Borders as Weapons

Eurafrica

I am giving a couple talks in Sweden this week. Below is the first one given at Linköping University earlier today. Thank you to Stefan Jonsson and Peo Hansen for inviting me and sharing a copy of their book Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism (2014).

Borders as Weapons

The twenty-first century will be the century of the migrant. At the turn of the twenty-first century, there were more migrants than ever before in recorded history. Today there are over 1 billion migrants. Migration has risen by nearly 50 percent since the turn of the 21st century and more than 56,000 migrants have died or gone missing worldwide over the last four years. More than ever, it is becoming necessary for people to migrate due to environmental, economic, and political instability. In particular, climate change may even double international migration over the next forty years. What is more, the percentage of total migrants who are nonstatus or undocumented is also increasing, thus posing a serious challenge to democracy and political representation.

In order to manage and control this rising global mobility, the world is becoming ever more bordered. In just the past 20 years, but particularly since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on the US, and more recently the war in Syria, hundreds of new borders have emerged around the world: miles of new razor-wire fences and concrete security walls, numerous offshore detention centers, biometric passport databases, and security checkpoints in schools, airports and along various roadways across the world. All make manifest what has always been the true strategy of global capitalism and colonialism: to steal the world’s wealth and lock out the poor. “Europe has invaded all peoples; all peoples are coming to Europe in their turn”(Latour). 

The recent rise in right wing nationalism, xenophobia, and climate denial in the West is precisely reaction to the twin “invasions” migration and climate change. Borders are the new weapons being used to continue a war against the rest of the world. This is the context for rethinking a new theory of the border today.  

Migrant “Invasions”

If this thesis sounds seems outlandish, just consider how migrants are now being described in mainstream political discourse. In the US, people such as Samuel Huntington and Patrick Buchanan have worried about a ‘Mexican immigrant invasion’ of ‘American civilisation’. In the UK, The Guardian published an editorial on Europe’s crisis that ended by describing refugees as the ‘fearful dispossessed’ who are ‘rattling Europe’s gates’ – a direct historical reference to the barbarian invasion of Rome. In France, Marine Le Pen said at a rally in 2015 that ‘this migratory influx will be like the barbarian invasion of the fourth century, and the consequences will be the same’. Even the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has described the recent refugees with the same ‘dangerous waters’ and military metaphors used by Romans to depoliticize barbarians: refugees are a ‘great tide’ that has ‘flooded into Europe’ producing ‘chaos’ that needs to be ‘stemmed and managed’. ‘We are slowly becoming witnesses to the birth of a new form of political pressure,’ Tusk claims, ‘and some even call it a kind of a new hybrid war, in which migratory waves have become a tool, a weapon against neighbors.’ [/danger water/media image of ocean voyage/wet backs/Ammianus/child refugees]

Donald Trump has recently described the caravan of Central American refugees marching to the US as “an onslaught,” “an assault on our country,” and an “invasion,” repeating the words of Robert Bowers, who shot can killed 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh Synagogue for supporting the refugees. The Associated Press has called the caravan an “army of migrants” and a “a ragtag army of the poor.” Most recently Trump has said soldiers will open fire on the refugees if a migrant throws a rock.

The Theses

In this paper I would like to argue here two correctives to two common ideas about how borders work: 1) Borders are defensive 2) Borders keep people out.

The two theses of this paper are the opposite of these assumptions: 1) Borders are offensive weapons of primitive accumulation, 2) Their main function is not to stop movement but to circulate it; I think these have major implications re-theorizing borders as I have tried to show by doing a history of border from the prehistoric to the present in Theory of the Border.

Thesis 1

Borders are being used as weapons of primitive accumulation. 

Climate change has disproportionately negative effects on poorer countries and people of color and disproportionally positive effects for receiving countries who benefit by a hyper-exploitable and precious “reserve climate labor army.” This asymmetry is the result of a long history of capitalist colonialism and racism, which is continued now through the bordered management of migration. Thus, contemporary global migration cannot be reduced to merely natural climactic causal explanations (Hulme 2011). The figure of the “climate refugee” is never simply fleeing climate change but is doing so under postcolonial conditions of geopolitical violence and racism. The term “climate refugee” itself serves to cover over the real kinopolitical conditions of social circulation at work that make such populations vulnerable to displacement in the first place. 

