Border enacted: unpacking the everyday performances of border control and resistance
Fisher, Daniel Xavier Odhrasgair
For over a decade European governments have invested in technological systems to develop new forms of border security in their attempts to regulate migration. Numerous innovations have been designed in order to grant border agencies an unbroken vision of the borderspace, thus allowing states to continuously enact the border beyond their territorial boundaries. Meanwhile, other strategies have been designed in order to control the movements and actions of ‘irregular migrants’ and asylum seekers following their successful attempts at reaching the territorial boundaries of the European Union (EU). In this thesis I seek to tease apart these technocratic claims of omni-voyance and pervasive control by focusing on the everyday realities of border control and the ways in which these are negotiated and resisted by those who seek to evade them. To this aim, I approach the border by drawing on assemblage theory, as well as feminist geopolitics’ attention to performance and embodiment. Such an approach re-centres attention on the human performances of border control, emphasises the agency of ‘non-human’ actors, foregrounds the messy realities of borderspaces, and engages with the multiplicity of borders. In applying this approach, I argue that the border should not be thought of as a static entity; neither in its location in space, nor in terms of the actors that perform it. Instead, I have oriented my approach towards conceptualising the border as in a constant state of becoming – with actors being continuously added to and subtracted from the security assemblages which constitute the border. In particular I focus on the ways in which ‘non-state’ actors are increasingly being coerced into performing the border and what the effects of this are on those who seek to evade its violent gaze. In order to put this approach to work, I employ a multi-sited ethnographic study of three European borderspaces: the Frontex headquarters in Warsaw, the Straits of Gibraltar and an anonymised city in the United Kingdom (UK). In Warsaw and the Straits of Gibraltar (specifically the cities of Algeciras and Ceuta) my research was focused on two border surveillance assemblages: (1) The European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) operated by Frontex and (2) Spain’s Sistema Integrado de Vigilancia del Exterior (SIVE) maritime surveillance system. I argue that the ‘messiness’ of the borderspace proves too complex for the surveillance system to control, the vision produced through SIVE being fragmented and stuttered through both human and technological flaws. I also highlight how securing the border is as much a temporal negotiation as it is a spatial one; the struggle for control over the borderspace comprising a contest of speed. The effect is a geography of the border that foregrounds the ‘little details’ of borderwork; exposing the flaws behind a scopic narrative that claims unceasing vision and an unhindered reach. While in Ceuta I also challenged the formal performances of the enclave as a ‘humanitarian space’. Indeed, I argue that it is as a result of framing the enclave’s detention centre as a reception centre for humanitarianism that irregular migrants can be detained in the autonomous city indefinitely. Yet the actors that perform the borders of the enclave do so in an untidy alliance which regularly springs leaks. I also discuss the tactics of the migrants who have made it to the enclave and who now seek to leave it again. In particular I note how their tactics of resistance have become entangled with the bordering strategies specific to the enclave. I also question the extent to which the border enclave and the specific identities forged by the migrants who pass through it will remain with them as they pass through future checkpoints of the European border – the evidence of their time spent in Ceuta locked in their fingertips. In the anonymised city in the UK my aims were to question the reach of the state into the everyday lives of asylum seekers. While the lives of asylum seekers are often described as being in ‘limbo’, I sought to question the temporalities and materialities of urban living for people stuck in the asylum system. I argue that the strategies used by the UK Home Office are intended to limit the movements and actions of asylum seekers in the city through securitising the support that asylum seekers are entitled to. I focus on the ways in which the border is carried by asylum seekers in the city through their use of ARC and Azure cards, especially, and the ways in which these cards serve to ‘fix’ people with the negative qualities and stereotypes associated with asylum seekers. Through volunteering for a group offering solidarity support to asylum seekers in the city, I also argue that this strategy of limiting movements can be resisted. Like the tactics encountered in Ceuta, however, these tactics frequently become entangled in the strategies of border control.