This piece reflects on diverse dynamics of hospitality and hostility towards migrants around the world and across different historical contexts, reflecting many of the complex and often contradictory nature of migratory encounters we are exploring in the Refugee Hosts project. Although hospitality and hostility are often closely interlinked, Dr. Mette Berg and Refugee Hosts PI, Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh argue in this post that hostility towards and the rejection of migrants and refugees are not inevitable. Instead, it is essential to trace and examine alternative modes of thought and action that go beyond and resist ‘fatalistic invocations of hostipitality’, to unpack the very categories of host and guest, paying close attention to social relations and practices, to power and hierarchies, to the agency of refugees and their hosts, and to diverse modes of resistance.

This piece was originally published as the introduction to the inaugural issue of the Migration and Society journal, a new interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal that publishes work situating migration in a wider historical and societal context. This includes attention to experiences and representations of migration, critical theoretical perspectives on migration, and the social, cultural, and legal embeddedness of migration.

Migration and Society is co-edited by Dr. Mette Berg and Refugee Hosts PI, Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh; the journal’s Creative Encounters section is edited by Refugee Hosts Writer-in-Residence, Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, and its International Editorial Board members include Refugee Hosts Co-I, Prof. Lyndsey Stonebridge. To read more about the journal, click here. To read related pieces published on Refugee Hosts, see the recommended readings listed below.

Hospitality and Hostility towards Migrants: Global Perspectives—An Introduction

By Mette Louise Berg (UCL-Department of Social Science)  and Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Principal Investigator, Refugee Hosts. 

ARMS cover
The cover of the new Migration and Society journal (published by Berghahn Journals)

Throughout history, migration, forced and otherwise, has been at the heart of the transformation of societies and communities and it continues to touch the lives of people across the globe. This includes those migrating, their families, kin groups, descendants, friends, and communities; those aspiring to migrate, but who are unable to do so whether for familial, financial, legal, security, or other reasons; those fostering, facilitating, or constraining the migration of others (including those embedded within  “migration industries” [Cranston et al. 2018]); and those living in sites of departure, transit, and (non-)arrival. Migration is, in all its heterogeneity, a multidirectional process that is intrinsically related to diverse forms of encounters: with and between different people and objects, places and spaces, temporalities and materialities, beliefs and desires, and sociocultural and political systems.

In this blog post, originally written as the introduction of the inaugural issue of Migration and Society, we reflect on the complex and often contradictory nature of such encounters by focusing on diverse dynamics of hospitality and hostility towards migrants around the world and in different historical contexts. We do so with the firm belief that in a world of increasing inequality, hostile politics, and wall building that seek to keep migrants and refugees out, there is both a need and a space for forums, such as the Migration and Society journal, to instead build bridges: between scholars, practitioners, and activists in the global North and the global South, and between the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts.

Discourses, practices, and policies of hospitality and hostility towards migrants and refugees raise urgent moral, ethical, political, and social questions—processes and questions, as Elena Isayev reminds us in her contribution to the journal, which themselves have such long histories that they are simultaneously imperative and pressing for the “here and now” and yet are equally “timeless” in many ways. In seeking to answer such questions, we can benefit from empirically and theoretically grounded scholarship showing the social embeddedness, nuances, and ambiguities of situated practices of hospitality and hostility. Resisting the largely myopic, ahistorical, and isolationist responses that governments and media have developed to migrant arrivals in the global North, Migration and Society’s inaugural volume includes critical reflections that aim to situate current practices in a deeper and wider historical and geographical context.[1] This helps open up the possibility of imagining and embodying “the otherwise,” that is, “forms of life that are at odds with dominant, and dominating, modes of being” (Povinelli 2011: 1).

As examined throughout the contributions in the inaugural issue of Migration and Society, and indeed in our own work elsewhere (Berg forthcoming; Berg and Nowicka forthcoming; Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 20152016; Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Qasmiyeh 2018), hospitality and hostility are closely interlinked, yet seemingly contradictory concepts and processes. Hospitality, it has been argued, is always conditional, and includes within it the potential for hostility and vice versa; both imply “the possibility of the other” (Selwyn 2000: 20). Indeed, Jacques Derrida famously argued that hospitality is a word of “a troubled and troubling origin, a word which carries its own contradiction incorporated into it” (Derrida 2000: 3), by which he refers to hostility. To capture this constitutive duality, he coined the term hostipitality (Derrida 2000).

