to take up nomadic paths as the only feasible way of going on living? When the majority of these forced nomads today are reportedly women and children, how can the feminist notion of the nomadic subject enable us to grasp the condition of migrant and refugee women on the move? In the light of feminist relational ethics how do migrant and refugee woman challenge our perception of the subject of feminism and force us to revise who we are and how we relate to ourselves and to others?

There is an area almost unnameable, where metaphorical description bleeds

(Riley, Impersonal Passion, 51)

Taking up the salience of stories not only in recounting experiences, but also in forming an experiential basis for changing the subject and its world, I have interviewed twenty migrant and refugee women about their experiences of being on the move. I have encouraged these women to tell stories about their decision to leave, as well as about their experiences of ‘travelling alone’ without feeling obliged to limit themselves within discourses of victimization and vulnerability.

Following lines from Hannah Arendt’s philosophy, I have asked them to recount their lives as ‘who they are’, as unique and unrepeatable human beings, and not as ‘what they are’ —objectified ‘refugees’, ‘victims’, ‘stateless subjects’. The question I have explored is whether nomadism can correlate with any component of their lived experiences, or whether it needs to be discarded as a concept that cannot encompass processes of becoming-free, when confronted with ‘the real’.


Please reference as: Maria Tamboukou (2018) Revisiting the nomadic subject, https://mariatamboukou.org