Borders are weapons of primitive accumulation, or what I call “expansion by expulsion,” (Nail 2015a) because they expands Western power by forcibly expelling people from their previous patterns of motion and then appropriating them into its own conditions of bordered social reproduction. This expulsion is four fold: migrants lose the right to their land and homes (territorial expulsion), they lose their right to full civic participation (political expulsion), they lose their right to legal status (juridical expulsion), and they lose their right the means of production or subsistence (economic expulsion). This four-fold expulsion enacted through borders is the necessary condition for the direct appropriation of vulnerable and cheap migrant bodies and for the expansion of social power. 

Nationalism, xenophobia, and racism also play a structural role in the bordering process of primitive accumulation because they socially devalorize and thus cheapen the labor and lives of migrant workers. If migrants arrived but were not throughly racialized and discriminated, their labor would be too valuable for capitalist investment to bother appropriating them in the first place. Thus, capitalism wields climate change under a triple condition of  bordered colonialism: 1) The historical origins of recent climate change are in colonialism itself (oil from Africa, industrial production from slavery, and so on). 2) Colonized populations and indigenous people are disproportionately forced to move due to climate change, and 3) These same populations are racialized as dangerous barbarian boat people upon arrival (Moore, 2015; Goldberg, 2017; Giuliani, 2107).      

But climate change, like primitive accumulation, is not just about the dispossession and appropriation of people and cheap labor. It is also about the direct appropriation of cheap or free land. The two go hand in hand. At the same time that climate change displaces people it also opens up previously occupied lands, waters, and forests to new privatized extractive and/or constructive industries. As the climate changes previously inaccessible areas will be opened up for expanding new markets (supplied with abundant cheap labor), including new security markets for new borders, fences, walls, drones, and all the rest (think of the privatization and gentrification of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina). In other words, climate change may not mean the end up capitalism, but may in fact be its rebirth or second wind through the use of borders. 

If capitalism loves disaster why should we think climate change will necessarily mean the end of capitalism (Klein, 2007)? If anything can be commodified there is no absolute natural limit to capitalism, only relative limits or borders to profit. We are most certainly at the cusp of one of these limits today, which Jason Moore attributes to “the tendency of the ecological surplus to fall” (Moore, 2015). Everything and everyone that could be easily appropriated (oil, slaves, old growth forests, etc), was gobbled up during colonialism. The people who are left today want more money and more rights. The minerals left are too expensive to extract. This is why capitalists have increasingly retreated to financial speculation. If only there were a way, the capitalist dreams, to somehow cheaply dislodge huge amounts of people from their land, devalorize their labor through borders, and appropriate it. In other words, if climate change did not exist it would be necessary for capitalism to create it. Lucky for it, it does, because it did. Migrants today thus form a “form a disposable industrial reserve army, which belongs to capital just as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost.” (Marx 1972, 784).

Thesis 2

The Border is a Process of Circulation

Borders are not well understood only in terms of inclusion and exclusion, but rather by circulation. In part this follows from the mobility of the border. Since the border is always in between and in motion, it is a continually changing process. Borders are never done “including,” someone or something. This is the case not only because empirically borders are at the outskirts of society and within it and regularly change their selection process of inclusion, as we said before, but also because exclusion is not synonymous with stasis. The exclusion is always mobilized or circulated.   

In practice, borders, both internal and external, have never succeeded in keeping everyone in or out. Given the constant failure of borders in this regard, the binary and abstract categories of inclusion and exclusion have almost no explanatory power. The failure of borders to fully include or exclude is not just the contemporary waning sovereignty of postnational states; borders have always leaked. The so-called greatest examples of historical wall power⎯Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China⎯were not meant to keep people out absolutely. Rather, their most successful and intended function was the social circulation of labor and taxes. This continues today with the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The success rate of illegally crossing is around 90%, according to several studies. Most of the traffic across the border is related to economic regulation. Thus one of the main effects of borders is not keeping out but circulating bodies in a particular pattern: by criminalizing them, killing them, extracting a tax from them, and so on. [The US/Mex border is not a  failure, it just succeeds in other ways: funnel effect vs cage effect].

But border circulation is not just the ongoing process of dividing; its technologies of division also have a direct effect on what is divided. What is divided must be recirculated, defended, maintained, and even expanded, but at the same time what is divided must also be expelled and pushed away. Division is not simple blockage—it is a redirection. What is circulated does not stop after the division—it comes back again and again. Thus “it is the process of bordering,” as David Newman writes, “rather than the border line per se, that has universal significance in the ordering of society.” The border is the social technique of reproducing the limit points after which that which returns may return again and under certain conditions (worker, criminal, commuter, etc). 

