The University of Brighton’s Dr Nichola Khan features on Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed on 6 October 2021, discussing the experience of Afghan migrants in England.


Dr Khan is Reader in Anthropology and Psychology in the School of Humanities and Social Science, as well as being Director of the university’s Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics. Her Radio 4 appearance will draw on her book Arc of the Journeyman: Afghan Migrants in England, which has been nominated for the 2021 AAA Society for Humanistic Anthropology Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing for its powerful account of a migrant community’s everyday lives, aspirations and struggles in England.

Forty years of continuous war and conflict have made Afghans one of the largest refugee groups in the world. In providing the first full-scale ethnography of Afghan migrants in England, Dr Khan reveals the imprint of violence, displacement and kinship in a monumental story that moves between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the UK. Taking Pashtun taxi drivers as a lens, she connects everyday mobilities to the larger scales of migration.

Dr Khan said: “I’m of mixed-race Eurasian heritage, I’ve lived in Pakistan, conducted research on migration in Karachi, and travelled in Afghanistan – so issues of migration and feeling out of place in my book also speak to my own experience. The book’s stories speak not only to Afghanistan as the world’s second largest refugee producing country, but also more widely to all those living out minoritised lives in the ongoing aftermath of conflict.

“Four decades of war has seen a near-embargo on anthropological research in Afghanistan, and an over-reliance on studies from the 1970s, so we lack contemporary knowledge. This combines with persistent stereotypes revived in the 2001-14 war, alongside the view of Afghan migrants as Europe’s immigration problem, driving ill-informed arguments about tribalism, the burqa, and the cultural codes of Pashtuns – the majority ethnic group in this book. While cultural codes are significant, they don’t determine people’s behaviour—they change as conditions change.”

Dr Khan also reveals links between Sussex and Afghanistan. “Sussex is an apt location for thinking about contemporary Anglo-Afghan relations, being the site of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion visited by the Afghan Prince Nasr Allah Khan in 1894, and home to Rudyard Kipling. Hastings was a long-term dispersal centre for asylum seekers, Brighton is a ‘city of sanctuary’ – and Crawley is taking new refugees from the Afghanistan evacuations this summer.”