Welcoming Windsor attracts immigration expert

Nick HarneyNick Harney is the new head of UWindsor’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology.

Anthropologist Nick Harney has spent 14 years studying the ramifications of immigration on various regions of the world and recently returned to his native Canada as the new head of UWindsor’s Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology department—a move he says will give him a chance to study immigration in a place immigrants see as a desirable destination.

Dr. Harney looked at migration issues around the globe while based at the University of Western Australia, and as a visiting fellow at University of Naples, Federico II and, more recently, at the University of Trento. He made the move to Windsor at the start of 2016 in part, he says, because of the University’s progressive attitude.

“UWindsor has a great reputation, for this department in particular,” he says. “I’m intrigued because it’s an interdisciplinary social science department, so people are going to have different ideas and approaches. I think it’s really productive to be challenged on assumptions.”

The anthropologist grew up in Toronto and moved to Perth, Australia, in 2001 to take a position teaching and researching migration studies. He says Australia’s immigration system can be punitive for asylum seekers and there is a strong anti-immigration movement that centres on protecting borders, instead of welcoming migrants.

Harney’s research then took him to Italy, where he studied the more transitory migrant community, one that struggles to survive in an informal economy where many have no legal documentation.

“I wanted to understand how they negotiated the politics, economic precarity, the police and the neighbourhoods, to create a world for themselves where they could survive for three to four months before they’d move on to other parts of Europe.”

One aspect of his research in Naples had him study a transit company’s pilot project, which sought to cope with tensions between locals and migrants using bus services.

Transit management borrowed from new public management theory and its legacies to train its workforce in social responsibility. They hired intercultural migrant mediators to ride the bus routes and help to ‘integrate’ migrants. Harney says that after a few months the project seemed to work and tensions lessened, however because of the area’s migrant turnover, the project needed to start all over again.

Although the project was intended to resolve tensions on the transit system associated with petty crime, vandalism and fare evasion, it ended up offering migrants a way to discuss settlement issues.

Ironically, in the end transit officials found it was often local Italian transit riders who did not have tickets, while migrants did.

“I was very interested in the tensions involved for Neapolitans with European integration as a backdrop for questions about migrant integration in Italy,” says Harney. “Thinking about integration as a ritual process and the challenges of the ritualization of welcoming, or ‘hospitality’ in that kind of context.”

Having recently arrived in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Canada, Harney says it will be interesting to think about migration in Windsor, especially with the arrival of a recent wave of Syrian refugees.

For more information on the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology, visit: http://www1.uwindsor.ca/sociology/.