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Keywords:

  • asylum;
  • post-politics;
  • citizenship;
  • Rancière;
  • activism

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Politics, Police and Depoliticisation
  4. The Depoliticisation of Asylum
  5. Acts of Citizenship
  6. Beyond the Episodic Act
  7. Incremental Becoming
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

This paper explores the ways in which practices of asylum governance serve to depoliticise those seeking asylum in the UK. In critiquing claims over the “post-political” nature of contemporary governance, the paper proposes a focus upon situated practices of depoliticisation which displace those seeking asylum through the production of specific sites of accommodation and specific discourses of risk, security and moralised concern. The paper questions the tendency within “post-political” thought to strip the potential of modes of informal citizenship through arguing that minor acts of resistance are ineffectual and illusory. In response, the paper explores irregular migrant's “acts of citizenship”, and suggests that such prosaic acts can be powerful forms of political interruption through which new ways of seeing asylum are constructed. The paper concludes by suggesting that an incremental politics orientated around such acts of interruption is essential to challenge the material, affective and discursive closures of asylum domopolitics.

Agonism and conflict are inherent in politics, and assertions of being in a postpartisan or postpolitical age cannot change that (Staeheli 2010:76)

Democratic politics … needs a vigorous, chaotic, noisy context of movements and groups. They are the seedbeds for future democratic vitality (Crouch 2004:120).

The nature of politics, the political and the contours of politicisation have long been critically debated within geography as scholars have explored the ways in which claims to politics, political subjectivity and visibility are performed through the claiming and construction of space (see Iveson 2007; Mitchell 2003; Staeheli 2010). In recent years geographers have turned in part to a series of debates over the supposedly “post-political” nature of contemporary governance as a means to explore the limits and constraints of predominantly liberal democratic modes of political thought and practice. In engaging with these discussions, geographers have drawn upon the work of Mouffe (2005), Rancière (1995, 1999), Žižek (1999, 2008) and Badiou (2005) to consider a wide range of policy concerns. From environmental activism (Swyngedouw 2009, 2010) and sustainability (Baeten 2008; Paddison 2009) to the nature of urban governance (Dikeç 2007; MacLeod 2011; Ward 2010), those drawing upon a broadly “post-political” frame have highlighted a turn towards consensual modes of political decision-making, business negotiation and populist compromise as increasingly marking the terrain on which politics is conducted. These theorists highlight how such modalities of governance serve to condition not only the future of policy but also the very limits and foundations of political discussion itself. In this manner, post-politics might be seen to mark a specific modality of depoliticisation, in which particular issues are removed from the realm of political antagonism in specific ways.

“Post-politics” itself emerges from Žižek's (1999) engagement with Rancière and his discussion of three central mechanisms of depoliticisation, archi-politics, meta-politics and para-politics, each of which seeks to disavow political dissensus (Gill et al., 2012:511). In responding to these accounts of depoliticisation Žižek (1999) introduces post-politics as a specific modality of depoliticisation, one which seeks to go beyond the disavowal of politics and more comprehensively foreclose political contestation. Whilst in Rancière's (1999) schema the given social order is called to respond to those excluded from such an order in varying ways (Gill et al., 2012:516), in post-politics the very presence of such claims is foreclosed. Post-politics thus represents that modality of depoliticisation through which claims to political visibility are prevented from becoming universalised.

