Mapping the Kabyle Migrant Scholars’ Positionality: Challenges and Ambiguities

The Kabyle, the Indigenous Amazigh people of Algeria, face unique challenges in contributing to the ongoing research on migration. It is a rarity to encounter a paper about Kabyle migrants in established migration studies journals authored by a Kabyle scholar. The positionality of Kabyle migrant scholars is a complex interplay between their home country's persecution and the stringent migration policies of the West. The existing literature in this field is predominantly from an outsider perspective, either Western scholars or migrant Kabyle scholars in exile, whose fieldwork and analyses often contradict. This presents a significant hurdle in the progression of my thesis. In this piece, I am not focusing on a lack of positionality, but rather the uncertainties, difficulties, and hesitations that shape its formation. My objective is to analyse and interpret the tension that arises from my insider-outsider positionality as an indigenous Kabyle woman working within her in-group.

Staring at Thestrals

My fledgling professional identity has been forming on the adjacent dimensions of my indigenous identity. In 2014, I was still doing my master’s in media studies at Mouloud Mammeri University; a fellow student castigated the scarcity of academic contribution by the teaching staff. Intrigued, I started looking at the matter in hands. Was it the dearth of resources? Was it laziness? Was it the paucity of competitive opportunities? Was it bureaucracy? Was it nepotism? Little I knew that I would find the answer while writing up my PhD thesis: the obstacle to academic contribution is our identity. A simple research question like “Why do the Kabyle migrants in France refrain from going back to their Ancestral Land?” will ensue a series of harsh criticism which any Kabyle academic will firmly decry (Chaker, 1994) –an experience that non-Kabyle scholars will never face if they ask the same question. This explains the number of published theses on this indigenous group by foreign students, rather than Kabyle migrant scholar’s output is to be found in journalists’ caricatures, politically engaged songs, sociolinguistics, and literature (Yacine, Harzoune, & Gardel Louis, 1994).

Reifying Positionality into Situatedness

Spurred on by my indigenous identity and impregnable subjectivity, I sought to do fieldwork to finalise my PhD project on the Kabyle Exodus. Prior to submitting my ethical approval application, I started gathering my participants. I judged that in-depth interviews are the best to gather information on such a sensitive topic. The project, however, did not go as planned. Knowing the participants, all from my region, Maatkas, did not help me at all. Many people refused to participate, convinced that this would imperil their lives. The ones who accepted to participate refused to be recorded. Yet, surprisingly, I managed to interview old ladies in Ighil Takdhibine (Figure 1). Nana Tassaɛdit, an 80 years old woman whose son is a surgeon and a refugee in France, chanted three stanzas from Slimane Azem’s Wise Gentlemen (Syadi Leɛuqal) (Azem)  to showcase her son’s decisions:


Wi s-yennan akka ara tṣir

Ḥeqren-aɣ ur d-neḍhir

Nuɣal ar ineggura!


Ɣas ad tiliḍ d lɛalem

Ay akken tebɣiḍ xdem

Ad k-ɣummen


Wi yebɣan ad yesɛu isem

Ilaq-as ad yessusem

Ma d nekni ur nezmir ara


My translation:

Who would think it would end so

By oppressing us, they deprived us from being known.

Even if you are a scholar, doing your best, they will silence you.

He who seeks fame, must choose silence.

But because we are Kabyle, we cannot.

After myriad attempts to get other people to trust me, I was finally told by an old man that foreign students would never be able to decipher how the indigenous people persisted despite the odds, and this protects the Kabyle. Therefore, the challenges I found during the recruitment process were linked to my identity. Speaking Kabyle and being indigenous myself was the advantage and the obstacle.

I took this picture in Ighil Takdhibine (ⵉⵖⵉⵍⵜⴻⵇⴹⵉⴱⵉⵏ), a big village in Berkouka Region in the County of Maataks, Great Kabylia, Province of Tizi-Ouzou, Algeria. It depicts the Land of the Kabyle indigenous, highlighting the most important symbols that shape their identity: the Olive Tree, the Fountain, the ⵣ letter, which means "Free Men," the Traditional Olive Press, and Prickly Pears.

Another aspect of such ambiguities popped up when I looked at my fieldwork notes after a supervisory meeting. I noticed that I wrote a short interrogative sentence, “What happened to Souk-El-Tenine (another region in the County of Maatkas)? Where are its young people? And I highlighted what I heard from a young man that this part of the County “does not feel like home anymore”. I realised that although Souk-El-Tenine and Ighil Takdhibine are situated within the same County and the distance between the two is just 30 min by car, the agency that shaped the exodus of people to the USA, France and Canada is rooted in two distinctive yet blurred points: religion and indigenous identity. Souk-El-Tenine, for instance, has suffered heavily from the Algerian Arab-Islamist terrorist attacks for many years. The Islamist-imposed way of life collides with this indigenous group's form of representational democracy. I finally realised that in order to understand the complex uprooting of the indigenous, I had to interview Kabyle migrants in France.

To conclude, during my fieldwork, I noticed that I was constantly developing my own rational awareness of how I, as a researcher, was influencing my participants’ understanding of a question or sometimes a narrative. I was not a foreigner to my participants but a person who spoke the same language and shared the same collective memory. This fact could be advantageous in certain study cases in the field of migration, yet it is a complicated one when working on indigenous groups. The lived experience of the Kabyle affected what they refer to as real or true. Their social marginalisation and persecution were obvious and visible to me. The fieldwork thus turned my paradoxical experience of positionality into a shared atmosphere of “situatedness” (Maur, 2021) between the participants and I. Moreover, highlighting the interconnectedness of cultural values and historical and geographical elements forged my positionality. I was critically reflecting on all the intricate information I gathered by unpacking their interconnected components. The whole research project keeps changing as uprooting certain meanings associated with indigenous identity controls my findings and analysis.


 1. The eldest use poems and proves to talk about different topics. Since teaching Kabyle was banned until mid-2000, poets used sung poetry for centuries.


Azem, S. (1981) “Syadi Leɛuqal.” cond. Mohand Anemiche. By Mohand Anemiche. <>.

Chaker, S. (1994). Quel Avenir Pour La Langue Berber en France? Homme et Migration, 40-45.

Maur, I. v. (2021). Taking Situatedness Seriously. Embedding Affective Intentionality in Forms of Living. Frontiers in Psychology.

Yacine, T., Harzoune, M., & Gardel Louis. (1994). Qutre Ecrivains Kabyles: Jean Amrouche, Mouloud Mammeri, Mouloud Feraoun et Tahar Djaout. Homme et Migration, 53-59.


Nacera is a part-time PhD student in International Relations at Keele University, UK. She is based in the School of Social, Political, and Global Studies (SPGS). Her research focuses on migration and security studies. She has delivered several seminars on securing social order and lectures on human rights and global politics. Nacera is a former Under Construction Keele Journal editor, an editorial assistant for IDEA Journal, and a blog editor for the IMISCOE PhD Blog. 

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