The border does not logically “decide,” as Agamben says. Rather, it practically redistributes. Undocumented migrants, for example, are, for the most part, not blocked out but rather redistributed as functionally “criminalized” persons into underground economies. Or an economic surplus is extracted from their incarcerated bodies as they pass through the private detention industrial complex ($200 per bed for years). They are released just on the other side so they may go through the process again, creating a whole regime of social circulation [deportation industrial complex].

[Ex of cutting soles (french cut the soles of Italian migrant’s shoes, then ship them back south to return again]

However, since the border is not a logical, binary, or sovereign cut, its processes often break down, function partially, multiply, or relocate the division altogether. Instead of dividing into two according to the static logic of sovereign binarism, the border bifurcates by circulation and multiplication. The border adds to the first bifurcation another one, and another, and so on, moving further along. Instead of “the sovereign who decides on the exception,” as Carl Schmitt writes, we should say instead that it is “the border that circulates the division.”  

We are entering a new epoch: the century of the migrant

The rhetoric of migrant “invasions” is back again. Donald Trump has recently described the caravan of Central American refugees marching to the US as “an onslaught,” “an assault on our country,” and an “invasion,” repeating the words of Robert Bowers, who shot can killed 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh Synagogue for supporting the refugees. The Associated Press has called the caravan an “army of migrants” and a “a ragtag army of the poor.” Most recently Trump has said soldiers will open fire on the refugees if a migrant throws a rock.

The Century of the Migrant

Today there are more than 1 billion regional and international migrants, and the number continues to rise: within 40 years, it might double due to climate change. While many of these migrants might not cross a regional or international border, people change residences and jobs more often, while commuting longer and farther to work. This increase in human mobility and expulsion affects us all. It should be recognised as a defining feature of our epoch: the 21st century will be the century of the migrant.

In order to manage and control this mobility, the world is becoming ever more bordered. In just the past 20 years, but particularly since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on the US, hundreds of new borders have emerged around the world: miles of new razor-wire fences and concrete security walls, numerous offshore detention centres, biometric passport databases, and security checkpoints in schools, airports and along various roadways across the world. All attest to the present preoccupation with controlling social motion through borders.

This preoccupation, however, runs through the history of Western civilisation. In fact, civilisation’s very expansion required the continual expulsion of migrant populations. These include the territorial techniques of dispossessing people from their land through miles of new fencing (invented during the Neolithic period); political techniques of stripping people of their right to free movement and inclusion with new walls to keep out foreigners (invented during the Ancient period and put to use in Egypt, Greece and Rome); juridical techniques of criminalisation and cellular confinement (invented during the European Middle Ages); and economic techniques of unemployment and expropriation surveyed by a continuous series of checkpoints (an innovation of the Modern era). The return and mixture of all these historical techniques, thought to have been excised by modern liberalism, now define a growing portion of everyday social life.

This is the century of the migrant because the return of these historical methods now make it clear for the first time that the migrant has always been a constitutive social figure. In other words, migrants are not marginal or exceptional figures, as they have so often been treated, but rather the essential lever by which all hitherto existing societies have sustained and expanded their social form. Territorial societies, states, juridical systems and economies all required the social expulsion of migrants in order expand. The recent explosion in mobility demands that we rethink political history from the perspective of the migrant.

Take an example from ancient history: the barbarian (the second major historical name of the migrant, after the nomad). In the ancient West, the dominant social form of the political state would not have been possible without the mass expulsion, or political dispossession, of a large body of barbarian slaves kidnapped from the mountains of the Middle East and Mediterranean and used as workers, soldiers and servants so that a growing ruling class could live in luxury – surrounded by city walls. The romanticised classical worlds of Greece and Rome were built and sustained by migrant slaves, by ‘barbarians’, whom Aristotle defined by their fundamental mobility and their natural inability for political action, speech, and organisation.

Some of the same techniques – and their justifications – of ancient political expulsion are still in effect today. Migrants in the US and Europe, both documented and undocumented, sustain whole sectors of economic and social life that would collapse without them. At the same time, these migrants remain largely depoliticised compared with the citizens their labour sustains, often because of their partial or non-status. Just as Greeks and Romans were capable of incredible military, political and cultural expansion only on the condition of the political expulsion of cheap or free migrant labour, so it is with Europeans and Americans today.

