‘Arc of the Journeyman: Afghan Migrants in England’.

Book by Nichola Khan

“Arc of the Journeyman: Afghan Migrants in England”. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-1-5179-0962-8; 288 pages, 2b&w photos, January 2021.

Forty years of continuous war and conflict have made Afghans the largest refugee group in the world. This monograph, my fourth book, is first full-scale ethnography of Afghan migrants in England, namely Sussex, site of Brighton’s orientalist Royal Pavilion and former home of colonial propagandist Rudyard Kipling. The book examines the imprint of violence, displacement, kinship obligations, and mobility on the lives and work of Pashtun journeyman taxi drivers in Britain. It is based on two decades of relationships and careful fieldwork with Afghan migrants over the entire duration of the 2001-14 global war in Afghanistan, itself part of four decades of continuous war in the country. The book follows their journeys through time, tracing their flights from Afghanistan or Pakistan, the protracted journeys they underwent to arrive in Britain, the process of becoming asylum seekers, to becoming remitting workers, taxi-drivers, citizens, and eventually heads of households. These trajectories continued into the current era of revived nationalisms which is occurring alongside a renewed global and national interests in decolonisation and racial equality. The story of Afghans in this book—which also transects with my own as a mixed race academic and ‘out-of-place’ citizen in my native country—represents an endeavour to rewrite the anachronisms and violence of the colonial record, and of Anglo-Afghan relations, at a time that Britain and other Western powers are reflecting on their imperial past. The book disrupts and playfully revisions colonial discourses on Afghans and their persistence in international politics during the contemporary era, as well as the tendency of linear models of refugee migration to conceptualise migration in terms of singular movements from A to B. It combines ontological theorisations of mobility, lines and time, with analyses of food and commensality, dreams, return visits, and the daily labour of taxi-driving. These combine with reflections on the anthropology and historiography of migration from Afghanistan, and with a synthesis of ethnographic and creative non-fictional writing techniques in a new method I call ‘fragmentography’.

Also in the book’s pages are intimate stories of profound suffering and humanity that speak not only to Afghanistan as one of the world’s largest refugee producing countries, and to the condition of Afghans as global refugees, but also to all those living out minoritised difficult lives in a time of heightened racialised oppression. It is my hope that the book will contribute fruitful humanistic perspectives to the understanding of new subaltern histories involving migrants and refugees, and to the ethical shaping of anthropology for the future.


Arc of the Journeyman is, without doubt, a monumental achievement – of impressive, wide-ranging scholarship and original thinking, finely analysed and sensitively portrayed. We have here, to my knowledge, the first full-length anthropological study of Afghan refugees, making this a vital and much-needed contribution…. Through her richly historicised analysis of migrant life histories, fantasies and even dreams, [Khan] collapses the past and the present and explodes received cartographies of Anglo-Afghan relations.” —Kaveri Qureshi, University of Edinburgh

“This is a moving book. It moves between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and England. It moves with Pashtun taxi drivers connecting everyday mobilities to the larger scales of migration. It moves the reader through a skilful poesis of fragments. Based on years of fieldwork and attentive to the power of stories, Arc of the Journeyman realizes the dreams of a routed anthropology and a storied account of mobilities. A must-read for anyone interested in the lives of Afghan refugees, the uses of mobility theory, or the power of storytelling in an academic context.” – Tim Cresswell, Ogilvie Professor of Human Geography, University of Edinburgh