Strangers at Home: Current Narratives of Fear and Resistance in Europe

September 26, 2016

Shayna Plaut

Monday, September 26, 6:00PM–8:00PM, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre

Co-sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities & Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures, & Department of Sociology and Anthropology

In Europe, waves of immigrants––some political refugees fleeing wars; others fleeing a system that assumes a migration of capital without people––have renewed feelings of resentment towards people perceived as “outsiders.” Such political and economic uncertainty has led some politicians to search for scapegoats in traditionally ostracized communities like the Roma and Jews, as well as immigrant communities. Extremist voices are gaining political power, inspiring some Europeans to take to the streets to “claim back” their place. As a result, millions of people in Europe are feeling like strangers at home. 

Unlike the alarmist and reductionist international coverage––it is not just “1938 all over again”––people in various European countries are responding locally to international policy: two wars in Iraq, an invasion of Afghanistan and Libya, hand-wringing in Syria, increasingly neo-liberal economic policy coupled with the European Union’s failure to create a harmonized immigration policy. Politics is cultural and culture is very often used to explain away politics (Mamdani, 2004). How this manifests depends on local contexts and realities; but too often traditional global journalism balks at such complexity. This desire for a simple, digestible narrative, is reflected in their reporting often leading to dangerous affects in subsequent policy discussions. Strangers at Home counters that narrative––highlighting the unfolding truths through stories of those living in messy realities (Adiche, 2009; King, 2003). 

Strangers at Home––a nine segment “anthology documentary”––challenges traditional content and method. By working with a multiplicity of storytellers across different geographical, social, political and professional locations, Strangers at Home problematizes the simple narrative and embraces the complexity and nuance of this troubling trend Through journalists, cartoonists, neo-fascists and every-day-youth, Strangers at Home provides a new means of reporting on such unfolding and multilayered issues. How is the rise of the right manifesting in different countries? Who is cast aside as the strangers, often in their own “home:” Roma, Jews, LGBT peoples, people with Muslim or Arab last names. Just as importantly––why is this happening? And how is this affecting, and affected, by the majority populations in these countries?

Strangers at Home was screened at the United Nations office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Council of Europe and NYU; this is the first public screening in Canada.

Dr. Shayna Plaut is interested in how people represent themselves in their own media, with a particular interest in peoples who do not fit neatly within the traditional notions of the nation-state. Shayna has researched and engaged with Romani media, migrant media and Indigenous media in Canada, the US and Europe for nearly 15 years. As a Fulbright and Vanier scholar, she has lived and worked in Hungary and the Balkans.

Since 2004, Shayna has developed and taught a large array of courses focused on the framing of social justice and human rights including at Simon Fraser University where she served as the Simons Research Fellow from 2015–2016. Shayna has also taught at Columbia College in Chicago and was a visiting scholar at Columbia University. She is currently teaching courses on migration as well as social inequalities at the University of British Columbia and is the co-investigator for a CMRC-funded research project critically examining the use of “fixers” in international journalism. She is writing a book on how migrants are challenging and changing immigration policy through discourse in Europe.

Shayna’s work sits at the intersection of academia, journalism and advocacy. Her academic writing has been published in Racial and Ethnic Studies (forthcoming), Journalism Practice, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, The European Educational Research Journal, and International Journal for Human Rights, as well as chapters in books published by Routledge, I.B. Tauris and SAGE. She is the Human Rights Editor for Praxis Center––an online resource center for artists, academics and activists, as well as people who identify as all three––where she writes, interviews and solicits work that critically engage with question of change can be. As an educator, researcher and journalist, Shayna has served as a consultant for the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International and a variety of migrant and human rights organizations. Since 2014, Shayna has served as the Research Manager for Strangers at Home, a project of the Global Reporting Centre.