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School of Geography

Meet the researcher - Dr Hannah Lewis

Hannah’s research focuses on how immigration policy and processes of migration shape migrants’ everyday lives and experiences of work, community, leisure and transnational relationships. Her research interests include community and social relationships, migration and refugee studies, volunteering, multiculturalism; and the ethics and methodologies of research with migrant populations.

1.   Why did you become interested in research?

I've always taken every opportunity to travel and learn about places, cultures and societies. Initially my interest wasn't in research but in campaigning and political change to address global justice issues, particularly related to indigenous peoples, refugees and race. Working in a children's rights project at Save the Children, I came to understand the importance of robust evidence for influencing policy and effecting social change. At that time, there was a sudden shift in the media representation of refugees. In 1999, there was widespread public support for the UK's role in resettling refugees from Kosovo. Only a few months later, the government announced plans to disperse people seeking asylum around the UK. Suddenly, xenophobic sentiments were commonplace and a sense that more understanding of refugees was needed led me to a PhD in Social Justice to explore ‘community’ among people seeking asylum. 

2.    What are you currently working on?

I’m working with nine civil society partners on an ESRC Knowledge Exchange ‘Platform on Forced Labour and Asylum’ to develop practical ways to tackle forced labour among refugees and asylum seekers. This follows on from our research study ‘Precarious Lives’, the first research to evidence and explore why and how people seeking protection from persecution in the UK can be susceptible to forced labour. This year I’ll also be visiting the University of Sydney with a WUN Researcher Mobility Programme grant to explore refugee precarity on an international scale. 

3.   What is the most important finding from your research to date?

That people do not live in a community but engage with (or avoid) spatial and temporal realizations of community. Practices and spaces of ephemeral association such as food, dancing, music and parties enable ‘community moments’ that realize shared values within the context of lives marked by fluidity and insecurity. I’ve contributed to a body of work that evidences long-term and widespread destitution among refused asylum seekers as an intentional result of government policy, a crisis that is consistently denied and ignored by the state. 

4.   What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The main highlight is that research offers me the opportunity to work with inspiring people from around the world, and through these connections to learn through personal insights about cultural, political and social issues across the globe. 

 5.   What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a research career in your field?

Migration is a complex and ever-changing phenomenon. It is useful not only to follow policy changes at the national and international level, but to remain engaged with the reality of migrants’ everyday lives to understand and challenge theory, policy and assumptions.

6.   What is the most common question you are asked by non-researchers?

Migration? Of birds or people? 

7.   What is your favourite hobby?

My favourite hobby is tropical-water scuba diving, but chances for that are few and far between. I’m not so keen on the mud and cold of UK waters, so I keep myself occupied with my allotment, capoeira, snowboarding, pilates and studying for an HE Cert in Spanish at Leeds Metropolitan University. 

For more on Hannah's research and publications visit her homepage

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