Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: Closing Summary (Westmoreland)

MARK WILLIAM WESTMORELAND is a doctoral student and instructor of philosophy and ethics at Villanova University and is writing a dissertation on racial profiling. They also teach philosophy and religious studies at Gwynedd Mercy University, Penn State University – Brandywine, and Rowan University. They work in political philosophy, philosophy of race, and philosophy of technology and have published on Bergson, Derrida, and issues of race/racism. Mark is co-editor with Andrea J. Pitts of Beyond Bergson: Race, Gender, & Colonialism (forthcoming, SUNY), editor of a forthcoming special issue of The Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy commemorating the 75th anniversary of Henri Bergson’s death, and editor of a volume (in progress) on Charles Mills.

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We have concluded our book event at AUFS. The original roundtable conversation can be found here.

The full posts of the book event can be found below.

Thomas Nail: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/07/14/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-method-and-motion-nail/

Todd May and Ladelle McWhorter: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-a-set-of-queries-maymcwhorter/

Andrew Dilts: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/07/08/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-migrants-figures-and-bodies-dilts/

Adriana Novoa: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-migrants-a-human-vital-force-novoa/

Robin Celikates: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-taking-migrant-agency-seriously-celikates/

Daniella Trimboli: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/06/27/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-refiguring-the-migrant-body-trimboli/

Sandro Mezzadra: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-seeing-like-a-migrant-mezzadra/

Vern Cisney: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/06/21/the-figure-of-the-migrant-provocations-in-consideration-of/

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Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: Method and Motion (Nail)

THOMAS NAIL is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Denver. He is the author of Returning to Revolution: Deleuze, Guattari and Zapatismo (Edinburgh University Press, 2012), The Figure of the Migrant (Stanford University Press, 2015), and Theory of the Border (forthcoming with Oxford University Press, 2016). His work has appeared in AngelakiTheory & Event, Philosophy Today, Parrhesia, Deleuze Studies, Foucault Studies, and elsewhere. His publications can be downloaded here.

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Thanks to all the reviewers. They have all challenged me to think differently about the book in their own way. In addition to my responses in the roundtable, I wanted to offer a final reflection on one issue in particular that has really made me think: methodology. In particular, I wanted to voice a couple of thoughts on the relation of kinopolitics to more qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

Qualitative: First, the knowledges and experiences of migrants are absolutely crucial to understanding contemporary migration. The quantitative approach favored by the sociology of migration literature leaves out entirely the human experience of the violence, suffering, and racism that many migrants go through. The consideration of this experience is, in my view, the very condition for understanding what is wrong with current immigration politics, as well as the possibility of doing anything differently. If we do not listen to the stories and demands of migrants we lose a crucial aspect of any analysis.

One of the motivations of this book comes from my work as a full-time migrant justice organizer with the group No One is Illegal in Toronto, Canada in 2010. One of the most important things we did as a group was to organize events which spotlighted the stories of migrants, told by themselves, and to fundraise to help them and their families. In addition to this, we also organized more intellectual kinds of events—panels of migration theorists and activists, for example. And, like good radicals, we also organized massive un-permitted street protests, civil disobedience events, and had delegates in a dozen local community groups related to education, women’s shelters, legal issues, medical issues, food banks, and more. I think that all these kinds of interventions (and others) are important, and all are needed. For more details about the kind of work we did you can read my interview with some of the main organizers here.

Quantitative: That said, the contemporary phenomenon of migration cannot be fully understood without both the qualitative study of the experiences of suffering and oppression (favored by the humanities: autonomy of migration and epistemology literatures) AND the quantitative study of migration (favored by the sciences). I am very thankful that there are people out there doing the original data collection, recording stories and writing ethnographies, or calculating the numbers of detainees, expulsions, deaths, global refugees, etc. There are many great works on migration that are, on their own, only quantitative or qualitative. That is fine. But for the whole picture I think we really need, at least, both.