This paper seeks to critically engage with this work on post-politics through placing such conceptual debates into conversation with the question of contemporary asylum governance and activism in the UK. In doing so, the paper explores the ways in which dominant tropes of asylum governance—centred upon a perceptual regime of what William Walters (2004) terms “domopolitics”—act to depoliticise the presence of asylum seekers and reiterate an image of the “homely” nation to be secured, ordered and maintained. Domopolitics denotes a governmental alignment of security, territory and nationhood, such that asylum becomes framed as a concern of securitisation. Within domopolitics the “task of governing is to disentangle, to tap the energies of one flow while taming and suppressing the other” (Walters 2004:245), and thus security is directly related to a selective logic of the border as a membrane of inclusion/exclusion. As such, domopolitics produces particular modes of marginality for those seeking asylum, most notably around distinctions between the “worthy refugee” and the “illegal immigrant”. Whilst this paper develops a critical reading of domopolitics (see Darling 2011; Ingram 2008), it also challenges the notion of a “post-political condition” structuring such processes. Rather, I argue for an appreciation of a series of situated practices of depoliticisation within a framing of asylum politics. As such, the paper develops a critique of the tendency to strip away the political potential of forms of contestation and informal citizenship which might be noted in accounts of post-politics through arguing that modalities of resistance are always-already subsumed within a prevailing post-political order (see Swygendouw 2011; Žižek 2008).

This is not to suggest, however, that discussions of depoliticisation have ignored the potentialities of dissensus. Indeed, Rancière's (1999) focus upon the distribution of social and political order is centred upon the incompleteness of any such order, whilst both Swygendouw (2011) and Žižek (1999) argue that post-politics produces political acts that cannot be foreclosed within a consensual framework. The danger I explore in such work lies not in the recognition of the potentiality of dissensus, but in the expectations imposed upon dissensus. When post-politics is translated from being a specific form of depoliticisation into a more generalised “condition”, the challenge that such an excess poses becomes cast as a gesture of radical transformation. Such a focus on radical acts is clear in the politics of Žižek (1999, 2008), but less so in the work of Rancière (2010) for whom the potential of dissensus does not have to be tied to a revolutionary moment. Indeed, as Rancière states:

I am not a thinker of the event, of the upsurge, but rather of emancipation as something with its own tradition, with a history that isn't just made up of great striking deeds, but also of the ongoing effort to create forms of the common different from the ones on offer (Agamben et al. 2011:79–80).

It is this less striking articulation of politicisation that I seek to foreground in order to consider how politicisation might be explored without recourse to a revolutionary framing.

Similar concerns over political agency and potentiality have also been raised in relation to the wealth of work that explores the politics of asylum through the lens of Agamben's writings on bare life (Agamben 1998; Darling 2009; Diken 2004). For whilst Agamben's writing is evocative of the exclusionary logics which underpin modes of biopolitical governance, his approach has been critiqued for its inability to reflect the political agency of those cast as bare life (Owens 2009; Walters 2008). In this vein, recent work has highlighted the forms of contestation that may arise within seemingly “exceptional” spaces of migrant detention, encampment, exile and displacement (McConnell 2009; McGregor 2011; Ramadan 2008; Rygiel 2012). This paper makes a contribution to such debate through exploring how discussions over the nature of politics serve to further silence the agency of non-status migrants, before considering how disruptive political acts may contest these forms of political closure.

The paper develops three further contributions. First, it offers a critical analysis of the ways in which practices of domopolitics act to depoliticise the presence of those seeking asylum—positioning individuals as liminal presences within the nation, whilst regulating the grounds of asylum discussion and debate. Second, drawing on this account of the depoliticising tendencies of domopolitics, the paper contributes towards the task of developing a critical politics of asylum activism (see Gill 2010; Millner 2011). Here, the paper draws on accounts of irregular migrant's “acts of citizenship” (Isin 2008) as a means to consider how such a politics might be forged in the face of domopolitical exclusion, whilst also suggesting that the politicisation of asylum would demand the remoulding of perceptual registers beyond such political “acts”.

