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Department of Political and Social Sciences

SPS researcher Maxine Both wins grant to study solidarity with migrants

Doctoral researcher Maxine Both has received Canadian funding for field research investigating immigrant detention in Italy and Canada and the ways civil society organisations build relationships and provide solidarity and assistance to detained migrants.

21 June 2022 | Award - Research

Doctoral researcher Maxine Both has been awarded a four-year grant from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for ethnographic field research and data collection in her investigation of immigration detention in Italy and Canada and the solidarity organisations acting in support of detained migrants. “Funding for extensive field research will allow me to build relationships and trust” with interlocutors, something absolutely essential for rigorous qualitative research.

Maxine’s study looks at migrant solidarity that emerges in response to immigration detention, comparing Italy and Canada. The planned research sites will be in Italy, at a Centro di permanenza per i rimpatri (CPR) and in Canada, at an Immigration Holding Centre (IHC). The ethnographic work includes interviews with members of solidarity organisations and with former migrant detainees as well as participating in, observing and recording the activities of the organisations. The SSHRC grant competition, for which Maxine was eligible as a Canadian citizen, has awarded her CAD 80,000 in 2022–2026, to be used for up to six months of fieldwork in each country, for intensive Italian language training and for scholarly communication.

Maxine is well aware of the privileges this grant represents. “For me, it highlights the need to raise awareness among funders of the real costs of gathering quality data in the field and processing it.” The time element is essential for researchers who work comparatively or must revisit field sites to overcome challenges of access and trust. In this sense, the additional funding from SSHRC will make her research plan possible to carry out, providing opportunities for a more participatory and collaborative research approach.

Surmounting the barriers of detention

The study particularly aims to understand how NGOs, civil society, and other activists can form ties with migrant detainees held on the inside of immigration detention centres. For example, migrant solidarity actors may try to organise anti-deportation protests outside a centre or provide material and emotional support to migrant detainees through communication or visits. Given that detainees are held in highly controlled spaces, surrounded by walls and limited in their ability to communicate with the outside world, it is particularly interesting to think about the strategies used to overcome these barriers and how relationships of solidarity can be formed across these spaces. 

 “Theoretically, I ask how immigration detention centres create ‘borders’ beyond the state’s territorial ones, and how these spaces can be understood as ‘transnational’ by connecting actors inside and outside detention centres.” Moreover, the research aims to demonstrate that migrant detainees need to be perceived as agents, with the ability to resist their condition despite a high level of constraints. 

Tackling policy misconceptions

The comparative design is meant to open both European and Canadian eyes. “Naturally, the EUI is focused very much on EU case studies and politics, and I hope to bring some diversity into the conversation. I also wish to correct narratives about Canada and immigration. When people think of Canada, they often picture a very welcoming and multicultural society. Through my research, I hope to show how Canada continues to practice indefinite detention of migrants and can be comparable to critiqued countries such as Italy for engaging in similar practices.”

Ultimately, though, the study has a positive motivation. “Despite anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiments that we see on the rise, I also want to show that solidarity is nonetheless occurring, as civil society has joined together to assist detainees and to raise awareness. There is a lot of potential for local communities to help!”

Last update: 21 June 2022

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