Successful collaboration begins with a shared language, hence the need for a glossary. This joint effort of contributors from several teams ensures, on the one hand, terminological and conceptual coherence across not only our theoretical approaches, but also the qualitative case studies and quantitative research conducted in OPPORTUNITIES. On the other hand, our glossary facilitates communication between the academic side of the project and the fieldwork conducted by NGOs, uniting our teams working from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Senegal.

For more information about the Structure and Objectives of the Glossary, click here...)

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Vicarious storytelling

The OPPORTUNITIES project distinguishes between stories of migration (emic perspective), narratives on migration (etic perspective), and various hybrid forms which employ references to the migrant experience for rhetorical and political purposes. In order to account for this variety, Carolin Gebauer and Roy Sommer (2023) have introduced the concept of vicarious storytelling, which builds on previous research on the notion of “vicarious narrative” (Hatavara and Mildorf 2017a, 2017b; Norrick 2013), and allows narrative analysts to differentiate hybrid narratives with the help of functional criteria. The functional approach acknowledges that journalists, human rights groups, and representatives of NGOs supporting refugees and migrants at various stages of their journey (from transit and immigration to projects geared toward integration and inclusion) employ life stories for different reasons.

The term vicarious storytelling relates to the act of speaking on behalf of someone else which is typical of migrant advocacy and humanitarian narratives. Based on the different functions of vicarious storytelling, one can distinguish four dominant ways in which narratives on migration incorporate stories of migration: (1) case stories, (2) documentary storytelling, (3) ambassadorial storytelling, and (4) allied storytelling. The first two types – case stories and documentary storytelling – both draw on migrant testimony, often in anonymized form; yet each of these types of vicarious storytelling does so for a different purpose: Case stories, which are usually found in humanitarian campaigns by NGOs such as Pro-Asyl or Sea Watch, mainly serve to provide factual information, whereas documentary storytelling are frequently deployed in investigative journalism as a means to illustrate strategies, practices, networks, and relationships of trust between different groups of migrants and stakeholders. The third type of vicarious narrative – ambassadorial storytelling – refers to practices of retelling individual migrant life stories, for example in UNHCR narratives in social media and journalism. Calling for humanitarian, social, or political action, ambassadorial narratives usually draw on affective narrative strategies which focus on the individual with the aim of evoking empathy and fostering perspective taking. The fourth category, allied storytelling, is the only type of vicarious narrative which actively involves migrants themselves in the act of storytelling. Examples of allied storytelling include collaborative literary and artistic work between authors, artists, and migrants which seeks to provide access to the lived experience of migration in the hope of creating a welcome culture as well as promoting new ways of conviviality.

⇢ see also Conviviality, Empathy, Narratives on migration, Perspective taking, Stories of migration, Positioning

References and further reading:

Gebauer, Carolin, and Roy Sommer. 2023. “Beyond Vicarious Storytelling: How Level Telling Fields Help Create a Fair Narrative on Migration.” Open Research Europe 3.10: 3–14. URL: Accessed July 30, 2023.

Hatavara, Mari, and Jarmila Mildorf. 2017a. “Fictionality, Narrative Modes, and Vicarious Storytelling.” Style 51.3: 391–408.

Hatavara, Mari, and Jarmila Mildorf. 2017b. “Hybrid Fictionality and Vicarious Narrative Experience.” Narrative 25.1: 65–82.

Norrick, Neal R. 2013. “Narratives of Vicarious Experience in Conversation.” In Language in Society 42.2: 385–406.

Category: C

Work Package: 2, 4, 5, 6, 7

[CG / RS]



Given the well-documented negativity bias in the news, it is not surprising that negative frames of migration as a problem, crisis, or even threat dominate media representations of refugees and migrants (see also the entry on “frames of migration”). Mass media offer an optimal platform to spread fake news on various topics, including migration (Ireton and Posetti 2018); however, they can also serve to convey the sense of a moral obligation to help migrants and refugees. This often manifests itself in attempts to foreground the actions and activities of a committed civil society or emphasizes the broad willingness among national populations to support groups on the move (Greussing and Boomgaarden 2017, 1756; Heidenreich et al. 2017, 177–178). These examples testify to the existence of an imparted will to help in mass media which is mainly brought about through framing practices foregrounding humanitarian aspects of migration (see also the entry on “frame analysis”).