Kinetic: However, the aim of The Figure of the Migrant was to introduce yet a third dimension and conceptual framework to the analysis of migration that would complement the other two, but which is not reducible to them: a kinopolitical dimension—a historical and comparative study of the patterns of the social motions of migrants. The kinopolitical framework of the book provides a way to track and compare large-scale patterns of social motion over long periods of time and space and draw some pretty dramatic conclusions. One of the most important being that the expulsion of migrants is the condition of a larger social expansion. In other words, that the migrant has been and continues to be the constitutive figure of western societies—through its motion. This is not a metaphor or an exaggeration. Societies have always required the movement of migrant bodies. The Figure of the Migrant takes the materiality and movement of the migrant body itself as its starting point. However, in offering such a focus, it has also only touched lightly on the qualitative and quantitative dimensions of migration.

What I have tried to do with this book is to add to the already vibrant literature on the old and well-studied phenomenon of migration, with its several foundational and productive methodologies, a new kind of framework for analysis that I believe can contribute something new to the conversation—a new method as well as new information. My greatest hope for The Figure of the Migrant is that something in it will be useful to someone working to provide a more complete picture of migration in effort to make the lives of migrants better. That may be as a supplement to their quantitative approach, or their qualitative approach, or their activism, or all three. I have no idea, but my fingers are crossed that something will come of it.

 

 

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Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: A Set of Queries (May/McWhorter)

TODD MAY is Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of the Humanities at Clemson University.  He is the author of fourteen books of philosophy, most recently A Significant Life:  Human Meaning in a Silent Universe (University of Chicago Press, 2015) and A Fragile Life:  Accepting our Vulnerability (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2016).

LADELLE MCWHORTER holds the Stephanie Bennett Smith Chair in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and is also Professor of Environmental Studies and holds an appointment in the Philosophy Department at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of Bodies and Pleasures: Foucault and the Politics of Sexual Normalization (Indiana, 1999), Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America: A Genealogy (Indiana, 2009), and more than three dozen articles on Foucault, Bataille, Irigaray, and race theory. With Gail Stenstad, she edited Heidegger and the Earth: Essays in Environmental Philosophy (Toronto 2009).

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TODD MAY / LADELLE MCWHORTER: We just finished reading your book together as part of our reading Skype group (which has been going on for about seven years). We really enjoyed it. It’s interesting, original, and provocative. We wondered whether your approach inverted a traditional approach that grounded itself in stasis. It seemed to us that the relation between stasis and movement is not one of foundedness, but is instead more dialectical. What is static is affected by movement, and movement is affected by stasis; for example, the existence of stable state institutions will affect what kinds of movements are possible, which will be different for unstable states. Read the rest of this entry »

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Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: Migrants, Figures, and Bodies (Dilts)

ANDREW DILTS is Assistant Professor of political theory in the Department of Political Science at Loyola Marymount University. They are the author of Punishment and Inclusion: Race, Membership, and the Limits of American Liberalism (Fordham, 2014), co-editor (with Perry Zurn) of Active Intolerance: Michel Foucault, the Prisons Information Group, and the Future of Abolition (Palgrave, 2015), and co-editor (with Natalie Cisneros) of a two-part special project in Radical Philosophy Review entitled, “Political Theory and Philosophy in the Time of Mass Incarceration” (Issues 17.2 & 18.2).

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Writing in Visible Identities, Linda Alcoff reflects on the concept of a deterritorialized subject as articulated by Deleuze and Guattari and subsequently taken up by Rosi Braidotti. The “nomad” is offered as a model for identity that can resist both assimilationist and essentialist demands that individuals “fix” and stabilize their selves over time and space.[1] Alcoff notes the attraction of such a migratory concept of “nomad subjectivity”: its attends to the mutability of difference, it recognizes a fluidity of the self that moves across borders and boundaries, and it promises liberation through a “refusal to be characterized, described, or classified.”[2] She is also, however, deeply skeptical that an embrace of nomad subjectivity, “evokes … the figure of the person who resists commitment and obligation [and who] tries to avoid responsibility by having only ‘transitory attachment.”[3] As a positive account of subjectivity, Alcoff argues, to embrace “nomad subjectivity” is also to embrace neoliberal movements of bodies, capital flows, and a “self” that is unmoored not simply from territorial place, but also from community and the grounds of political action in concert with others. Such a “refusal of identity,” she writes, “might be useful for the purposes of the current global market. The project of global capitalism is to transform the whole world into postcolonial consumers and producers of goods in an acultural world commodity market, a Benetton-like vision in which the only visible differences are those that can be commodified and sold.”[4]

