Public and Political Discourses of Migration: International Perspectives

Public and Political Discourses of Migration: International Perspectives


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Popular, political and media discourses frame the issue of migration and shape how and when it enters the public and political consciousness. These discourses are of crucial importance as they influence both the general public's perception of migration and the policies which regulate both the act of migration itself and migrant residents.

Public and Political Discourses of Migration brings together an interdisciplinary group of established and emerging scholars, whose work interrogates the relationship between discourse and migration. Through the application of a variety of theoretical lenses drawn from the broad canon of discourse studies, each contribution unpicks the productive power of discourse in shaping the reality of migration, migration policy and migrant lives in the twenty-first century. The cases examined emerge, as do their authors, from a wide spectrum of national, political and cultural contexts. They are linked by their fundamental questioning of 'common sense' and ahistorical approaches to migration. They address the question of whose interests are served by prevailing discourses and the structures they underpin. Ultimately, they 'make strange' accepted 'truths' regarding migration in the twenty-first century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783483280
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 03/16/2016
Series: Discourse, Power and Society Series
Pages: 302
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Amanda Haynes is a Senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Limerick. She is a two time recipient of the University of Limerick Teaching Excellence Award. Amanda's research and publications centre on the analysis of discursive constructions as processes of exclusion and strategies for inclusion.

Martin J. Power is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Limerick, where he teaches courses on Inequality and Social Exclusion and the Sociology of the Welfare State. He is currently completing an edited collection (with Eoin Devereux and Aileen Dillane) on David Bowie for Routledge, which will be published later this year.

Eoin Devereux is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Limerick, Ireland. Eoin's books include 'Understanding the Media 3rd edition (Sage, 2014) a textbook for undergraduate media students, and an edited collection called Media Studies: Key Issues and Debates (Sage, 2007). Both are published by Sage - London.

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Public and Political Discourses of Migration

International Perspectives

By Amanda Haynes, Martin J. Power, Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane, James Carr

Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd

Copyright © 2016 Amanda Haynes, Martin J. Power, Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane and James Carr
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78348-329-7


The Incorrigible Subject of the Border Spectacle

Nicholas De Genova

To contemplate the framing of public discourse and political debate concerning migration is to confront 'the border'. Indeed, borders manifest themselves as the crystallisation of all the material and practical techniques and technologies that define the ostensible 'inside' from the putative 'outside' of nation-state space, the partition of which is what literally constitutes 'migration' as such. After all, if there were no borders, there would be no migrants – only mobility (De Genova 2013b). Or, taking a cue from the classic slogan of the Chicano liberation movement in the United States: We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us (Acuña 1996, 109). Indeed, it is across and through borders that the distinction between citizens and (non-citizen) migrants, 'natives' and 'foreigners', is produced. In short, the border is the frame that delivers up 'migration' as a reified and fetishised object. Indeed, 'the border' itself is similarly the fetishised, thing-like effect of socio-political relations and spatial practices of bordering. Thus, a Border Spectacle (De Genova 2002; 2005, 242–49; 2012; 2013a) generates a proliferation of discourses and images that seem to unrelentingly verify the objectivity of a real thing – the border – and likewise serve to lend a semblance of credibility to the notion that particular types of cross-border human mobility can be understood to be 'illegal'. But how might we begin to appreciate the subjectivity that animates this spectacular process of objectification?

This chapter approaches the politics of migration by first identifying the subjectivity and autonomy of migration as the catalyst against which various regimes of immigration law-making and border enforcement are inevitably apprehensible as reaction formations. Situating the tactics and techniques of bordering as intrinsically political, the chapter reflects upon the differences that such bordering produces and how these effects serve to mediate the antagonism of the capital-labour relation. Thus, the ostensibly 'national' politics of migration is inextricable from the global (postcolonial) politics of labour subordination. What constitutes the specificity of this configuration of the political in 'political' economy, therefore, fundamentally corresponds to the embodied (racialised) inscriptions of borders on migrants, and contributes to the expansive ubiquity of immigration policing that transposes borders onto the racialised bodies of migrants throughout the putative 'interior' of nation-state space. Drawing upon examples from the United States, the proliferation of the purview of a deportation regime can be understood to manifest the continuous struggle to subordinate the incorrigible subjectivity and autonomy of migrant labour that animates the spectacle of the border.


