Six categories of upheavals leading to involuntary dislocation


This category refers to upheavals that are caused by various types of political factors, e.g. acute or chronic political conflict, oppression from totalitarian regimes, civil unrest and other types of civil violence due to political factors, economic sanctions, various types of military interventions and wars, etc. All these situations may contribute to people experiencing their homes as no longer safe or home-like but rather unsafe and ‘contaminated’, resulting in pressure to seek new home spaces. It is such political upheavals that often transform ordinary citizens into asylum seekers and refugees, when they cross international boundaries and move to another country, or internally displaced persons (IDPs), when they move to safer locations within the borders of their own country.

Once political power is imposed oppressively on people, the oppressed may react in various ways, ranging from active resistance to passive acceptance. Depending on many factors, those who resist political oppression may have to flee their home (or even their country) and go into ‘voluntary’ exile in order to operate more freely in resisting the oppressors, whereas others who do not respond actively may involuntarily dislocate, abandoning their homes as passive victims. This distinction provides an illustration of the many variations of involuntary dislocation due to political upheavals, resulting in different outcomes and contributing to the formation of different identities.

Moreover, there is yet another form of involuntary dislocation in this category, when people who under certain types of political upheavals become dislodged from their primary experience of home while they still continue to occupy their own home spaces. This happens when the geographical territory of one’s home becomes occupied by a foreign power or the domestic regime becomes oppressive and dictatorial, or economic sanctions (due to political reasons) alter significantly the way people experience their continuing living in their homes, leading to people no longer feeling ‘at home’ in their own homes. In effect, this consists only of the first moment of the involuntary dislocation process, i.e. the ‘internal’ one, without the ‘external’ one following. In these situations, people feel dislodged from their sense of being at home and their existing intimate spaces acquire a different feel, as if they lived in a foreign land.

All these variations of involuntary dislocation due to political upheavals cause various kinds of discomfort, from the mildest to the most severe distress, from annoyance at being bombarded by unwelcome propaganda, to severe forms of discrimination and persecution, affecting people considerably in multiple ways. In such circumstances, people usually use expressions such as ‘give us back our countiy; give us back our homes', etc. (cf. Flint & Martinkovits, 2013). The legendary Irish revolutionary, Michael Collins, expressed his demand that the British relinquish the ruling of Ireland in the following words, which have become famous in the history of Irish independence: ‘Give us the future. . . . We've had enough of your past.... Give us back our countiy... to live in, - to grow in, - to Love’ (Collins & Coogan, 1996, p. 12). He spoke those words while still living in his own home, in his own country.

These seemingly paradoxical slogans and expressions are indicative of the subtle and yet stark difference between the physical home and the sense of experiencing home as home-like in relation to wider parameters, such as socio-political, cultural, economic, spiritual, etc. There are several examples of such situations, e.g. Muslims living in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, Greek Cypriots living in the Turkish-occupied north part of Cyprus, ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia, etc. A characteristic example of this unique category of involuntary dislocation is offered by Mustafa Qossoqsi, who studied the psychosocial effects of Nakbah on Palestinians who continue living in their own homes, on their own land, which though, following the declaration of the state of Israel, are now part of Israel and they became Israeli citizens (Qossoqsi, 2018). Again, here, we have people not moving away from their homes but experiencing a form of involuntary dislocation due to the fact that their relationship with their very own homes and land changed fundamentally following political changes.

These finer differentiations enable us to identify specific subcategories within the category of political upheavals, resulting in idiosyncratic forms of involuntary dislocation. For example, we can differentiate the subcategory of immigrant or other groups that had lived for a very long time in another country and, at a certain point in time, their own sense of their specific ethnic, national, religious, or other group identity increases, making them feel uncomfortable in their own homes where they had lived for generations; e.g. certain Turks in Germany, ethnic Russians in the Baltic States (following the breakup of the Soviet Union), or even some African Americans in the USA.

Finally, in addition, political upheavals that lead to involuntary dislocation can encompass all the various forms of political marginalisation, discrimination, victimisation, brutalisation, and persecution as well as imprisonment and torture.

This type of involuntary dislocation (with its various subcategories) illustrates that home, as it is understood in this book, is not limited to the personal and family physical and geographical spaces; instead, the sense of experiencing home spaces as home is also inevitably affected by wider socio-political, cultural, and many other realities.

Evidently, all the forms of involuntary dislocation that do not include geographical migration, movement away from the physical spaces of home, are not and cannot be included under any of the recognised categories in the field of forced migration, which refer exclusively to the actual physical abandomnent of one’s geographical home. These varieties of involuntary dislocation illustrate most eloquently the unique emphasis of this book, which is on the human experience of home and not on the objective and legal parameters of migration.


Criminality as a type of upheaval that leads to involuntary dislocation is often connected with political upheavals. However, it may also stand on its own, referring to substantial disruptions to persons’ experiences of home due to the rise of criminality (not directly of a political nature). Such substantial alterations to one’s experience of being leads people to lose their sense of security and belonging, while continuing to inhabit their own geographical home spaces. Such feelings of unsafety may, indeed, lead them to geographically abandon their homes and emigrate. For example, within the last few decades, due to the dramatic increase of criminality in South Africa, many South Africans had to develop a completely different sense of home, no longer enjoying open and carefree spaces but becoming restricted within virtual prison-like properties, within high and electrified fences and sophisticated surveillance systems, guarded by private security firms. This radical change in their sense of home has made a considerable number of South Africans (mainly of European descent) emigrate to other countries. This phenomenon illustrates the complexity of the paradox that those South Africans who remained home (i.e. in South Africa) may feel less at home than those who migrated to Canada, Australia, or the USA1.