The lens of hostipitality has been applied to diverse contexts of displacement, including in Fiddian-Qasmiyeh’s ongoing research, as part of the Refugee Hosts project, into local community responses to displacement from Syria in the contexts of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh 2015, 2016Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Qasmiyeh 2018). In her research, she has drawn on the concept of hostipitality to examine the nature of encounters not solely between refugees and citizens, but also between different groups of refugees in Lebanon, including Palestinian refugees who have lived in Baddawi refugee camp in Lebanon since the 1950s and who have been “hosting” people displaced from Syria since 2012. In effect, as Yousif M. Qasmiyeh (2016) posits with reference to this case,

Refugees ask other refugees, who are we to come to you and who are you to come to us? Nobody answers. Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, Kurds share the camp, the same-different camp, the camp of a camp. They have all come to re-originate the beginning with their own hands and feet.

Qasmiyeh, 2016, Writing the Camp

In these encounters, including in situations such as Baddawi characterized by intense precarity and overlapping displacement, it has been argued that the inherent conditionality of hospitality is underpinned by the paradox that to offer welcome is “always already” to have the power to delimit the space or place that is being offered to the other (Derrida 2000; Derrida and Dufourmantelle 2000). The resulting hierarchies and tensions towards “new arrivals” have often been presented not only as common, but also potentially inescapable.

And yet, as Fiddian-Qasmiyeh argues (2016), hostility and rejection are not inevitable. Rather, it is imperative to trace and examine alternative modes of thought and action that transcend and resist the fatalistic invocations of hostipitality. Exploring such approaches, including frameworks for supporting the development of sustainable “welcoming communities” for refugees and migrants (Bucklaschuk 2015), appears essential for further analysis both in theory and practice, as the articles in this volume also abundantly illustrate.

Writing in the late 1970s, an earlier theorist of hospitality, the anthropologist Julian Pitt-Rivers, similarly argued that the “law of hospitality,” that is, the “problem of how to deal with strangers” (2012: 501), is “founded upon ambivalence” and contains within it a conflict that cannot be eliminated (2012: 513). It can however be put in a state of suspension, as he illustrates through empirical examples from a range of sources, ancient and modern, and from different cultural contexts. Pitt-Rivers thus moves from the universal “law” of hospitality to its differently expressed “codes” that vary according to social and cultural context. Ann-Christin Wagner, in her article in Migration and Society, takes her cue from Pitt-Rivers’ approach and argues that “successful hospitality does not abolish the threat [of hostility] altogether; rather, it renders it harmless for the time of a visit, through intricate choreographies and imposing spatial boundaries.” In other words, to understand the relationship between hospitality and hostility, we need to pay close attention to social relations and social practices: their social texture, spatiality, and temporality.

As soon as we start thinking about hospitality and hostility as embodied and enacted practices grounded in particular spatiotemporal contexts, a series of further questions arises: Who has or assumes the right to act as host, in what contexts, and on what social grounds? Who is recognized as guest, and who is turned away, by whom, and on what grounds? To answer these, we need to consider issues of gender, class, ethnicity, age, sexuality, citizenship, and legal status, among others. It equally becomes essential to explore the justifications or motivations that guide those showing hospitality and hostility; here questions of faith and/or universalist vs particularist orientations are likely to be important. In essence, we need to think of relationships and social actors, of power and hierarchies, but also of agency and, as part of this, diverse modes of resistance.

