Guest post by David Moffette. David Moffette is Assistant professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa (Canada). He is the author of Governing Irregular Migration: Bordering Culture, Labour, and Security in Spain (UBC Press, 2018). This is the third post of the Border Criminologies’ themed series ‘The Changing Dynamics of Transnational Borders and Boundaries’, organised by Cristina Fernandez Bessa and Giulia Fabini.
This argument is convincing for various reasons. First, the presence of police officers waiting at the turnstiles of subway stations and stopping African men (many of them without proper immigration documents) carrying big white bags that they suspect is full of goods for sale as a deterrence strategy bears uncanny symbolic and material resemblance to border control. Indeed, officers in uniform holding check points to intercept unauthorized merchandise and verify identity documents as people on the move are funnelling out of a transit hub effectively turns subway stations into border points for unauthorized street vendors. Second, given that most people selling counterfeit garments are west African immigrants and most of those selling beer cans are from the Indian subcontinent, their identification and policing in the crowded city cannot but rely on various forms of profiling, including racial. Third, and perhaps most importantly, while street vending is governed by Barcelona’s municipal bylaws, manteros are governed through a mix of municipal, criminal and immigration law. There is much to be gained, analytically, conceptually, and politically, by studying this response to immigrant street vendors as a form of bordering , that is, “as an ongoing strategic effort to make a difference in space among the movement of people.” I cannot, in this blog post, provide a detailed empirical account of the fight against unauthorized street vending. Instead, I will argue that this case can teach us three lessons about how to study borderwork as it occurs in cities, but also more broadly.
The second lesson is about the importance of dispersal policing and forced mobility in everyday bordering practices. We often think of bordering practices as being about controlling movement and access, as strategies of immobilization. In many instances, this is the case. Border fences, identity check points, immigration detention, all work in that way. But, as Martina Tazzioli has recently argued, bordering practices can also rely on strategies of forced mobility. This is not new: historically, deportation of immigrants, population displacement, transportation of convicts, and exile have been used to force people to move. This is also often how borders work in big cities like Barcelona. Since it is not possible to fully eliminate manteros as there is a demand for what they sell and a lack of other jobs for many of them, city officials adopted a strategy of dispersal policing with the hope of limiting big gathering and invisiblizing the practice as much as possible. A city official I interviewed as part of a research project on municipal forms of border control compared this policing strategy to squeezing a balloon. Indeed, officers put pressure on manteros in the subways so that they have to eventually disperse, and take some time before they resettle on the Rambla. Officers then pressure them there, and they end up going to the port. Eventually, he explained, they try to ‘saturate’ the space with officers so that there is nowhere to set up. Here, it is certainly a strategy of limiting access, but it is also premised on forcing manteros to be always on the move. This tactic of dispersal policing, traditionally used to police undesirable urban dwellers (such as homeless people), is being deployed here against immigrant street vendors.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)
Moffette, D. (2018) Dispersal Policing as Borderwork in Barcelona. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2018/06/dispersal (Accessed [date]).