'¡Aquí Estamos, y No Nos Vamos! [Here we are, and we're not leaving!]' So rings out the resounding affirmation of migrant presence in the contemporary United States. Here indeed is a defiant and joyful affirmation of the irrepressible and inextricable presence of migrants – in this instance, specifically, Latin American migrants – within the space of the US nation state. These migrants' bold proclamation of their presence stakes a claim to space, and asserts a sense of entitlement to appropriate and inhabit the United States, to make it a space of belonging. When migrants chanted this slogan during the unprecedented mass mobilisations of 2006, as they marched in their millions all across the United States to defeat what would have been the most punitive immigration law in the country's history, they repudiated the notion that, as migrants, they could be treated as 'foreigners', people 'out of place' – displaced, disposable, deportable.

In the context of these mobilisations, the ubiquity and emotive power of the ¡Aquí Estamos! chant can be understood in terms of a queer politics of migration (De Genova 2010b). For, the assertion 'Here we are, and we're not leaving!' is quite consonant with the renowned chant of queer mobilisation: 'We're here, we're queer, get used to it!' Both are defiant affirmations of presence that literally ask for nothing, petition for nothing, appeal for nothing, demand nothing. This comparison is especially illuminating when considered in light of the second half of the migrant struggle chant, which follows '¡Aquí estamos y no nos vamos!' with the rejoinder '¡Y si nos sacan, nos regresamos!' [Here we are, and we're not leaving! And if they throw us out, we'll come right back!]. Here, we appreciate all the more clearly that what was at stake in this chant was precisely the question of migrant 'illegality' and undocumented migrants' susceptibility to deportation. By implication, they proclaimed: 'We're here, we're "illegal", catch us if you can!' In this spirit, migrants matched their affirmations of presence with the assurance that even if they were to be deported, they could never, in fact, be truly expelled and their presence could never be truly eradicated: they would come right back. Thus, this politics of presence in the United States was also a transnational politics of mobility, articulated from 'here' ('Here we are!') but also, simultaneously, from beyond the border, from outside the space of the nation state, from the other side of the horizon of deportation ('We'll come right back!').

Anticipating another slogan of the ensuing struggles over US immigration politics, Latino migrants (in their millions) were boldly announcing that they were Undocumented but Unafraid, deportable but insurgent nonetheless. Both chants, therefore, can be understood to be radically counter-normative and anti-assimilationist affirmations of the already established fact of presence. But they are likewise affirmations of a kind of defiant incorrigibility. They proclaim, in effect: Not only are we 'here', but also we are different, we have no proper place within your normative or legal order, but there's nothing you can do about it – you can never get rid of us. This sort of identification with migrant 'illegality' is remarkable in many respects. Unlike the common slogan, 'No Human Being Is Illegal', very notably, here, you have people who have been illegalised boldly calling attention to exactly that fact, and politically grappling with the very consequential reality of that socio-political human condition of being 'illegal'. As demonstrated in previous work on 'the legal production of Mexican/migrant "illegality"' (De Genova 2002; 2004; 2005), migrant 'illegality' has been historically rendered to be effectively inseparable from the Mexican/migrant experience in particular (and from a much wider Latino migrant experience, more generally). Therefore, during my ethnographic research in Chicago in the 1990s, one could find bumper stickers, caps and t-shirts that proudly announced (in Spanish): '100% Wetback' ['100% Mojado'], or declared defiantly: 'Illegal – So What?' ['Ilegal – ¿Y Qué?'] (De Genova 2005, 239). The irresistible recurrence of the ¡Aquí Estamos! chant during the mass mobilisations ten years later was, therefore, a mass expression of those sorts of audacious Latino/ migrant affirmations of their 'illegal' identity. From the vantage point of the dominant anti-Latino racial nativism, this might be considered to be a kind of shamelessness. But this shameless and unapologetic subjectivity in the face of injustice has another name: dignity. Hence, it is productive to reflect further upon the particular sort of subjectivity that is at work here, which we might consider to be the incorrigible subject of this politics of incorrigibility.


For, indeed, not only is this the self-styled subject of the migrant protests against the Border Spectacle of the US immigration regime and the anti-terrorist pretensions of the Homeland Security State; this is also the incorrigible subject of political economy itself. Not only is this the audacious expression of specifically Latino political mobilisation, simultaneously, it is also the articulation of the constitutive and inextricable presence of labour (migrant labour) – within, but also against, capital. How else to explain the designation of May 1st, International Workers' Day, as the 2006 protests' focal point for nationwide mobilisation, summarily reinvented by the migrants' struggle as the 'Day without an Immigrant' boycott and general strike? The autonomous subjectivity of migration here reveals itself to always be the autonomy and subjectivity of migrant labour also, in effect, declaring (to capital): Here we are – there's nothing you can do about your fundamental dependency upon us; you owe your very existence to our energies and vitality, so you could never get rid of us. This is, after all, the defining contradiction of the capital–labour relation – that living (human) labour is the source of all economic value.