Moving from the largely European roots—in disciplinary, theoretical, and to a large extent empirical senses—of Derrida’s and Pitt-Rivers’ conceptualizations of hospitality, it is also worth reflecting on cognate concepts in other social and cultural contexts. Hence, as Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Qasmiyeh (2018) note with reference to the hosting of refugees in “neighboring” countries in the Middle East, “Qur’anically and according to the Sunnah, the term neighbor has a clear spatial and moral reading that is defined, reaffirmed and demarcated by proximity, neighborhood and charity.” Simultaneously, however, they argue that when we view the term “neighbor” through its various usages in Arabic throughout history, we find that the concept can invoke antagonism, antonyms, as well as organic clashes with the overarching religious canon. A clear example of this schism of interpretation is embodied in the very definition of the term “neighbor” offered in Lisan Al-Arab,the authoritative and encyclopaedic Arabic dictionary:

The one whose house is next to yours, the stranger, the partner, the beneficiary, the ally, the supporter, the spouse, the intimate parts, the house that is closer to the coast, the good, the bad, the hypocrite, the changeable, the kind.

Translation by Yousif M. Qasmiyeh

It is essential to bear this ambivalence and semantic (and functional) rupture in mind, alongside re-viewing Derrida’s conceptualization of hostipitality and Pitt-Rivers’ analysis of the law of hospitality, as we continue to carefully examine the nature of diverse encounters—past, present, and future—in equally diverse contexts of both migration and (im)mobility.

Hence, far from taking such identities and identifiers for granted, we must continue to ask who comes to be seen as our neighbors and kin and therefore deserving others? Who is seen as the stranger by whom? What does this entail, when, why, and where? When, why, how, and by whom do strangers come to be seen as threats/undeserving others? What are the politics and the poetics of hospitality and hostility and what can and should socially engaged scholars and practitioners do in times and spaces that are characterized by a lack of conviviality and, some might say, humanity towards migrants and people on the move? Migration and Society will publish work that interrogates and probes universalizing claims through grounded empirical work that engages critically with theory and practice.

As Fiddian-Qasmiyeh has argued elsewhere (2016), in light of the limitations and dangers of fatalistic readings of hostipitality, a more productive theoretical lens may ultimately be that of Jean-Luc Nancy’s “being together” and “being with” (Nancy 2000). In essence, in light of the “everyday geographies” and “quiet politics of belonging” that characterize “ordinary” encounters, and ordinary modes of being in the world (Askins 2015), the conceptual and practical challenges that emerge in encounters between hosts and strangers include recognizing the realities of, and potential for, refugees, migrants, and hosts (whether citizens or refugees/migrants themselves) both “being with” and “being together.” This would require an unpacking of the very categories of host and guest, thus taking us from universalizing claims and the very taxonomy of host–guest relations to the messiness of everyday life and its potential for care, generosity, and recognition in encounters.

As feminist scholars have long argued, care is a universal human experience and a basic human need; equally, the ability to care for others is a fundamental human capacity (see, e.g., Held 2006). Importantly, Nira Yuval-Davis asserts that “the ethics of care” is “a necessary element of social and political solidarity, but cannot guarantee it” (2011: 8; emphasis added). It is, of course, essential to remain attentive to the realities of structural inequalities and power imbalances (for instance, in the carer–cared for relationship itself) that can act as barriers to different forms of solidarity (as powerfully argued by Yuval-Davis 2011). Nonetheless, repositioning the focus of enquiry, and examining the nature and potentialities of encounters between hosts and strangers, the self and the other, through the optic of a feminist ethics of care, a focus on refugee–refugee relationality, and/or Nancy’s “being with” and “being together,” may lead us into more hopeful, solidary, and productive ways of studying dynamics of hospitality and hostility, and ultimately of different ways of encountering, studying, and theorizing migration itself.

