Guest post by Sinan Çankaya, postdoctoral researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Sinan is on Twitter @s1nancankaya. This post is the second installment of Border Criminologies’ themed week on the Anthropology of Police organised by Paul Mutsaers.

The old physical border is back. Whereas much of the thinking on borders focuses on the trend towards an omnipresent border―a shift from the physical to the virtual―the refugee crisis also shows the resurrection of walls, fences, and barbed wire. Border control, or rather, managing borders, has become a core activity of security actors within and across the nation-state.

The free movement of goods, services, and capital has also contributed to the fear of deviant mobilities. As Thomas Spijkerboer has made clear, border management aims to differentiate between these good and bad mobilities. The aim of the sorting processes of security actors, through surveillance and monitoring strategies, is to filter the unwanted residue: terrorists, criminals, and (bogus) asylum seekers. It seems like the semantic structure of a joke, in which extremes are enumerated, ‘terrorists’ and ‘criminals,’ to then end with an unrelated category, ‘asylum seekers,’ but in late modern societies terrorism is discursively tied to asylum seekers and irregular migration, which, consequently, opens up a whole repertoire of security measures towards the latter category.

Jef Huysmans discusses the trend toward the securitization of migration, a process in which security discourses and technologies increasingly penetrate migration policies. In general, irregular migration is perceived as a threat to social order and stability. Various social, cultural, and economic fears are projected onto the body of the migrant; fears related to terrorism, economic insecurities, and anxieties about migrants posing a threat to the cultural-normative ‘way of life’ of the ‘native’ population. All of this plays out against the background of the crisis of the welfare state, in which the question as to which members have the right to social provisions is increasingly racialized and, in the case of refugees, connected to islamophobia.

These discourses are not new. The migrant, irrespective of its judicial position, can be seen as the discursive antonym of the ‘good citizen.’ Schinkel and Van Houdt argue that society is continuously creating itself in opposition to its societal outsiders, the racialized and culturally deviant migrants. In the Netherlands this discourse has led, among others, to a rediscovery and reinvention of ‘traditional’ Dutch values as modern, tolerant, and progressive. More concretely, in the criminological field, the Dutch obsession with ethnicity continuously reproduces the connection between crime and culture, in which the ‘cultures’ of migrants are used as explanatory devices for their deviance. Hypervisible migrants― whose differentiation is based on socially imagined racial, ethnic, and religious traits―function as scapegoats for various, yet totally disconnected societal issues, including the mere existence of crime in society. As such, the very presence of migrants is problematized. This process of purification whitewashes Dutch society: ‘problems’ are particularly identifiable in the body of the hypervisible (racialized) migrant. This process also reinforces the moral superiority of (white) Dutch society as the normative ideal image in which migrants should therefore assimilate. Assimilation is the solution to social ill.

The problematization of the body of the ethno-racial other points to a larger issue: the shift in the security field from individuals to risky sub-populations. Through a process of de-individualization, sharing the bodily stigmas of the ‘problematized population’ is sufficient to render the individual suspicious. In my own research on racial profiling by the Dutch police, the desire to securitize the future contributes to forms of spatial exclusion (see here). Borders, dichotomized along rich/poor, us/them, white/non-white, feed into the stop and search practices of street-level police officers. In predominantly white and wealthy neighborhoods, marginalized and racialized ‘risky citizens’ are perceived as spatial transgressions of moral and symbolic orderings. The mobility of ethnic minority youngsters from the lower classes is then actively hindered by police officers. Sometimes the expulsion and the purification of spaces in the city are less ambiguous: youngsters are told to get lost because they don’t belong in these areas. Ethnic minorities are explicitly and unambiguously told to go back to the neighborhoods where they apparently belong: the outskirts of the city. It is therefore important to underline that practices of border management apply to the borders of the nation-state, but can also be erected within the nation-state. Gowricharn and Çankaya demonstrate how security actors within the nation-state police the ideal image of the ‘good’ citizen, which intensifies the exclusion of ethnic minorities.

The practices of street-level bureaucrats reinforce spatial segregation, but more importantly, intervene in the bodies and minds of these young kids. Surveillance strategies ultimately aim to discipline individuals to ‘do the right thing,’ namely enforce their obedience to dominant norms and values. In the case of racial profiling, the message is that young kids should stay away from privileged white neighborhoods―we cannot omit the role of class. In the case of refugees the EU policy to push its borders to third countries, such as Turkey, aims to achieve the same result: keep problems away and discipline the thinking and doing of refugees to ‘stay way.’

Securitization doesn’t merely aim to transform and discipline actors; it is equally, and perhaps more so, about the spatial exclusion of racialized ‘deviants.’ There are new, omnipresent virtual borders, but spatial exclusion also comes with walls, fences, and barbed wire, at the risk of closing minds and hearts.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Çankaya, S. (2016) Excluding Racialized Bodies: Migrants and Refugees. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/03/excluding (Accessed [date]).