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Re-construction of the notions of movement in Human History: With focus on fric- tion between “Free” and “Unfree”

Research period:2019.10-2023.3

SUZUKI Hideaki


Human History , Movement , Free/Unfree 


The objective of this research project is to reconsider notions of movement in human history with a particular emphasis on the friction between “free” and “unfree,” and construct a new horizon for migration studies. There are a variety of aspects in the factors for the movement of people, including “evacuation” due to phenomena related to survival such as persecution, conflict, and natural disasters, “forced movement” of specific groups or individuals, and “migration/immigration” based on free-will. With “forced movement,” the unfree-ness, victimhood, and tragedy of migrants have been emphasized above all else, and they have been understood as lacking subjecthood. In contrast, this project will consider the friction between free-ness and unfree-ness in cases of movement phenomena included in the category of “forced movement” (e.g. slave trade, forced migration, contract labor, and political refugees) of different temporal and spatial nodes, and reconsider the concept of movement in human history while attempting to compare each case. Specifically, we will reinterpret movement phenomena from the standpoint of the people and groups moving, taking into account political, religious, economic, cultural, and environmental factors that caused the movement. By combining a macro and micro approach in this way and comparing and relating various types of movement in different contexts with a focus on the friction between “free” and “unfree,” we aim to reconstruct notions that will contribute to new developments in the study of migration in human history.

Research Results

The schedule for this joint research project was delayed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a total of 11 workshops were held over a period of almost three and a half years. At the first workshop each member of the project was required to deliver a report, including a self-introduction. The key discussion points were confirmed on the basis of these reports and the members were asked to present further reports addressing these discussion points at the second workshop. The differing expertise and spatial and temporal foci of each member produced a wide-ranging discussion, but we established the following shared understandings and issues.
Firstly, movement always entails some type of human intention or purpose. Naturally, the intentions and purposes that influence an individual’s movement are not always attributable solely to that individual. Forced movement, in most cases, is understood as one form of movement that is dependent on the intention or purpose of some other individual. Nonetheless, any given movement—regardless of whether or not it is voluntary—is achieved not through the intention or purpose of any specific individual alone, but rather through the conflicting intentions and purposes of a variety of related parties, and is also influenced greatly by the natural ecological environment of the spaces where the movement takes place. Put another way, each individual movement is realized in its own unique context. If this is the case, what exactly is the “space” in which these complex and intertwined movements take place? What are the dynamics that give rise to a specific movement? These are the kinds of questions formulated through the project.
Secondly, every movement is ultimately a unique act. Once a certain movement is undertaken, even if people moving returns to their starting point afterwards, that starting point will not have precisely the same temporal and spatial parameters as before, and the people themselves will have gained new experiences and attributes in the course of moving. Movement thus produces novel relationships for both the people moving and their surrounds. What kinds of new relationships does a particular movement engender? If the movement is aligned with the intentions and purposes of the people moving, what did they seek to achieve through the movement, and how does this differ from the situation actually resulting from the movement? These are the kinds of questions generated in this project.
Thirdly, people who move, and those who aim to do so, perceive various forms of value in both the act of movement and those undertaking it. A good example of this is the “free” and “unfree.” Given that movement is a multi-faceted act accomplished through the involvement of many different subjects rather than solely by the people moving, terms such as “free” and “unfree” only describe movement from one specific and limited perspective. Consequently, in this project we reached the understanding that the process of contemplating the notions of “free” and “unfree” associated with movement is nothing less than a process of deconstructing those notions, while also attending to the relationships that generate and are generated by movement.