In the UK, migration debates tend to be about the idea of fullness – concepts of arrivals, overcrowding, competition for resources – but what about emptiness? We learn why it is such an important part of understanding migration.
In the UK, migration debates tend to be about the idea of fullness but the concept of emptiness is underexplored. In the small towns of Armenia, people say “there is nothing here” stegh vochinch chka/ban chka [ստեղ ոչինչ չկա/ բան չկա] but this phrase does not describe actual nothingness. Vochinch chka/ban chka – and other descriptors related to “emptiness” found in the post-Soviet realm – refers to a loss of elements that constitute postsocialist towns and villages: people, schools, services, social networks, jobs, and the future (Dzenovska 2020). The largest conflict in postsocialist space, the Russo-Ukrainian war, sped up and generalized this tendency as whole cities are erased, millions of people are forced to leave their homes, and existential and temporal imaginaries of whole populations are mired in radical uncertainty. Why is emptiness such an important part of understanding migration as a discipline and human experience?
To explore this topic, we welcome Volodymyr Artiukh, COMPAS Postdoctoral Researcher, and Maria Gunko, COMPAS DPhil student in Migration Studies to share their research within field sites in Romania and in Armenia, as part of the EMPTINESS project (https://emptiness.eu/). The project studies the emptying cities, towns, and villages in Eastern Europe and Russia through the lens of “emptiness” as a concrete historical formation that has emerged in conditions when socialist modernity is gone and promises of capitalist modernity have failed. Is emptiness and nothingness produced by slow violence being filled (metaphorically speaking) by the fast violence of war? Does the arrival of entirely different populations amount to a place being revived, or reshaped? How do relationships to homes and communities left behind change throughout years of war?