Thomas Nail’s The Figure of the Migrant gives us a powerful version of how such fears have indeed come to pass, not simply in the current moment of late capitalist neoliberalism, but as an underlying logic of how territories and political communities have come into being. The nomad is just one instance of this figure, Nail argues, a relatively archaic one that nevertheless manifests under conditions of forced migration constitutive of territorial consolidation. Nail argues that the nomad is historically the first figuration of the migrant, a quasi-empirical fugitive from the creation of place through human movement. Other figurations of the migrant follow in Nail’s analysis: the barbarian, the vagabond, and the proletariat. Each is produced by social forces of “expansion by expulsion” in distinctive (and overlapping) social movements under the terms of kinopolitics, what Nail names the “theory and analysis of social motion.[5] If Alcoff asks us to be skeptical of the liberatory possibility of nomad subjectivity, Nail gives historical depth to these worries: the migrant has always been expelled from community, place, citizenship, membership, and (often if not always) from humanity. The figure of the migrant expresses some of the worst modes of domination, subjugation, abjection, and unfreedom in human history.

Nail’s book, however, is emphatically not about subjectivity or identity. Nail reminds the reader early on that he will not offer a “theory” or “ontology” of the migrant.[6] “There are,” Nail writes, “only figures of the migrant that emerge and coexist throughout history relative to specific sites of expulsion and mobility.”[7] In Nail’s hands, this figure of the migrant reveals the conditions of possibility for how spaces, locations, and destinations become “fixed” in the first place. Reversing traditional approaches in political theory, which begin from idealizations of stability, fixity, and boundedness, Nail argues that it is movement that drives and forms us and our relations to space and time. Read the rest of this entry »

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Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: Migrants, a Human Vital Force (Novoa)

ADRIANA NOVOA is Associate Professor of History at the University of South Florida. Novoa completed her MA and PhD in Latin American History at the University of California, San Diego. She is a cultural historian whose specialty is science in Latin America, and with Alex Levine she has written two books about Darwinism in Argentina: From Man to Monkey (The University of Chicago Press, 2010), and Darwinists! (Brill, 2012). Novoa’s articles have been published in Journal of Latin American Studies, Science in Context, The Latinoamericanist, and Revista Hispánica Moderna, among others. She is currently working on From Virile to Sterile, a book manuscript that explores the intersection between Darwin’s evolutionism and masculinity in Argentina.

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This is an ambitious book that attempts to provide a frame to understand migrants from the perspective of political theory. I am an intellectual historian specializing in evolutionary science in Latin America, so I am a poor judge of Thomas Nail’s achievement in strictly theoretical terms. But, since the book is serious about historicizing the concept of the migrant, and this is one of its most important contributions, I will concentrate on how his theoretical approach relates to history.

The Migrant, Biology, and Human Species

“Not all who wander are lost.” J. R. R. Tolkien

The Figure of the Migrant puts the migrant category at the center of politics through a theory that avoids analyzing it as an identity, focusing primarily on movement. According to Nail, mobility explains why migrants are attacked, or socially expelled. The intention of the book is to address the lack of adequate theorizing on the migrant in political sciences, geography, philosophy, and anthropology, disciplines that in his view approach the migrant as a political aberration. The book is interested in the free circulation and flow of populations, but not as moving from one point on the map to another; social movement is not qualified as something desirable or not, but as a simple unavoidable occurrence, a fact. The historical narrative is geared to show how we are all becoming migrants, and implies that the experience of migrations today is somewhat different from those of the past.

