The fall of the Berlin wall was hailed by many as the beginning of a new era, in which flows of goods, but also of people, would make the world increasingly open and accessible to all. Thirty years on, the numbers and stories we read and hear daily are very different. The walls that divided parts of the world in 1989 were 15, now they are 70, and another 7 are under construction (Vallet, 2016).
Against all odds, nowadays borders are gaining new strength and vitality (De Genoa, Mezzadra, Pickles, 2015), reconfiguring into different parts of the world, and, in particular, dividing rich and poor areas (Khosravi, 2019). From Australia to the U.S.A., including the heart of Europe, walls and security measures are multiplying behind the scenes, in the wake of political speeches that increasingly tend to build concepts of the ‘other’, the migrant, as the enemy or invader whose advance must be stopped.
Indeed, globalization processes have gone hand in hand with nationalistic closures and irrigations of migratory flows. In this context, social scientists themselves have paid growing attention to the issue of borders, seen as cultural and symbolic divisive processes rather than only as concrete physical spaces (walls, fence, bridges). The PASS project adopts a critical border studies perspective that consists in considering every border primarily as a “social relationship mediated by things” (Mezzadra, 2013, p. 421), an historical formation that does not divide only places (states, regions, cities…), but also people and their access to spaces in accordance to specific characteristics (citizenship, gender, class..).
These different kinds of borders inevitably interact with each other. Thus, in the confines of the same geopolitical area that we call “border” (e.g. Ventimiglia), one person may have no problem crossing it, while another may be stuck or manage to pass in the face of extensive economic, but also physical and mental efforts.
The person who is prevented from crossing the border, however, has their autonomy of action despite walls, procedures and controls; even if his/her agency is necessarily “limited, compromised, contradictory, and tactical” (De Genova, Garelli, Tazzioli, 2018, p. 243) by the migration system and its management. For this reason, border studies also include the study of tactics and counter-conducts that migrants implement in the “battlefield” (Mezzadra, Stierl, 2019) to carve out spaces for autonomy and agency despite increasingly violent management of migration (Casas-Cortes, Cobarrubias, Pickles, 2015; Eule et al. 2019).
Now more than ever, migrants’ tactics draw more complex and unarticulated intra-European travels because of systematic border rejections, repatriations and transfers inside the EU determined under the Dublin System. The different routes depend on the individual’s ability to mobilise a social and economic support network from the moment of departure (Belloni, 2016), as well as on the unpredictability inherent in the asylum system itself (Eule et al, 2018). It is important to note that, migrants’ tactics are not always manifestly antagonistic towards the system. The more or less conflicting dynamic depends both on the individual’s migratory design and on the strength with which a certain kind of action is limited and opposed by the control system.
Belloni, M. (2016). Refugees as gamblers: Eritreans seeking to migrate through Italy. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 14(1), pp. 104–119.
De Genova, N., Garelli, G., & Tazzioli, M. (Eds.) (2018). Autonomy of asylum? The autonomy of migration undoing the refugee crisis script. South Atlantic Quarterly, 117(2), pp. 239-265.
De Genova, N., Mezzadra, S., & Pickles, J. (2015). New keywords: Migration and borders. Cultural studies, 29(1), pp. 55-87.
Eule, T. G., et al. (2018). Migrants before the law: contested migration control in Europe. Berlin:Springer.
Khosravi, S. (2019). Io sono confine. Milano:Eléuthera.
Mezzadra, S. (2013). Moltiplicazione dei confini e pratiche di mobilità. Ragion pratica, (2), pp. 413-432.
Mezzadra, S., Stierl, M. (2019). The Mediterranean battlefield of migration. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/can-europe-make-it/mediterranean-battlefield-migration/
Vallet, E. (2016). Borders, fences and walls: State of insecurity?. New York:Routledge.