|Title||The Politics of Exhaustion and Migrant Subjectivities: Researching border struggles in northern France in 2016-2019|
Situated within critical border and migration studies, this thesis is a detailed ethnographic account of the ‘border struggles’ associated with the UK-France borderzone in northern France, where human mobilities meet state endeavours to control and regain a hold over migratory movement. Through an ‘embodied encounter,’ which draws on the voices and experiences of 75 migrant interlocutors and other interviewees with first-hand experience of the UK-France borderzone, the thesis generates a unique, in-depth understanding of how migration governance operates at the UK-France border.
It is argued that the juxtaposed border arrangements between the UK and France have not merely led to the re-localisation of the UK’s physical border controls to an extraterritorial space; the ‘border’ has also entered into spaces of migrants’ everyday life in the borderzone. Traditional spatial interdictions and restrictions emerging from non-entrée policies, reliant on tactics such as confinement, bordering fences, and deportation, have been successively complemented by more insidious, temporal, and corporeal biopolitical technologies of bordering. The latter consists of an array of tactics devised to render life governable and pliant, and bodies docile, with the premeditated intention to negate one’s personal autonomy, agency, wellbeing, and self-efficacy. This ‘politics of exhaustion’ thus seeks to curb autonomous migratory movements, influence decisions, and manage intent through the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion of its subjects. In this sense, exhaustion is understood as constitutive of bordering processes, as well as of the ‘border’ itself, but cannot be grasped within the biopolitical ‘making live/letting die’ dichotomy. Thus, the thesis makes a significant contribution to advancing scholarly work which challenges this binary.
Moreover, rather than privileging an understanding power that is totalising, the thesis subsequently shifts its focus onto the heterogeneity of ways in which migrants respond to, and shape, through their ability and desires to move, the apparatuses of power, and the technologies of the politics of exhaustion. As such, the thesis allows for a gaze into the possibilities of articulating new subjectivities within borderzones characterised by stringent state control and biopolitical techniques, opening powerful ways to think of spaces for resistance, alternative subjectivities, and the performance of political belonging outside traditional notions of citizenship. In doing so, the thesis mobilises a heterogenisation of the ‘border’, advancing scholarly work which understands the interlinkages between power and subjectivities as processual, ambivalent, and interwoven.
Lastly, given the brutality of the politics of exhaustion and its harmful impact upon the bodies and minds of racialised migrants, the thesis reverts back to this concept once more, arguing that a displacement of responsibility from state authorities onto the bodies and minds of migrants serves to depoliticise suffering. This, in combination with the partial absence, or invisibility, of clearly defined and identifiable ‘human culprits’ in the implementation of the politics of exhaustion, may give an illusion of an absence of intention to cause harm, thus sanitising and invisibilising violence whilst also producing an aura of legitimacy. The thesis thus contributes to an ongoing ontological shift within critical border and migration scholarship, by emphasising ways in which violence is constitutive of bordering technologies; something that has only intermittently figured within traditional migration studies to-date.
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