The way of the unfinished : approaching migrant lives in São Paulo through resonance
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In following several international migrants in the city of São Paulo, I found that inarticulate moments of hesitation, uncertainty, or suspension punctuated their trajectories. These fleeting and subtle instances revealed that people’s lives were pervaded by a certain ‘messiness’ that pointed out the limits of understanding life and the world through scientific standards of generalisation and coherence. Requiring a different attitude concerning the making of anthropology, ‘messiness’ compelled my ethnographic account to admit that: firstly, people, places and situations, held a ‘mystery’ that my efforts of scientific disclosure could never clarify completely; secondly, each attempt to live in the world became a very singular experimentation. In order to ethnographically do justice to the ‘mystery’ and ‘singularity’ I found in the lives I followed in São Paulo, this account found in Levinas’s work inspiration to develop a phenomenological approach. This phenomenological approach combined two movements. The first movement searched for a way of incorporating the faltering occasions of inarticulacy in people’s lives through imagination, signalling the limits of understanding these lives through objective knowledge, and proposing to appreciate them through processes of human recognition. This procedure was crafted as a ‘poetics of resonance’, an aesthetic operation converting lived experience into written expression in a way that imagination can offer a sense of what it is to live a particular life or experience in its richness. The second movement in this phenomenological approach refers to the recognition of a human life in its singularity, attempting to substantiate it ethnographically in the form of particular ‘life-journeys’, which is an approximation to what Levinas described as ‘uniqueness’. As follows, seven specific life-journeys are presented, organised as ‘journeys of being’, ‘in-be(ing)tween journeys’, and ‘journeys of becoming’, according to the elements of affiliation each research participant stressed in their respective course shared with me. From the richness of these ethnographic particulars, insights for migration and urban studies were derived from the phenomenological approach undertaken. The ethnographic evidence questioned a sense of complexity based on categorisation in migration studies and suggested that for the portrayed life-journeys a concept of immensity is more appropriate than a concept of identity. Concerning theories about the urban, the mobility manifested by the life-journeys in São Paulo and beyond conveyed, not a city of ethnic neighbourhoods, but a city of ‘rough’ experimentation, according to people’s positionality and their ability to find their own ways in the city and in the world.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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