Nail claims that the 21st century “will be the century of the migrant. At the turn of the century, there were more regional and international migrants than ever before in recorded history.”[1] This might be true in absolute terms, but when the proportion of migrants is compared with the proportion of the total population on the move in various historical epochs, our century is not that different. We are not all becoming migrants, humans have always been migrants. But for a long time our culture has erased the understanding of migrations as part of our human condition, which has led to the belief that the migrant is a social aberration in a civilized society. This contradicts the fact that the formation of Modern Europe is the result of centuries of movement across the continent, the cumulative consequences of which are manifest in the very bodies of those who live there today. Read the rest of this entry »

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Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: Taking Migrant Agency Seriously (Celikates)

ROBIN CELIKATES is Associate Professor of Political and Social Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, where he also directs the research project Transformations of Civil Disobedience. He is a member of the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies and an Associate Member of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt am Main. Most recently he has co-edited Transformations of Democracy: Crisis, Protest, and Legitimation and The Irregularization of Migration in Contemporary Europe: Detention, Deportation, Drowning (both Rowman & Littlefield 2015).

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In a short post-script Etienne Balibar attached to his 1997 article “What we owe to the Sans-papiers” in 2013, he writes: “If our society is to be democratic (and, truthfully, it will only exist as an advancement in democracy), this new right [a new right for the circulation of people, of their residence, their labor and their social welfare, established above and beyond national borders], not only protecting migrants and refugees from arbitrary states and xenophobic opinions, should also be based on their experiences and their own skills, as expressed in their legitimate demands for liberty and security.” On my reading, Thomas Nail strikes a similar tone in an article with the fitting title “Migrant Cosmopolitanism” when he notes that such a cosmopolitan politics from below stands in continuity with “a key feature of the sans-papiers struggle”, namely “their demand to speak for themselves and in their own name”. But who is the migrant who is speaking here, and what is the experience of migration that grounds this politics?

Thomas Nail’s new book The Figure of the Migrant is an important and engaging contribution to the political theory of migration precisely because it takes these questions seriously and asks them in the most fundamental sense, following an approach distinct from both the normative liberal paradigm and that of critical migration studies. Accordingly, Nail takes up the task to provide a new vocabulary to conceptualize the constitutive experience and reality of migration and of movement more generally, a task he seeks to accomplish by integrating philosophical theorizing with divergent literatures spanning an impressive historical arc, from the first creation of social centers around 10,000 BCE to the contemporary US-Mexican border.

The most important general lesson of Nail’s dense book is that such a political theory requires us to move beyond the dominant understanding of the migrant and of migration from the point of view of stasis, of non-movement, and of states who claim the authority, and the capacity, to control and regulate movement. In contrast, what is called for is a positive understanding of the figure of the migrant and the practice of migration that is not primarily determined by lack, anomaly or failure. This understanding of migration not only turns out to be rather capacious itself, including not only international migration, but human mobility more generally, also, say, in the form of urbanization; it is also tied to broader theoretical ambition to rethink society in terms of movement (an ambition that might have profited from an engagement not only with Marx, whose approach Nail expands in thought-provoking ways, but also other classical sociologists from Simmel via Luhmann to Latour). From Nail’s “kinopolitical” perspective, society emerges out of flows, junctions (“redirections of flows”) and “circulations” (connections of junctions into “larger curved paths”), i.e. out of the same forces that in the end also produce the figures of the migrant the book focuses on (ch. 2).

