Seminars in the Anthropology of Travel, Tourism and Pilgrimage

The May 2023 Xenia Series featuring Dr. Marc Morell

 "On the hegemony of development in Malta"

will take place online 24 May 2023, 1700hrs to 1830hrs 

Please register for this free event here.

Xenia 2023

We are delighted to announce the 2023 cycle of the Xenia Series seminars. Started in 2020, as a response to the first spate of global covid lockdowns, this seminar programme embraced the more equitable access provided by online meetings. Branching out of the central trope of hospitality (Greek: Xenia), we have hosted monthly conversations on home, belonging, hostility, travel, tourism and migration with painters, novelists, musicians, museum and heritage professionals, and anthropologists. 

The series is organised by a network of colleagues from SOAS University of London, University of Cambridge, University of Bethlehem and University of Malta, together with speakers from a wide range of other universities (including, Bergen, Breda, Graz, Haifa, Goldsmiths) and research centres. Members of the network have led research programmes for, inter alia, the EC, British Council, Open Society University Network (OSUN), and Leverhulme Foundation and are associated with the book series Articulating Journeys: Festivals, Memorials, and Homecomings for Berghahn publishers. 

Emergent Ideas and looking ahead

How to summarise the ideas incorporated in these presentations? Firstly, the series has considered contexts in which movement, separation, and returning take place. Secondly, it has been concerned with questions of power and agency: in a world shaped by different forms of mobility, we need to ask where the power lies that determines the movement of people and the formation of those classes and categories of people who exercise that power. What sort of connections and relations might we make between those who travel as tourists, pilgrims, or colonialists, and those who are forced to move as refugees? Thirdly, to what extent do we understand the movement of objects and the labour involved in their transformations as they move between producers, intermediaries, and consumers? Fourthly, can we imagine how homes may be made, re-made, and re-found in a contemporary world in which one recurring condition of human movement derives from natural disasters, and politico-economic conflict? This leads to a fifth and final question: what are the conditions in which we will be able, once again, to conceive of a world in which Xenia, hospitality, can be recovered as a guiding principle of global, regional, and local social organisation?

In 2023 we aim to build on the above and invite talks which bear upon the following overlapping and intersecting keywords: hospitality, hostility, identity, home (including loss of home, home making, home coming, and homeland), exclusion and separation, shared sacred and secular places, movement (including tourism, pilgrimage, journeys of refugees and asylum seekers), memory and memorialisation, sexual/spatial/temporal solidarities, cultural heritage(s), dislocation/fragmentation, festivals/rituals of belonging.  

Xenia Speakers 2023

18th January 2023:          Tamar Katriel, Haifa University
Defiant Discourse: Speech and Action in Grassroots Activism

Defiant Discourse: Speech and Action in Grassroots Activism (Routledge, 2021), problematizes 'activism' as a cultural formation that gives shape to grassroots struggles for social and political change. Working within a linguistic anthropology framework, I focus on 'speech' and 'action' as cultural categories that are variously grounded in two competing ideologies of language – one that posits a speech vs action dualism (as in "Deeds not Words"), and one that highlights the performative power of language in speaking truth to power. I draw on Israeli soldiers' discourses of dissent regarding the decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, such as the oppositional projects of draft-refusers and silence breakers, including their use of public proclamations, strategic witnessing, and metadiscursive accounts that seek to legitimize their organized resistance. Israeli antioccupation activist groups enhance their witnessing projects through educational tours to the occupied territories offered to Israeli and international publics. These spatial and embodied touristic practices are designed to generate counter-knowledge in situ. The book mentions them only in passing, and I look forward to reflect on them further as part of the Xenia series. 

Tamar Katriel is Professor (Emerita) in Communication and Education at the University of Haifa, conducting research in the Ethnography of Communication and Discourse Studies. Her work has explored patterns of communication and culture in a variety of interpersonal and public settings in Israel and the United States, including museums and walking tours. Her books include: Talking Straight (1986); Communal Webs (1991); Performing the Past (1997); Key Words (1999, in Hebrew); Dialogic Moments (2004); Defiant Discourse (2021). She is also co-editor of Cultural Memories of Nonviolent Struggles (2015) and of a special issue of Media Frames, the journal of the Israeli Communication Association, on Communication and Violence in Israel (2022, in Hebrew). She is elected Fellow of the International Communication Association (2017) and recipient of a Life Achievement Award by the Israeli Anthropological Association (2022).