Labour has always and everywhere been the truly integral and indispensable motive force driving the processes of capitalist production – the real expression of human subjectivity, creative capacity and productive power – the conscious and wilful subject driving the objective processes of 'the economy', and hence, a volatile and always at least potentially insubordinate force. Labour within capitalist social relations is, in this sense, always simultaneously labour for capital and also against capital, leaving both labour and capital deeply ensnared in a contradictory, interdependent and fraught condition.

Thus, capital's subordination of labour is the premier political problem. Indeed, this problem derives, first and foremost, from the labour process itself: the urgent and crucial necessity of subordinating the conscious attention of the labourer to the task at hand. The subordination of labour is, above all, the subordination of precisely the subjectivity of the labourer. The capitalist labour process requires that labour be purposeful and consistently trained upon its object, that it be attentive, disciplined, dutiful and docile (Marx 1867/1976, 284; cf. De Genova 2010a). On the other hand, the less satisfying and interesting the work, the more that it provokes the virtually inevitable excesses and excursions of the labouring subject's subjective dispositions. In these ways, then, in the context of estranged labour, there is a permanent tension between the imperatives of the labour process and the needs and desires of labour's subjectivity. The subject of alienated labour tends to be a subject persistently thinking about the fact that s/he would rather be doing something else, a subject who feels, in fact, compelled to do something else, with every opportunity – an incorrigible subject.

In this light, it is possible to return more specifically to migrant labour, and the contested and thus mobile controls at the margins of the state's territorial space, which constitute key features of border regimes.

The defining drive of capital accumulation is that it must operate on an ever-expanding scale. This, of course, means that capital is periodically challenged, in the event of labour shortages or political crises of labour subordination, with the predictable need to occasionally recruit more workers (or different ones), to mobilise labour – to set large masses of workers in motion, often in the form of migrations. This periodic imperative to recruit new workers, however, operates intermittently with capital's more routine need to reliably stabilise and maintain a more or less captive and tractable workforce. Thus, more commonly, labour subordination requires labour's im mobilisation – the effective suppression of what has poignantly been depicted as working people's freedom to 'desert' or 'escape' their predicament and seek better prospects elsewhere (Mezzadra 2001; 2004; cf. Holloway 1994, 31; Mitropoulos 2006; Moulier-Boutang 1998; 2001; Moulier-Boutang and Grelet 2001). States have played an instrumental role historically in trying to orchestrate the international choreography of labour control. In effect, the various territorially defined ('national') states seek to marshal their respective differences in competition with one another as devoted participants in capital's universal drive to subdue all resistances and coerce labour's recalcitrant subjectivity into productive submission to the imperatives of accumulation. The unbounded (effectively global) mobility of capital, then, demands that labour's freedom of movement be more or less regulated, when not inhibited altogether. In either case, however, the mobility of labour tends to be subjected to coercive strategies, most frequently (albeit not exclusively) exercised today through the border enforcement techniques of state power.

Borders make migrants because borders produce differences in space, and capital precisely capitalises upon those differences. This is why capitalism, in fact, requires borders and could never promote a truly borderless world. Contrary to the notion that the interests of employers demand more 'cheap' migrant labour and therefore can be understood to be somehow in conflict with the interests of states intent on controlling their borders and restricting migration, I am proposing that we discern the more fundamental complementarity between these apparently opposed mandates of the state and capital. It is precisely border policing and immigration law enforcement that generate the variegated spectrum of differences among distinct categories of migrants and thereby render some migrants 'illegal', vulnerable to the recriminations of the state, and thus, presumably tractable. In other words, it is the state that produces the crucial conditions of possibility for the 'cheap'-ness of their labour-power. Here again we recognise the scene of exclusion (associated with border policing) to be inseparable from its obscene underside, the fact of (illegalised) migrants' subordinate inclusion (De Genova 2012; 2013a).


