Governance by arbitrariness at the EU Border: Trajectory ethnographies of illegalised migrants

Authored by: Emma McCluskey

The Routledge Handbook of Critical European Studies

Print publication date:  December  2020
Online publication date:  December  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138589919
eBook ISBN: 9780429491306
Adobe ISBN:


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Drawing on fieldwork in Sweden and Morocco, this chapter attempts to highlight the myriad of ways in which European Union (EU) bordering practices are experienced by illegalised migrants at various stages of their journeys. The first section of the chapter moves away from the idea of a migrant ‘crisis' or emergency and situates the research within the burgeoning literature drawing attention to bordering as a mundane technocratic and bureaucratic set of overlapping routines. The chapter then looks to the contingent and ephemeral dimension to this control of movement, brought about by overlapping political, legal and material practices. When examining these everyday practices from the perspective of those who are illegalised by them, what becomes apparent is the arbitrariness of the implementation of this border regime. In taking up William Walters' analytical challenge to examine the ways that borders are made ‘on site’ and Khosravi's (2018) intervention which begins with the lived experiences of these travellers themselves, the chapter then describes what a Political Anthropological Research on International Social Sciences (PARISS) approach to the study of these practices, centred on ideas of transversality and reflexivity can offer. Specifically combining ‘trajectory ethnography’ (Picozza 2017; Schapendonk 2012; Schapendonk and Steel 2014) of people on the move with a socio-historical analysis of the practices which govern their movement, I show the ways in which these bordering practices cannot only be analysed through their relationship to the state and the law, but are significant against the background of everyday sociopolitical encounters. The chapter concludes by arguing that, when you begin with the lived experiences of illegalised migrants, it is possible to show that illegalised migrants are precisely governed through arbitrariness; it produces them as subjects, pushes them ‘under the radar’ and steals their time. Furthermore, this arbitrariness comes to attach itself to a myriad of other everyday practices and encounters; solidarities formed, friendships made, and violence suffered.

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