22nd February               Marija Grujić, Graz University
“Internal migration” (so-called): Serbian refugees from Kosovo to Serbia 

How to understand transitions between homely/unhomely homes in narratives of forced migrations and return to past homes? An intersectional approach to protracted (internal) displacement and a feminist approach to ‘making of home’ in displacement provides a starting point for answering this question in biographical narratives of Serbian refugees who fled Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombing and Kosovo Albanian paramilitary reprisal. The lack of recognition of Kosovo’s independence (from the side of Serbia) means a political limbo for this group of people as they cannot claim refugee status nor return to Kosovo due to state involvement in the decades-long oppression of Kosovo Albanians. These narratives give insights into the complexities of homing in the context of protracted conflict over territory and what it means to lose a place – physical, social and symbolic – in Kosovo and not find it (or at least not to have it in the same way) in Serbia. They witness silences of unresolved conflict and silencing of unrecognised violence. Tracing gendered positionings in Serbian refugees’ narratives about them as co-ethnics and, simultaneously, Other/different, exposes belonging as fluctuating between ‘there’/’then’, ‘here’/’now’. Such oscillations of belonging ultimately question homeliness of national belonging through a lens of refugee non-belonging. 



Marija Grujić holds a PhD in Sociology from Goethe University Frankfurt and has obtained degrees in philosophy (BA, Belgrade University) and religious studies (MSc, Sarajevo University). Currently, Visiting Scholar at the University of Graz and associated post-doctoral fellow at the European University Viadrina. Before her post-doctorate, she was a Researcher at the ICMPD, an international organisation focusing on migration policy and a Lecturer at the Chair for Women and Gender Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt. Marija published scholarly work on the meaning of home and belonging among displaced persons, religion, gender and faith-based peacebuilding. Policy-focused work includes research on irregular migration, transit and family-related issues in the context of integration. Presently, Marija is finalising a book for Berghahn: Belonging in unhomely homelands. By introducing a novel framework of ‘oscillations of belonging’, it deals with gendered aspects of refugees’ coping with multiple losses. 

22nd March                    Vanja Hamzić, SOAS University of London

Cosmological and Gender-Bodily Resistance to an Emergent Racial Capitalism in Eighteenth-Century West Africa and Colonial Louisiana 

Cosmological and Gender-Bodily Resistance to an Emergent Racial Capitalism in Eighteenth-Century West Africa and Colonial Louisiana. The fashioning of specifically ‘male’ and ‘female’ subjects—whether free, indentured or enslaved—was a sine qua non preoccupation of the early capitalist economy, of which the trans-Atlantic slave trade was one of the key derivatives. When this trade reached its zenith in seventeenth-century West Africa, it set in motion a series of political, religious and social events that would transform this region in the century to come into a battlefield of competing ideas and regimes of personhood—whether they be the nascent colonial racial and gender ordering, religious and social strictures brought fore by many a Fulɓe-led jihād, or an increasingly ostracised spiritual and bodily diversity within the centuries-old Greater Senegambian status groups. In a similar manner, the eighteenth-century ‘French’ and then ‘Spanish’ Louisiana, into which many enslaved West Africans were forcefully brought, became an experimental ground for an emergent colonial gender binary, against both the diverse Indigenous and West African conceptualisations of personhood and sociality. This talk is based on Vanja Hamzić’s long-term archival and ethnographic research of these phenomena. 

Vanja Hamzić is Reader in Law, History and Anthropology at SOAS University of London. His work principally considers colonial, postcolonial and decolonial subjectivity making—with a particular focus on gender nonconformity—in South and Southeast Asia, West Africa and Louisiana. Vanja’s books include Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts (with Ziba Mir-Hosseini, 2010) and Sexual and Gender Diversity in the Muslim World: History, Law and Vernacular Knowledge (2016, 2019). His current book project addresses gender diversity and cosmological pluralism in eighteenth-century Senegambia as well as the ways enslaved gender nonconforming West Africans have survived the Middle Passage and the gender regime of colonial Louisiana. Vanja was a 2016/17 Member at the School of Social Science in the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.