There is no denying that we now live in a world of fortified, militarised and securitised borders, a world that perhaps more than ever before resembles what Hannah Arendt memorably called 'a barbed-wire labyrinth' (1951/1968, 292). The human freedom of movement is beleaguered if not besieged, as never before. This is true, even as we also witness unprecedented schemes for the managerial facilitation of selective cross-border mobilities. However, we must guard against some pervasive fallacies. The first fallacy would be to see only what is most obvious, only what is flagrant and flamboyant, only that which makes an ostentatious spectacle of itself, and commands our attention. The first fallacy is to perceive only the political, juridical and military enactments of state projects upon territory, which so commonly manifest themselves as the patrol and enforcement of relatively exclusionary borders. These sorts of Border Spectacle make a robust and grandiose display of their technologies and techniques of ostensible exclusion, above all directed against the most humble of human border crossers. But they also conceal something. Border patrols and the diverse efforts of state powers aimed at border control have everywhere arisen as reaction formations. They are responses to a prior fact – the mass mobility of human beings on the move, the incorrigible subjectivity and autonomy of migration, the manifest expression of the freedom of movement of the human species. Even to designate this mobility as 'migration' is already to collude in the naturalisation of the borders that serve to produce the difference between one or another state's putative inside and outside, constructing the very profoundly consequential difference between the presumably proper subjects of a state's authority and those mobile human beings branded as aliens, foreigners, and indeed, 'migrants' (De Genova 2013b). But there is one fact that must not be lost in the shuffle: the movement of people around the world, and hence across these border zones, came first. The multifarious attempts to 'manage' or control this autonomous mobility have always come as a response. Confronting the statist perspective of a global regime of 'barbed-wire borders', the basic human freedom of movement could only ever seem to be perfectly incorrigible.


Excerpted from Public and Political Discourses of Migration by Amanda Haynes, Martin J. Power, Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane, James Carr. Copyright © 2016 Amanda Haynes, Martin J. Power, Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane and James Carr. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd.
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Table of Contents

Dedication / Acknowledgments / List of Figures / List of Tables / 1. In the Frame? Discourses of Migration: An Introduction to the Volume, Aileen Dillane, Martin J. Power, Amanda Haynes, Eoin Devereux and James Carr / 2. The Incorrigible Subject of the Border Spectacle, Nicholas de Genova / 3. Framing Lampedusa: Between Alarmism and Pietism - The Landing Issue in Italian Media Coverage of Migration, Marco Bruno / 4. "You Can't Have Muslim Irish Children". Media, Islamophobia and Ireland: Constructing Different Shades of Green., James Carr / 5. Drawing Discursive Boundaries in U.S. News Coverage of the "Honour Killing" of Noor Almaleki Autumn M. Reed / 6. Emotive Strategies and Affective Tactics in 'Islam Night', Tuuli Lähdesmäki and Tuija Saresma / 7. Being Part of the Irish 'We': The Experience of Return Migration for the Second Generation Irish From Britain, Sarah Hannafin / 8. Irregular Migrants in Ireland and the United States of America: Discursive Representations by Irish Parliamentary Members, Elaine Burroughs / 9. Explaining EU Migrant Workers: Irish Political Interventions in Public Discourse, Martin J. Power, Amanda Haynes and Eoin Devereux / 10. Print Media Framings of Those Blonde Roma Children, Aileen Marron, Ann Marie Joyce, James Carr, Eoin Devereux, Michael Breen, Martin J. Power and Amanda Haynes / 11. The "Salsa Factor": Music and Dance as Identity among Undocumented Latino Labour Migrants in Israel, Moshe Morad / 12. "An Affirmation of Key Postmodernist Tendencies": Musics, Apolitics, and Placebo Nostalgias Within the Greek-Speaking Diaspora of Birmingham (UK), Michalis Poupazis / 13. Frame and Agency: The Public Performance of a North West Cameroonian Group in Ireland, Sheryl Lynch / 14. Politics of Public Representation: A Franco-German Museum Exhibition on Images of Immigrants, Yannik Porsché / 15. Welcoming Nations? Hospitality as a Proxy for National Identity: A Consideration of British and Scottish Contexts, Emma Hill / 16. No Nos Vamos, Nos Echan: Multimodal Framing of Spanish Youth Unemployment and Labour Migration in Social Media, Uta Helfrich and Ana Mancera Rueda / 17. Conclusion: Opportunities for Resistance Through Discourse, Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane, Martin J. Power, Amanda Haynes and James Carr / List of Contributors / Bibliography / Index

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