It is against this backdrop, and with the “bridging” aims outlined above in mind, that we have been pleased to launch the Migration and Society journal with a collection of research articles that range from situating contemporary migration in historical and societal context from ancient Greece (Elena Isayev) to the imagined transnational space of Refugia 2030 (Nick Van Hear, with critical responses from Veronique Barbelet and Christina Bennett, and Helma Lutz); from the struggles for citizenship and belonging of former Burundian refugees in Tanzania (Patricia Daley, Ng’wanza Kamata, and Leiyo Singo), to sanctuary city organizing in Canada (David Moffette and Jennifer Ridgley) via a refugee host town in Jordan (Ann-Christin Wagner), and practices of hospitality and hostility in Portugal (Elizabeth Challinor) and the US (Denise Brennan); from the challenges facing the Athens city council (Lefteris Papagianniakis interviewed by Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou and Nina Papachristou), to campus organizing and teaching about refugees and migrants under the Trump presidency in the US (Diya Abdo and Krista Craven; Sara Vannini, Ricardo Gomez, Megan Carney, and Katharyne Mitchell); and from provision of education to unaccompanied refugee youths in Lesvos (Ivi Daskalaki and Nadina Livaditi), to representations of separated child migrants in UK media (Rachel Rosen and Sarah Crafter), via faith-based solidarity with refugees (Olivia Wilkinson), and the agency and legal consciousness of UK social workers in re/making immigration policy in practice (Kathryn Tomko Dennler). As well as this rich and varied body of articles, practitioner reflections and interventions, utopian/dystopian imaginings, and interview-based contributions, the Migration and Society journal also includes a Creative Encounters section curated by Refugee Hosts Writer-in-Residence Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, including poetic and visual pieces by Theophilus Kwek, Tahmineh Hooshyar Emami, and Mohammad Assaf and Kate Clanchy, and a suite of book reviews resonating with the hospitality and hostility theme, edited by Agnieszka Kubal and Gunvor Jónsson.

We hope that the contributors, readers, viewers and listeners of the Migration and Society journal and Refugee Hosts will enjoy reading these theoretically and empirically rich research articles which critically explore issues that are at the core of the Refugee Hosts project.

The sun sets over Baddawi refugee camp, Lebanon (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, April 2018


Read more related pieces from the Refugee Hosts blog:

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2016) ‘Refugee-Refugee Relationality: Hospitality and ‘Being With’ Refugees

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2016) ‘Palestinian and Syrian Refugees in Lebanon: Sharing Space, Electricity and the Sky

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. and Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2018) ‘Refugee Neighbours & Hostipitality

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. and Qasmiyeh, Y. M. (2017) ‘Refugee-Refugee Solidarity in Death and Dying’

Qasmiyeh, Yousif M. 2016. ‘Writing the Camp’



Askins, Kye. 2015. “Being Together: Everyday Geographies and the Quiet Politics of Belonging.” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 14: 470–478.

Berg, Mette Louise. Forthcoming. “Hospitality and Hostility in the Global City: Latin Americans in London.” In Hospitality and Hostility in a Moving World, ed. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh. London: UCL Press.

Berg, Mette Louise, and Magdalena Nowicka. Forthcoming. “Convivial Tools for Research and Practice: An Introduction.” In Convivial Tools for Research and Practice, ed. Mette Louise Berg and Magdalena Nowicka. London: UCL Press.

Bucklaschuk, Jill. 2015. A Literature Review of Local Partnerships and Welcoming Community Strategies.Winnipeg: Immigration Partnership Winnipeg.

Cranston, Sophie, Joris Schapendonk, and Ernst Spaan. 2018. “New Directions in Exploring the Migration Industries: Introduction to Special Issue.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies44: 543–557.

Derrida, Jacques. 2000. “Hostipitality.” Angelaki 5: 3–18.

Derrida, Jacques, and Anne Dufourmantelle. 2000. Of Hospitality.Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Elena. 2015. South-South Educational Migration, Humanitarianism and Development: Views from the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle EastLondon: Routledge.

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Elena. 2016. “Refugee-Refugee Relations in Contexts of Overlapping Displacement.”International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. (accessed 28 August 2018).

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Elena, and Yousif M. Qasmiyeh. 2018. “Refugee Neighbours and Hostipitality: Exploring the Complexities of Refugee-Refugee Humanitarianism.” Refugee Hosts, 27 August.

Held, Virginia. 2006. The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. 2000. Being Singular Plural. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Pitt-Rivers, Julian. 2012. “The Law of Hospitality.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory2: 501–517.

Povinelli, Elizabeth E. 2011. “Routes/Worlds.” e-flux27: 1–12.

Qasmiyeh, Yousif M. 2016. “Writing the Camp.” Refugee Hosts, 30 September.

Selwyn, Tom. 2000. “An Anthropology of Hospitality.” In In Search of Hospitality: Theoretical Perspectives and Debates, ed. Conrad Lashley and Alison Morrison.Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann: 18-37.