19th April              Reza Masoudi – Nejad, SOAS RESCHEDULED

Towards the idea of Urban Ritual: Orchestration of Ritual and Counter-Ritual in Mumbai Muharram 

The Shi’i Muharram rituals have been constantly reinvented in Mumbai as the result of cosmopolitan process that has shaped this city during last two centuries. The annual event of Muharram is about commemorating the tragic martyrdom of Hussain, the grandson of the prophet, highlighting the Shia-Sunni division. The format of Muharram commemoration, as practiced today in Mumbai, is the result of intensive negotiation and tensions between diverse ethno-religious groups that settled in Bombay/Mumbai. This paper examines how Muharram produces a space for social negotiations and particularly looks at a new social fold in such space where emerging Wahhabis’ counter-ritual is manifested. The Wahhabi community is a new social group mainly constitutes Indian Muslim workers who returned from Arab countries. While seemingly their counter-ritual is aimed at challenging the Shi’i commemoration of Muharram, they employ Muharram to negotiate their social position within Mumbai’s dynamic urban society. With such a focus, this paper articulates “Mumbai Muharram” as an “urban ritual” that produces a space for the intensive “urban negotiation”. The idea is to explore the Muharram beyond its religious connotations, showing the social complexity of Mumbai Muharram that constitutes not only Shiʿi Muharram but also its counter-ritual, a grand urban ritual that should be seen as a part of the cosmopolitan process in Mumbai.   


Reza Masoudi Nejad is an urbanist, interested in the spatial organisation of collective actions, with a particular focus on religious rituals, urban violence, and protest in Iran and India. He is currently a research associate at SOAS and previously taught urban history at SOAS and Freie University, Berlin. He has been a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen, Germany, and an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies (ZMO) and TU Berlin. He received his PhD (2009) from the Bartlett School of Built Environment, UCL. 

21st June                        Orly Orbach, British Museum
Re-shaping heritage in migration: collaborations between supplementary school communities, museums and children.  

“Walking in my socks in West London”: a short meditation on supplementary schools, mobile heritage, placemaking and museum integration. 

In London’s supplementary schools, set up by migrant communities, children are taught, but also reshape their cultural heritage. Between 2016-2022, the Museum of London run a partnership programme with supplementary schools, working together to broaden what constitutes British cultural heritage. Based on ethnography carried out at the Museum of London and several supplementary schools, Orly considers the pivotal role played by children in preserving cultural memories and practices in diaspora. For many adults, becoming a parent whilst living away from home-countries inspires a new search for cultural recognition and belonging. This inward drive finds expression in setting up or joining supplementary schools. These schools, run as neighbourhood projects, teach children home-languages, cultural practices and histories not taught at mainstream schools.


London’s supplementary schools provide alternative sites for heritage transmission.  Here new infrastructures of care and belonging are set up to simultaneously care for multiple pasts and for children’s futures. Examining migration and parenthood as two intersecting points of ‘transition’ and ‘arrival’ into a transnational city, Orly considers how social and cultural identities are transformed by the arrival of children, personal transformations of becoming a parent, framed by migration and changing hostile/ hospitable landscapes.


Based on long-term fieldwork conducted across several London supplementary schools set up by migrant parents, Orly suggest that parenting in migration can present a personal crisis: which language to speak to your child, how would they communicate with their family members abroad, what should they know of their cultural history, what of the past is worth preserving? This talk considers how reencounters with childhood, and children themselves act as pivotal points in reshaping heritage in migration, where it is improvised on a daily basis.

Orly Orbach received her doctorate from Goldsmith’s College, University of London, in 2022. 

She is now curator for the Endangered Materials Knowledge Programme at the British Museum. This programme is concerned with such themes as what heritage practices and knowledge are worth preserving, what heritages retain value cross-culturally and intergenerationally, whether this is important for a specific group of people, an environment, or the whole of humanity, and how to document it using multimodal/visual/participatory methods.
 July – December: tbc. 

Xenia editorial co-operative

Geoff De Vito (SOAS), Lisa Hayek (Bethlehem), Rachel Radmilli (Malta), Reza Masoudi (SOAS), Safet HadžiMuhamedović (Cambridge), Senija Causevic (SOAS), Tom Selwyn (SOAS).