Special Interest Groups

In the spring of 2022 four Special Interest Groups have been awarded funding from the Focus Area Migration and Societal Change. All SIGs bring scholars form various faculties and disciplines together to work on one common topic. A wide variety in topics has been chosen and we proudly present the four selected SIGs to you.

Reconfigure the Mobile Worlds: Engaging Migration with Contemporary Art
Contact person: Xuan Ma (UU)
International migration has been transposing contemporary art and visual culture. Responding to the new normalities, our group aims to apply migration as a discursive category and incite productive discussions on various cultural and artistic topics that are closely tied to migration, including but not limited to transculturality, multiple modernities, art historiographies, gender fluidity, cultural identities and communal affiliations, digital technology, and social media. At the same time, we maintain the transformative power of art and visual culture on the migratory society by exploring their capacities in reconfiguring the conditions of migrants. Facing the problems such as xenophobia, intergroup conflicts, and cultural tensions that are amplified by today’s Covid pandemic, we suggest that contemporary art and visual culture bear the responsibility to restore the relations between people and offer possibilities of constructing more tolerant and inclusive communities. Regarding this, our group looks into the artistic and cultural interventions in the contemporary world in terms of political aesthetics, affective studies, feminism and queer studies, media studies, post-colonial reflections and ethico-political responsibilities, therefore extending contemporary art and visual culture into the embodied experiences that challenge the established sensory ordering and query the hierarchic regimes.

Citizenship and Immigrant Integration
Contact person: Dr. Swantje Falcke(UU)

The special interest group ‘Citizenship and immigrant integration’ aims to establish an interdisciplinary network for studying the role of citizenship, and naturalization, in particular for mobility patterns, integration outcomes and life course developments from a long-term perspective. Within our network we want to focus on the role of citizenship acquisition as well as the impact of non-citizenship (e.g., irregular migration, undocumented or stateless migrants).

Naturalization is a core principle of democratic societies, providing newcomers with an opportunity for full participation and equal standing. Beyond providing legal rights and duties, research shows that naturalization can play an important positive role in the settlement process of immigrants, for instance by levelling the playing field in the labor or housing market and facilitating mobility within and between countries. Yet many important questions remain, including the ways in which citizenship policies condition outcomes associated with naturalization, how citizenship ties into questions of belonging and identity, which migrants benefit most from naturalization, and how short- and long-term effects play out across the life course. The complexity of this topic calls for an interdisciplinary approach. By linking the expertise of different disciplines (social sciences, history, human geography, political science, economics, law) we aim to arrive at a more robust and comprehensive understanding of the role of naturalization in immigrant life courses.

Reception of the Russia - Ukraine war refugees in Europe
Contact person: Dr. Veronika Nagy (UU)

On the 24th of February 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine. The growing expanse of violent military action resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties in many localities of Ukraine (OHCHR, 2022), forcing masses of residents to leave the country. One million people have fled Ukraine in just seven days since Russia launched its invasion, a historic record in the past European refugee flows. While Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries just developed a heavily criticized reputation regarding their lack of support for the refugees arriving during the so-called Migration crisis in 2015, they show a different kind of hospitality and solidarity towards refugees fleeing Ukraine. While many Ukrainians are received and supported with great sympathy in the bordering countries, racism, and discrimination is also apparent. Xenophobia varies within the relationship between hostile government policies and anti-migrant sentiments of the population. New differentiations in the treatment of refugees fleeing the Russia - Ukraine war include not only immigrants living in Ukraine or international students of African origin, but also Russian opponents who fled from the Putin regime toward Finland and other neighboring states. The dynamics of solidarity toward different refugee groups are affected by anti-Russian sentiments and emotionally charged news media messages triggering actions by civilians and GOs in different geopolitical sites. In 2015 in an effort to prevent the arrival of refugees, smart borders were installed, humanitarian workers were criminalized and fences spanning hundreds of kilometers were built along the Balkan route. These same governments however adjusted the asylum legislation to support the influx of Ukrainian refugees or impose extra restrictions to Russian citizens.

In order to explain how these dynamics of solidarity and securitization in the field of migration are shaped around the Russia - Ukraine conflict zone, we need to explore several objectives of the stakeholders, in particular the experiences of oppositional parties. Therefore, this SIG aims to explore the cultural, religious, economic, and geopolitical aspects that shape the relationship between arrivals and host communities in the case of the Russia-Ukraine war. The central research question of this SIG is: How can the different dynamics of refugee reception be explained considering the refugees of the Russia-Ukraine War in Europe, in particularly in the Eastern European neighboring countries?

The SIG aims to collect, share, validate and publish information about the situation of the recently arriving war refugees with the use of qualitative research methods and exchange expertise through a sequence of Webinars.

The rise of the radical right in Europe: An interdisciplinary approach
Contact person: Dr. Anouk Smeekes (UU)

From the Austrian Freedom Party to the French Rassemblement national, populist radical right parties (PRRPs), with a strong anti-immigrant rhetoric and ethnic nationalist agenda, have been on the rise across Europe over the past decades. As a result of this development, research on PRRPs has become increasingly popular and widespread. The field, however, also faces challenges and shortcomings that call for novel and interdisciplinary research. The aim of this SIG is to stimulate interdisciplinary research, within and beyond Utrecht University, that addresses the following research questions:

Main research question: How can the rise and evolvement of populist radical right parties across Europe be explained and what is the role of minority groups in these movements and their electorates?


  • What are the social-psychological underpinnings of PRRPs supply and demand across Western and Eastern Europe, and how do they complement political scientific/political sociological approaches?

  • What are the roles of women and ethnic minorities in the discourse of PRRPs as well as their electorates?

  • How does the refugee crisis stemming from the war in Ukraine, affect and change PRRPs rhetoric and electoral support?

Multidisciplinary PhD group
Contact person: Jana Finke (UU) & Bastian Neuhauser (UU)

Utrecht University is home to a diverse and talented community of PhD candidates working on the complex and pressing topic of migration. Recognizing the need for greater interdisciplinary cooperation and exchange of perspectives among these researchers, a Special Interest Group has been formed to bring them together in the broader framework of the Focus Area Migration & Societal Change.

Comprised of PhD candidates from all faculties of the university, this group aims to foster collaboration and support among its members through a variety of events and initiatives. From writing workshops and media trainings to lectures and panel discussions, the group provides a platform for researchers to share their knowledge, hone their skills, and engage in meaningful dialogue with one another.

By encouraging interdisciplinary cooperation and exchange of perspectives, the group seeks to deepen our collective understanding of migration and its many complexities. Through collaboration and community, the group hopes to contribute to a more nuanced and informed conversation around this critical issue.

Whether you are a fresh PhD candidate at Utrecht University or have only recently discovered this group, you are welcome to join at any time. The group is constantly open to new members, so feel free to reach out and connect with them without hesitation.