Agency and Affect: Exploring Migration and Exile.



The Asahi Shimbun Display Moving stories: three journeys  at the British Museum showcased the work of contemporary artist Sadik Kwaish Alfraji  titled “Ali’s boat”. This piece of work was specifically moving as it addressed the complex issue of Migration and Exile in Iraq through a simple and innocent image of a boat drawn by the artist’s nephew which stated “I wish this drawing takes me to you.”

There are several questions that arise when the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is critically analysed in terms of agency.

  • What is the agency for migration and exile?
  • Is it an individual agency or a collective organised agency the encourages people to fight against abuse?
  • Is there always a direct relationship between the agency and affect?
  • If the affect is wrongly predicted, does it mean that the agency ceases to exist?
  • Is it possible that agency is just an “Illusion of control” as argued by the social psychologist Daniel Wegner?
  • What is the agency for resilience?

Agency is freedom and authority to act independently and take actions based on will. In terms of migration, it is the decision to leave an unfavourable and abusive environment for safety, physical and mental wellbeing and a better quality of life.  It can be argued that even though individual agency plays a very important role in the decision to migrate, external agencies like political bodies and negative social transformation can steer that decision. It can also be argued that in this case, the affect of agency is agency. In Ali’s letter to his uncle, he hopes to escape reality through his dreams of moving far away. It is quite interesting to comprehend it in terms of an illusion of control. Ali has the control over his desire to move far away but the intended affect is not achieved instead it took a whole new meaning in terms of understanding the impact of migration at an emotional level. Does this undermine the original purpose of the agency in anyway? In this particular scenario, even though the agency and affect are slightly disconnected, it only adds value to the agency.

‘Ali’s Boat: A story of migration’, The British Museum, Available at: (Accessed: 3 May 2017).
Gregg, M. and Seigworth, G.(2010) The Affect Theory Reader, Durham and London:Duke University Press.
Callinicos, A.(1989), Making History, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Dutta, M.(2011), Communicating Social Change: Structure Culture and Agency, New York: Routledge.
Higgins, T., Kruglanski, A., Lang, P.(2012) The Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology, Los Angeles: Sage.

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