Post by Gabriella Sanchez, Assistant Professor of Security Studies at The University of Texas El Paso’s National Security Studies Institute. She’s the author of Human Smuggling and Border Crossings (Routledge, 2015). Follow Gabriella on Twitter @smugglingpaths.

Review of Rethinking Border Control for a Globalizing World: A Preferred Future edited by Leanne Weber (Routledge, 2015)

As critical border, migration, and crime scholars, we’ve often been responsible for reinscribing negative notions of borders as inherently abject, criminal, and savage spaces. Relying on problematic tropes of violence and victimization as analytical cornerstones, despite our regular calls for the need of ‘changing narratives,’ we often forget, as Staudt and Campbell remark, that there is more than the stories, the tragedies, the victims, the violence and the eventual demonization of the border as a space. The so-called migration ‘crisis’ in Europe and the plight of Latin American unaccompanied minors to the United States, along the many other high profile examples of human mobility of late, seem to have only refueled the collective demands for controlled/closed borders, a call critically answered through scholarly engagements with  borders as spaces of despair, death, and decay where migrant and refugee bodies become irreparably damaged through the deployment of immigration laws and enforcement practices and the inhumane actions of depraved human smugglers. Yet again, in our interventions as scholars, we’ve hardly (1) engaged in criticisms of our own colonial gaze when it comes to the treatment of migration or (2) been effective at expressing alternative imaginaries and views of borders that can lead to conceiving, articulating, and then mobilizing change.      

What makes Leanne Weber’s edited volume, Rethinking Border Control for a Globalizing World: A Preferred Future, such a powerful and unique intellectual exercise is how she and her collaborators invite the readers to move beyond the hyper-emphasis on the ‘inequity, harm and punitive nature of border control’ (p. xxi) to engage with and articulate what she establishes as a preferred future: a new way to conceive the border, less utopic, and more possible. The collection constitutes a persuasive invitation to explore borders as untapped, transformative spaces at a time when the visibility of migration detention centers, physical walls, naval blockades, immigration patrols, drones and their incessant monitoring, migrant journeys, deaths, and rescues overwhelm us and limit our very ability to imagine a path towards change.

Drawing on a case study on parish borders in England and their eventual subordination over time to more centralized institutions of governance as framing parameter, Weber illustrates how the significance of borders—and their punitive effects—do change dramatically over time. She adds: ‘our capacity to imagine a future transformation in the meaning of contemporary borders can be greatly enhanced by recalling fundamental shifts […] in relation to both the practical and the symbolic meaning of borders’ (p. 5). In this collection, as Weber explains, the authors ‘are trying to identify what could happen (through a normative lens that is already focused on what we want to happen) rather than relying purely on moral reasoning to establish what should happen’ on the border (p. 9). This approach guards us from holding on to the often abstract and unsustainable utopianism of our borderless desires emerging from the collective frustration, desperation, and hopelessness that contemporary migration regimes create among border scholars and activists—and those whose lives are embedded in them.

Before critics damn this approach for being utopian or idealist, Weber reminds us that mapping a transformed future and border requires preparation. In that sense she underscores that this collection is an attempt to identify ‘how a bordered world can be imagined and—through close attention to social, economic, cultural, legal and political developments—how it could be, and perhaps is being created through jurisprudence, global activism, structural change and everyday human activity’ (p. 12). How does peace at the border look like, and is it achievable along different borders? The work of Weber and her collaborators doesn’t seek to propose a single answer, but rather articulates a future of possibilities and paths towards their realization. Raymond Michalowski, for example, in reference to the US Mexico border, and drawing from human security approaches rooted in feminist notions of care (i.e., ‘the ethics of care’), calls for a security that is grounded on communities and where the fear associated with border and immigration enforcement becomes inexistent, calling for the establishment of ‘conditions under which human rights are respected as a matter of course’ (p. 47), For Vanessa Barker, change has already began: territorial borders are already in the process of becoming less important, as evidenced by the formation of new kinds of identities and solidarities outside the national scope, social movements challenging border controls, and the recognition of universal human rights. Barbara Hudson asks how a sense of moral community can be fostered amid the hyper-representation of human suffering in narratives and images of migration, calling for the emergence of ‘a strong countervailing universal morality based on the principle that rights are due to all individuals as individuals, not only as citizens of particular states’ (p. 130).

Weber’s work is a call to action, and the contributors to the collection, are effective at further articulating that message. Rainer Bauböck remarks in his essay that ‘outrage alone is likely to end in resignation if it cannot be channeled into action for change’ (p. 169), while Nancy Wonders, acknowledging the contradictory, complex nature of contemporary borders and the difficulties at imagining them as humane and more equitable, also reminds us that in that very complexity resides ‘the most promise for their transformation’ (p. 190). She recognizes the ways in which irregularized migrants trouble the notion of territorial borders and take rights even when such rights are not formally granted by the nation state. Wonders’ observation―that ‘rights do so little to protect people from the most serious harms and dangers they face in a globalize world’ (p. 197)―further grounds the need to re-articulate the discourse of borders, and, as Tiziana Torresi also suggests, to ‘develop new ways of framing security and human rights that go well beyond […] national boundaries’ (p. 197), but also beyond our own imagination, so to then, as Weber masterfully concludes, ‘identify and support, or alternatively to imagine and create, social, political and economic change’ that makes peace at the border not only a preferred option but a reality. Weber’s profound work speaks directly to critical criminology and border scholars, but also to all those seeking to articulate paths—and hope—for other, less restrictive, less lethal, more humane borders.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Sanchez, G. (2016) Book Review: Rethinking Border Control for a Globalizing World: A Preferred Future. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/05/book-review-1 (Accessed [date]).