This, I take it, is the philosophical core of Nail’s account, and although his book also contains plenty of other interesting theoretical and historical extensions and applications of these central claims worth engaging with, in what follows I will limit myself to raising three – interconnected – sets of issues that mainly stem from the worry that the book’s relation to the ethico-political and epistemological commitment to migrant agency I started with is not always entirely clear. Read the rest of this entry »

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Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: (Re)figuring the Migrant Body (Trimboli)

DANIELLA TRIMBOLI recently completed a jointly-awarded Ph.D. at the University of Melbourne and the University of British Columbia. Her dissertation analysed the intersection of everyday multiculturalism and digital storytelling from a cultural studies perspective. Daniella has taught Australian Studies and Tourism at Flinders University and fulfilled various research roles, including one for the Ngarrinderji Regional Authority at the Yunggorendi First Nations Centre. Daniella is currently working for the Research Unit in Public Cultures at the University of Melbourne, and is a researcher on the public art project, Immigration Place. Daniella is an assistant editor of Journal of Intercultural Studies.

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Thomas Nail presents a thorough and compelling case for the reconfiguration of the migrant and migration theory at large. His central argument is that motion needs to be the starting point for the theorisation of migration. My particular interest in Nail’s book is its capacity to add to understandings of how the migrant in contemporary society is materially shaped by motion, and, just as importantly, how that motion might be channelled into new kinds of resistance. I thus target the word figure to explore how some figures come to ‘figure less’ and some figures come to ‘figure more.’ Playing on de Beauvoir, Nail writes in his introduction: ‘One is not born a migrant but becomes one’ (p. 3). To further this claim: one is not born a migrant but is always becoming one. What possibilities exist for the becoming migrant in the contemporary moment of global migration?

Nail maps out a kinetic framework for migration that challenges the predominant model of studying migrants from the perspective of stasis, ‘as a secondary or derivative figure with respect to place-bound social membership’ (p. 3). His argument is reminiscent of that presented in Nikos Papastergiadis’ work on the turbulence of migration, in particular, the connection Papastergiadis makes in Cosmopolitanism and Culture (2012) between theorisations of migration and kinetophobia; that is, between migration and the fear of movement. Nail illustrates how mobility acts as constitutive of social life, rather than, as Papastergiadis writes, ‘the temporary disruption to the timeless feeling of national belonging’ (2012, p. 49). Nail also argues that histories of States often subsume migrant histories, even though the mobility of migrants has created its own forms of social organisation that move across, through and beyond nations/States.

In contrast to the dominant model of migration that is founded on stasis and states, Nail develops a kinetic and political theory of migration by tracing the historical regimes of social motion. The word regime is important because, while mobility is fluid and incapable of division, it ‘is always distributed in different concrete social formations or types of circulation’ (p. 4). Nail argues that social movement is regulated by various apparatuses of expulsion that take on territorial, political, juridical and economic forms. These forces give form to key migrant figures: the nomad, the barbarian, the vagabond and the proletariat.

The emergence of each of these figures is the result of different articulations of movement so that the ‘movement of creation precedes the thing created’ (p. 42). For example, Nail traces the barbarian back to Aristotle, who defined the barbarian as having political inferiority: ‘a natural incapacity for proper speech and reason that disallows political life’ (p. 52). In the ancient world, this notion of natural inferiority is needed in order to conceptualise political slavery: ‘the ancient figure of the migrant is called the “barbarian” or “inferior subject,” not the “slave,” because the concept of barbarism or natural inferiority is first required to legitimate slavery’ (p. 52). As Foucault (1978) and later Butler (1993, p. 2) showed us, the performative power of discourse is its ability to create that which it names. This performative power is evidenced in Nail’s historical analysis of the four main types of migrants, each of which emerges as a particular figure in accordance with certain kinds of kinetophobias. Anyone moving in ways that could potentially undermine the State’s core directive of maintaining and expanding control is targeted, grouped and ‘moved elsewhere.’ Thus, as Nail observes, when unwanted forms of mobility like vagabondage increased, so too did the types of people deemed to be vagabonds. In short, when unwanted forms of movement increased, more types of unwanted movers are produced. What becomes clear is that these types of unwanted movers are not ‘new’ kinds of people, but people bearing accumulative histories of undesirable mobility. These accumulative histories move ahead in time, so the migrant is always a subject-in-motion. Read the rest of this entry »

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