Reaching Horizons: exploring past, present and future existential possibilities of migration and movement through creative practice

Student thesis: Phd


Migration has become a topical theme both in academia and in public discourses across the media which have contributed to create a highly political and visual ‘migrant subject’. However, the highly mediatized figure of the migrant has left crucial aspects of migration underrepresented and unrecognised. What is normally concealed and left to the margins of public debate is the individual experience of the protagonists, their imaginative lifeworlds and the complexity of their stories. This practice-based research has centred its inquiry on the relationship between the lived experiences and the imagination of past, present and future existential possibilities, by engaging three Egyptian migrants through the creative processes of theatre improvisations, storytelling practices, participatory photography, collaborative filmmaking and animation. It recognizes the fundamental role that imagination and future existential possibilities play in people’s perceptions of reality, in their decisions and actions, and finally in the way they narrate their experiences. In order to better understand how individuals make their choices, interact with each other, understand themselves and the world around them, I have argued that we need to take into account their biographies and imaginative inner lives as the ways people retell their stories allow space for contradiction, feelings of ambivalence and uncertainty, unlaced and unfinished thoughts and existential dilemmas. Imaginative realms of existence are ever-changing and ungraspable, posing a challenge to conventional methodologies in the social sciences which rely heavily on observation, interviews and text. The thesis is divided into two parts. By using the ethnographic material that emerged during fieldwork and from the creative processes, in the first part I look at the role imagination and the future play in Ali’s, Mohamed’s and Mahmoud’s relationships to their origins, and to their decisions and experiences of illegally crossing the Mediterranean Sea in order to reach Milan (Italy). The second part describes and reflects upon the performative and audio-visual collaborative practices that involved my participants in producing their own narrations and theoretical reflections on their experiences, aspirations and memories. It is thanks to the ‘subjunctive possibilities’ enabled by performative improvisations, creative storytelling and the animation that my participants and I could explore their mnemonic and imaginative processes. Finally, the thesis concludes by arguing for social research to engage participants in more collaborative and creative practices in the study of migration, as a necessary way of involving the protagonists in producing the questions and counter-narratives that reclaim their acts of struggle and their creative imaginative abilities to contrast objectifying political discourses and exclusionary legal and bureaucratic procedures.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJohannes Sjoberg (Supervisor) & Andrew Irving (Supervisor)


  • Imagination
  • Storytelling
  • Collaborative filmmaking
  • Egypt
  • Practice-based research
  • Animation
  • Migration
  • Border crossing

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