As migrant and refugee stories continue to dominate the news, a Trent professor’s research is drawing international attention as he examines how some European communities are battling xenophobia using kitchen hubs, art projects and shared living spaces.
Dr. Feyzi Baban, of Trent’s International Development Studies department, and his colleague Dr. Kim Rygiel, of Wilfrid Laurier University, are jointly conducting the five-year project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, investigating how newcomers and locals can come together and create new, shared living experiences.
“This living together – what we call ‘transgressive cosmopolitanism’ – is rooted in the everyday lives of uprooted and marginalized peoples such as migrants and refugees and is practised daily within neighbourhoods and communities,” says Professor Baban.
Research with Global Impact
One successful project in Denmark includes large billboards throughout Copenhagen featuring refugees and their personal stories, which counters the perception of migrants and refugees as an “undifferentiated mass of people who are alien, hostile and dangerous.”
“When people have very little knowledge of perceived others, they become fearful and refuse to accept that they may be individuals just like them with lives, hopes, dreams and expectations,” Prof. Baban says. “However, when there is interaction between people, when people know more about personal stories, tragedies, dreams and expectations of newcomers, there is a greater empathy and acceptance.”
In Germany, there’s a successful project called Über den Tellerrand, which means ‘open plate,’ a common German expression to mean open-minded. It’s a non-profit kitchen project, founded in 2013, where refugees and German-born Berliners cook together, share a meal and socialize.
Student Involvement Integral
A Trent student was able to help out in this groundbreaking research. Although now an alumna, while Anisah Madden, was an undergraduate student in International Development, she worked in Europe as their assistant for a couple of years, helping with research and surveys, before moving on to do a Master’s degree.
“She was an integral part of our research project,” Prof. Baban says.
BBC World TV recently interviewed Prof. Baban about the project, with a focus on a report he and Dr. Rygiel had co-authored for the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts.