It was in the 1990s that I, as a beginning scholar doing research about identity, home and belonging, came across Liisa Malkki’s groundbreaking work, which provided me an in-depth understanding and theoretical frame for studying home and belonging in relation to refugees.

Malkki, L. (1992) National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity Among Scholars and Refugees, Cultural Anthropology 7 (1): 24–44.

Malkki, L. (1995) Refugees and Exile: From ‘Refugee Studies’ to the National Order of Things, Annual Reviews Anthropology 24: 495–523.

Malkki’s profound critique of what she referred to as the “national order of things” in 1992 lays a strong foundation for rethinking the implications of equalizing home with being rooted in a place, both metaphorically and morally. Furthermore, she examines the analytical consequences of a territorial approach to identity and home for categories of people considered displaced and uprooted. Metaphorically, she argues that the “root” referred to as a metaphor of home is not just any kind of root but one that is specifically arborescent in form, assuming a duality of settlement as norm and displacement as anomaly. This critique has been particularly important since in mainstream migration and refugee studies belonging has for long been equated with the territorial space of the country of origin as home. Malkki (1992) unsettles this naturalized “sedentarist bias” by questioning the assumed hierarchal duality in the idea that “the homeland or country of origin is not only the normal but the ideal habitat for any person” (Malkki 1995, p. 509). She then proposes that to capture the multiplicity of situated experiences of identity and home, including mobility and settlement, scholars must break this dualistic rooted approach of identity and home and adapt “nomadology”, as proposed by Deleuze and Guattari (1987). Nomadology as a lens calls for a more fluid approach to home that is unlinked from the normalized connection to the geographical boundaries of a country of origin; no longer tied to a given territorial space, home is tied to multiple locations (places and spaces, physical or otherwise) in which past, present and future are intertwined.

Written by Halleh Ghorashi