However, such humanitarian narratives on migration can also achieve the opposite of the intended effect and contribute to the victimization of refugees. The reason for this is that they tend to focus on migrants’ need of assistance, thus characterizing them as desperate, suffering, and in constant lack of individual agency (Greussing and Boomgaarden 2017, 1750). In this respect, victimization is closely linked to the refugee archetype (see the respective entry), which stigmatizes certain types of refugees as victims due to aspects of their identity such as their gender or their origin. Sophie Lecheler et al. (2019, 694–695) consequently caution us that, even if they often emanate from a humanitarian perspective which is built on ethical concerns and moral convictions, practices of victimization can easily turn into practices of objectifying and dehumanizing refugees.

⇢ see also Agency, Frame analysis (aka framing analysis), Frames of migration, Gender, Refugee archetype, Othering

References and further reading:

Greussing, Esther, and Hajo G. Boomgaarden. 2017. “Shifting the Refugee Narrative? An Automated Frame Analysis of Europe’s 2015 Refugee Crisis.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 43.11: 1749–1774.

Heidenreich, Tobias, Fabienne Lind, Jakob-Moritz Eberl, and Hajo G. Boomgaarden. 2019. “Media Framing Dynamics of the ‘European Refugee Crisis’: A Comparative Topic Modelling Approach.” Journal of Refugee Studies 32: 172–182.

Lecheler, Sophie, Jörg Matthes and Hajo G. Boomgaarden. 2019. “Setting the Agenda for Research on Media and Migration: State-of-the-Art and Directions for Future Research.” Mass Communication and Society 22: 691–707.

Ireton, Cherilyn, and Julie Posetti. 2018. Journalism, Fake News & Disinformation: Handbook for Journalism Education and Training. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Accessed July 20, 2023. URL:

Category: B

Work Package: 2, 4, 5

[BBK / CG]


Voluntary return

Voluntary return occurs when the migrant decides to return to his or her country of origin. It may be spontaneous or assisted with the support of either a state policy or an institution such as the International Organization for Migration, following a freely expressed wish of the migrant.

⇢ see also Migrant

References and further reading:

Tandian, Aly. 2020. “Returning Migrants: From Disillusion to Integration Initiatives in the South-East, North and Central Regions of Senegal.” In Migration in West and North Africa and across the Mediterranean: Trends, Risks, Development and Governance, edited by Philippe Fargues and Marzia Rango, 241–348. Geneva: International Organization for Migration.

Category: A

Work Package: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8




In common language usage, vulnerability is about susceptibility or being open to attack and injury (see the definition in the OED). As a concept vulnerability is applicable to geographic/environmental as well as social settings. A geographic region could be vulnerable to floods or other disasters in which case groups of people could be at risk and vulnerable to death and injuries as well as loss of resources and livelihood (Birckmann 2013). In a social setting, by contrast, people could be susceptible to and at risk of loss of rights, resources, etc. as well as social exclusion due to, for example, their social background, race, gender, citizenship rights, or migration status. In this context, susceptibility implies being at risk, which is measurable at an individual level and which could be mitigated by appropriate social policy of administrative rules and regulations. An individualistic approach to social vulnerability may not negate susceptibility of groups based on their common characteristics of race, gender, or migration status, but it may well underestimate the structural sources of group vulnerability due to, for instance, unequal distribution of assets and economic resources as well as the lack of political and social power, of a public voice, and of social rights of migrants.

⇢ see also Equality, Risk

References and further reading:

Birkmann, Jörn, ed. 2013. Measuring Vulnerability to Natural Hazards: Towards Disaster Resilient Societies. 2nd edition. Tokyo et al.: United Nations University.

OECD. 2007. “Glossary of Statistical Terms.” OECD. URL:

Category: A

Work Package: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8