Yuval-Davis, Nira. 2011. “Power, Intersectionality and the Politics of Belonging.” FREIA Working Paper Series. Aalborg: Institut for Kultur og Globale Studier, Aalborg Universitet.



[1] In the inaugural issue of Migration and Society, the contributors examine questions that are at the core of diverse encounters, including how and why different actors have responded to the actual, prospective, and imagined arrival of migrants across time and space; how migrants and refugees have experienced and responded to different, and at times overlapping, processes of hospitality and hostility in sites of transit and settlement, including those joining established diasporas and transnational communities; the politics and the poetics of hospitality and hostility towards migrants in different spaces; and questions of how, why, and with what effects diverse media have represented processes of migration, such that some groups have been rendered (hyper)visible and audible, while others have become invisible, inaudible, and silenced. Finally, by including contributions that examine past dynamics of hospitality and hostility alongside or in relation to contemporary ones, we aim—in line with the journal’s aim more broadly—to highlight the significance of historical resonances, continuities, and discontinuities with the current moment. This is particularly important in the context of our inaugural theme, given the extent to which the “European refugee crisis” has predominantly been framed through a lens of historical and geographical exceptionalism, but also in our vision for Migration and Society moving forward.

Table of Contents of the Inaugural Issue of Migration and Society


Hospitality and Hostility towards Migrants: Global Perspectives—An Introduction
Mette Louise Berg and Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh

Research Articles
Hospitality and Hostility towards Migrants: Global Perspectives

Hospitality: A Timeless Measure of Who We Are?
Elena Isayev

Undoing Traceable Beginnings: Citizenship and Belonging among Former Burundian Refugees in Tanzania
Patricia Daley, Ng’wanza Kamata, and Leiyo Singo

Giving Aid Inside the Home: Humanitarian House Visits, Performative Refugeehood, and Social Control for Syrians in Jordan
Ann-Christin Wagner

Education and Hospitality in Liminal Locations for Unaccompanied Refugee Youths in Lesvos
Ivi Daskalaki and Nadina Leivaditi 

Media Representations of Separated Child Migrants: From Dubs to Doubt
Rachel Rosen and Sarah Crafter

Re/Making Immigration Policy through Practice: How Social Workers Influence What It Means to Be a Refused Asylum Seeker
Kathryn Tomko Dennler

Refugee Hospitality Encounters in Northern Portugal: “Cultural Orientations” and “Contextual Protection”
Elizabeth Challinor

“It’s Being, Not Doing”: Hospitality and Hostility between Local Faith Actors and International Humanitarian Organizations in Refugee Response
Olivia J. Wilkinson

People and Places
Cities and Universities as Sanctuaries

Migration and Citizenship in “Athens of Crisis”: An Interview with Vice Mayor Lefteris Papagiannakis
Aris Komporozos-Athanasiou and Nina Papachristou

Every Campus a Refuge: A Small College’s Engagement with Refugee Resettlement
Diya Abdo and Krista Craven

Sanctuary City Organizing in Canada: From Hospitality to Solidarity
David Moffette and Jennifer Ridgley

Undocumented People (En)Counter Border Policing: Near and Far from the US Border
Denise Brennan

Reflections on Teaching

Interdisciplinary Approaches to Refugee and Migration Studies: Lessons from Collaborative Research on Sanctuary in the Changing Times of Trump
Sara Vannini, Ricardo Gomez, Megan Carney, and Katharyne Mitchell

Refugia Roundtable

Imagining Refugia: Thinking Outside the Current Refugee Regime
Nicholas Van Hear

Refugia: A Place Where Refugees Survive, But Do Not Thrive
Veronique Barbelet and Christina Bennett

Beware of Social Engineering: A Response to “Refugia” by Nicholas Van Hear
Helma Lutz

Refugia: Pragmatic Utopianism
Nicholas Van Hear

Creative Encounters

A Word of Welcome
Yousif M. Qasmiyeh

To Move Between and Often Within
Theophilus Kwek

Experiencing In-betweenness: Literary Spatialities
Tahmineh Hooshyar Emami

Once, I Lived in a House with a Name
Mohamed Assaf and Kate Clanchy

Book Reviews


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