If this connection seems outlandish, then consider how migrants are described in recent media. The rhetorical connection is as explicit as the architectural one of building giant border walls. In the US, people such as Samuel Huntington and Patrick Buchanan have worried about a ‘Mexican immigrant invasion’ of ‘American civilisation’. In the UK, The Guardian published an editorial on Europe’s crisis that ended by describing refugees as the ‘fearful dispossessed’ who are ‘rattling Europe’s gates’ – a direct historical reference to the barbarian invasion of Rome. In France, the presidential frontrunner Marine Le Pen said at a rally in 2015 that ‘this migratory influx will be like the barbarian invasion of the fourth century, and the consequences will be the same’. Even the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has described the recent refugees with the same ‘dangerous waters’ and military metaphors used by Romans to depoliticise barbarians: refugees are a ‘great tide’ that has ‘flooded into Europe’ producing ‘chaos’ that needs to be ‘stemmed and managed’. ‘We are slowly becoming witnesses to the birth of a new form of political pressure,’ Tusk claims, ‘and some even call it a kind of a new hybrid war, in which migratory waves have become a tool, a weapon against neighbours.’

This will be the century of the migrant not just because of the sheer magnitude of the phenomenon, but because the asymmetry between citizens and migrants has finally reached its historical breaking point. The prospects for any structural improvements in this situation are hard to imagine, but alternatives are not without historical precedent. Before any specific solutions can be considered, the first step toward any change must be to open up the political decision-making process to everyone affected by the proposed changes, regardless of status. The only way forward in the long march for migrant justice and social equality is status for all.

Published at Aeon.

Political Geology: Active Stratigraphies and the Making of Life (Palgrave 2018), ed. Adam Bobbette and Amy Donovan

Image result for Political Geology Active Stratigraphies and the Making of Life

“This book explores the emerging field of political geology, an area of study dedicated to understanding the cross-sections between geology and politics. It considers how geological forces such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and unstable ground are political forces and how political forces have an impact on the earth. Together the authors seek to understand how the geos has been known, spoken for, captured, controlled and represented while creating the active underlying strata for producing worlds.

This comprehensive collection covers a variety of interdisciplinary topics including the history of the geological sciences, non-Western theories of geology, the origin of the earth, and the relationship between humans and nature. It includes chapters that re-think the earth’s ‘geostory’ as well as case studies on the politics of earthquakes in Mexico city, shamans on an Indonesian volcano, geologists at Oxford, and eroding islands in Japan. In each case political geology is attentive to the encounters between political projects and the generative geological materials that are enlisted and often slip, liquefy or erode away. This book will be of great interest to scholars and practitioners across the political and geographical sciences, as well as to philosophers of science, anthropologists and sociologists more broadly.”

This looks like a great collection!

Table of Contents

Political Geology: An Introduction
Adam Bobbette, Amy Donovan

Political Geologies of Knowledge
Front Matter
Pages 35-35

Genealogies of Geomorphological Techniques
Rachael Tily
Pages 37-69

Baroque Soil: Mexico City in the Aftermath
Seth Denizen
Pages 71-104

Geo-Metrics and Geo-Politics: Controversies in Estimating European Shale Gas Resources
Kärg Kama, Magdalena Kuchler
Pages 105-145

From Becoming-Geology to Geology-Becoming: Hashima as Geopolitics
Deborah Dixon
Pages 147-165

Amodern Political Geologies
Front Matter
Pages 167-167

Cosmological Reason on a Volcano
Adam Bobbette
Pages 169-199

Against ‘Terrenism’: Léopold Sédar Senghor, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Fear of a De-spiritualised Earth
Angela Last
Pages 201-217

How the Earth Remembers and Forgets
Bronislaw Szerszynski
Pages 219-236

Political Geologies of the Future
Front Matter
Pages 237-237

Attention in the Anthropocene: On the Spiritual Exercises of Any Future Science
Simone Kotva
Pages 239-261

Political Geologies of Magma
Nigel Clark
Pages 263-292

Politics of the Lively Geos: Volcanism and Geomancy in Korea
Amy Donovan
Pages 293-343

Epilogue
Front Matter
Pages 345-345

Encountering the Earth: Political Geological Futures?
Adam Bobbette, Amy Donovan
Pages 347-371
Back Matter
Pages 373-379

 

 

 

From What Shore Does Socialism Arrive?

This is the best thing I have read on the Caravan so far.

Ultimately, no doubt, the left in the United States will have to confront the fact that there is never likely to be an ‘American revolution’ as classically imagined by DeLeon, Debs or Cannon. If socialism is to arrive one day in North America, it is far more probable that it will be by virtue of a combined, hemispheric process of revolt that overlaps boundaries and interlaces movements.