A particularly nasty and distressing phenomenon that falls under the criminality category of upheavals is human trafficking, which has far more disturbing consequences than are often acknowledged (Orlova, 2004). The persons affected by trafficking are not only the trafficked persons themselves, who by deception or force end up as human slaves (for sexual and/or economic exploitation) but also their families and communities who lost them, as well as those communities where they have been trafficked to (Acharya, 2009; Aronowitz, 2009).


Climatic and weather upheavals include not only disasters but also changes. Weather disasters refer to acute catastrophic phenomena due to deteriorated or devastating weather conditions such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves etc. Climatic changes refer to chronic and gradual alterations of weather conditions that result in changes of the environment in a way that makes it no longer-viable for sustainable human habitation.

Often, the people who are affected most from these types of disasters and changes tend to be those who are already most disadvantaged; moreover, they also tend to take much longer to recover from the effects of these upheavals than those who are more privileged and more sheltered from the effects of adverse climatic conditions, as well as able to repair their damaged home spaces much faster and more effectively and efficiently (Hartman, 2006).

Here, also, there are two subcategories: an ‘internal’ and an ‘external’, if we can use these terms. Due to climatic disasters or changes, people may have to remain in homes that have been so adversely affected and altered that their experience of home is changed dramatically, essentially feeling no longer at home within their existing intimate spaces; alternatively, they may decide to involuntarily dislocate away from their actual physical homes and seek a better life elsewhere.

A particularly pertinent form of upheaval within this category is global warming (Kaczan & Orgill-Meyer, 2020). Most of the existing research in this field tends to focus on predictions about future and imminent impacts and trends, rather than presenting case studies of existing situations where people had to involuntarily dislocate following the destructive and unsettling effects of climate change. Nevertheless, this specific type of climatic upheaval is estimated to create substantial numbers of people who involuntarily dislocate from their home spaces (Hsiang & Sobel, 2016; Warner et al., 2009). According to the World Bank, by 2050, 143 million ‘climate migrants’ will face an ‘existential threat’ and have to be displaced. These include 86 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, 40 million in South Asia, and 17 million in Latin America (World Bank, 2018). This subcategory created a new term, ‘forced climate migrants’ (Atapattu, 2018; Sciaccaluga, 2020).


Environmental upheavals may be caused either by people or by nature. These include:

  • (a) Catastrophic action by people, such as
  • (i) accidents, e.g. leak of nuclear radiation, large-scale oil spillage, or forest fires, or
  • (ii) development projects, e.g. the consequences of building of dams. It is estimated that about 4 million people have been dislocated as a result of the building of only one dam in China, the Three Gorges Dam, and since 2007 about 22 million people had to be dislocated as a result of other hydroelectric projects in China (Campbell-Hyde, 2011; Van der Ploeg & Vanclay, 2017). Another example within this category is deforestation. It was calculated that 320 million people were involuntarily dislocated due to floods caused by deforestation during the decade 1990-2000 (Bradshaw et al., 2007).
  • (b) Catastrophic action by nature, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, tornadoes, etc.


The controversial characterisation ‘economic migrants’ refers to a particular group of people whose lives have been severely disnipted due to socio-economic upheavals. In recent years, especially in Europe, the sharp distinction has been made between ‘economic migrants' and refugees (or asylum seekers). The simplistic rationale, based on the strict legal definition of a refugee, is that asylum seekers and refugees have a legitimate claim to asylum because they have been subjected to demonstrable political or other forms of oppression and they have no other option but to flee their countries seeking safer homes. Conversely, economic migrants are considered people who voluntarily leave their countries seeking better economic conditions in other more prosperous countries. This distinction has resulted in heated debates and it has been used as a political football, resulting in deepening the confusion (e.g. Lee & Nerghes, 2018; Pruitt, 2019).

Anne Althaus’ succinct argument emphasised bluntly that

while ‘forced migration’ is accurately used by the international community to designate movements of refugees and internally displaced persons, it must be noted that other types of migrants may also have little or no choice but to abandon their home lands - and not for personal convenience. The term ‘economic migrant’ should therefore be avoided. The neutral word ‘migrant’, or the existing legal term ‘migrant worker' when applicable, should be used instead.

(Althaus, 2016, p. 10)

Often the adverse economic conditions of a Global South country are not unrelated to forms of political wrongdoing, involving unscrupulous practices by multinational corporations or other forms of neo-colonial interference. Unfavourable economic circumstances, unemployment, and insufficient social support, health care, and educational opportunities, as well as many other forms of adverse socioeconomic conditions, alter substantially not only people’s wellbeing (Karanikolos et al., 2013; Van Hal, 2015) but also their experience of home. One of the obvious effects the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 and its aftermath have had on the experience of home is the fact that more young people had no option but to remain longer at the parental home (Eurostat, 2009). Insofar as this extended and unplanned co-habitation is imposed, it constitutes an involuntary alteration of their experience of home.

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