— Mike Davis, Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the US Working Class1

Read here.

 

 

Questioning New Materialisms (2018)

Abstract

New materialists have challenged our thinking about matter in important and meaningful ways. Building a critique of the work of Diana Coole, Samantha Frost, and Jane Bennett, this article introduces a special section which challenges the direction of their work in a constructive manner. We provide a four-fold critical appraisal here: of the historical, posthumanist, technological and emancipatory facets of the new materialisms. Our central claim is that the new materialisms are plural and that they need to be understood in a wider sense than is claimed in much of the literature. This article addresses the question: to what extent can a pluralism of new materialisms be compatible with the radical and emancipatory agenda of its founding theorists? Our answer is that it is not only possible to achieve such radical emancipation, but also necessary to address these concerns.

The Return to Lucretius III

Image result for botticelli

We are witnessing a return to Lucretius. What felt like early shoots in 2014 are today now starting to bear fruit in numerous recent books breaking with the received tradition. My work on Lucretius is now part of a handful of new works offering contemporary interpretations of Lucretius. The authors of this return offer different perspectives but also share a common belief that something is deeply missing from our current reception of Lucretius and that certain problems in contemporary life might find their surprising solution in the work of this ancient poet. Just like the moderns and the romantics before us, we are just now beginning to rediscover a Lucretius for our time. 

The New Lucretius

The new Lucretius has an old lineage. This lineage traces its roots back to the German philosopher, Karl Marx’s 1841 dissertation “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature.” There Marx gave one of the most radical and heterodox interpretations of Epicurus and Lucretius the world never saw. The complete work was not even available in German until 1927 and in English until 1975 in his expensive collected works. It is no wonder that it remains one of the most neglected of all Marx’s books. However, in his dissertation, Marx was the first to argue not only that Epicurus had a distinct philosophy different form Democritus but that the core concepts of atomism (atom, void, fall, swerve, repulsion) were actually all continuous dimensions of the same flow of matter. 

This idea was largely left for dead until it was picked up by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in 1962 in his book Nietzsche and Philosophy. There, Deleuze credits Marx’s brilliant discovery but argues instead that the swerve is caused by a vital “force” immanent to matter. Later Deleuze develops this reading into a new “immanent” interpretation of Epicurus and Lucretius in an appendix to his 1969, Logic of Sense. 

From here this idea was explicitly adopted by the French philosopher, Michel Serres who developed it into the first truly path-breaking book-length treatment of a new turbulent Lucretius consistent with the early chaos theory of the day, The Birth of Physics in the Text of Lucretius (1977). Unfortunately, Serres book was not translated into English until 2000, after which it went out of print.

The Immanent Interpretation of Lucretius 

This is a brief history of only the most sustained book-length attempts at the “immanent” reading of Lucretius being reactivated today. Beginning in 2016 an unusual burst of new books either tracing their lineage back to this tradition and/or deconstructing the orthodox reception of Lucretius came out. In 2016 a wonderful collection of essays offering contemporary reassessments and reinterpretations of Lucretius drawing on the “immanent” tradition was edited by Jaques Lezra and Liza Blake and published as Lucretius and Modernity. In the next year Ryan Johnson published, The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter and in the fall of 2017 Pierre Vesperini published a devastating critique of the “myth of Lucretius” in his Lucrèce: Archéologie d’un classique européen. Among other things, Vesperini argues convincingly against every single major point made by Stephen Greenblat in his narrative history of the discovery of De Rerum Natura, The Swerve (2011). Vesperini argues that Lucretius was not a faithful Epicurean; that Lucretius was not an unknown radical of his day; and that Lucretius did not provide a “complete kit for modernity,” but was historically appropriated by mechanistic modernists and then retroactively lionized by the Romantics. This lionization is explored in Sweet Science: Romantic Materialism and the New Logics of Life (2017) by Amanda Jo Goldstein. Goldstein’s conclusion is right on target in citing Marx as the start of this tradition.

The coup de grâce of this burst came in January of 2018 when Michel Serres, The Birth of Physics was retranslated and republished with a blurb on the back explicitly acknowledging the timely importance of reintroducing this book for its contributions to twenty-first-century new materialism. Two months later saw the publication of my first book Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion and Jacques Lezra’s book On the Nature of Marx’s Things. Even in just the past eight years, we have seen a notable return of Lucretius to contemporary philosophy, in particular by new materialist philosophers.