Finally, the paper critically engages with discussions over the post-political nature of contemporary governance, to argue for a focus not on post-politics per se, but rather on the interplay of modalities of politicisation and depoliticisation. Drawing from discussions of the post-political, a concern with the grounds of “being political” (Isin 2002), this paper explores modalities of depoliticisation as a set of ordering tendencies and alliances that produce and maintain particular perceptual orientations towards the contours and limits of political debate. This focus upon the specificity of depoliticisation distinguishes a break from other, more universalising, accounts of post-politics which focus upon the emergence of a “post-political present” or a “post-democratic paradigm”, wherein post-politics becomes a “condition” or “complaint” (Badiou 2005; Žižek 1999). These accounts serve to overlook ongoing forms of antagonism within the context of migrant rights claims, whilst potentially devaluing political agency through the imposition of epoch-shifting demands onto the actions of those who are seen to have no part in a given order (Dean 2009). At the same time, many claims to a post-political condition leave unexplored the ways in which depoliticising tendencies are embodied, reproduced and reinforced through policy discussions, public debate and the very workings of governance. It is this focus upon both the critical exploration of depoliticisation in the context of asylum and a critical interrogation of the modes of response that post-political theories offer, that this paper seeks to contribute.

In developing this argument, the paper proceeds as follows. I begin by outlining Rancière's relation between police and politics, in order to argue for an account of depoliticisation which is centred upon the construction of a perceptual order based on the “proper” distribution of identities, roles and groups. The paper then considers how such thought might be related to domopolitics as a means of ordering the space of the “homely” nation. Here the paper focuses on the classification and accommodation of asylum seekers, together with the rhetorical management of asylum discourse and debate. With these modalities of depoliticisation in mind, I then explore potential modes of challenge, centred upon “acts of citizenship” (Isin 2008). It might be tempting here to suggest that these acts form that moment of political interruption advocated by post-political theory, yet I caution against such a reading, arguing instead for their location within broader processes of contestation. It is only through attaching such acts to longer sequences of discursive articulation that a critical challenge to domopolitics might be performed. I begin though by outlining Rancière's political thought.

Politics, Police and Depoliticisation

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Politics, Police and Depoliticisation
  4. The Depoliticisation of Asylum
  5. Acts of Citizenship
  6. Beyond the Episodic Act
  7. Incremental Becoming
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

Recent discussions of depoliticisation have, in part, centred upon the work of Rancière for whom “politics begins when those who have no share begin to have one” (Rancière 1997:31). Here, politics is about contesting the prevailing logics through which individuals are assigned a (non)political place. Thus as Rancière (2001:19) argues, “[p]olitical struggle is not a conflict between well defined interest groups; it is an opposition of logics that count the parties and parts of the community in different ways”. Rancière foregrounds the disruptive nature of politics as a means of intervening within, or interrupting, an established order of perception which places individuals and groups in a hierarchical form. For Rancière (1999) this intent is centred upon the “presupposition of equality”, as politics marks “the assertion of equality among those who presuppose it among themselves” (May 2010:10). Equality here is not a deliberative or distributive good, but rather is enacted as a challenge to contemporary conditions, limits and constraints. For Rancière equality marks the distinction between “politics” and the “police”:

Politics is generally seen as the set of procedures whereby the aggregation and consent of collectivities is achieved, the organization of powers, the distribution of places and roles, and the systems of legitimizing this distribution. I propose to give this system of distribution another name. I propose to call it the police (Rancière 1999:28).

Rancière suggests that the police order is a continual attempt to subsume political appearance through asserting the banality of political visibility and the apparent naturalness of a hierarchical account of the social in which individuals are assigned specific places and parts (see Hallward 2006). A police order thus denotes the perceptual field on which operations of power are based; “the police designates not an institution of power but a distribution of the sensible within which it becomes possible to define strategies and techniques of power” (Rancière 2010:95).

Rancière's account of politics is centred upon insurgent opposition to such an order. Here politics offers a point of interruption, through which the contingency of the police order is made clear. Central to such interruption is visibility, for it is through appearance that a rupture in the “proper” distribution of positions is enacted, a rupture which “demonstrates the contingency of the order, the equality of any speaking being with any other speaking being” (Rancière 1999:30). The presupposition of equality becomes a means to challenge the distributions and distinctions of the police order, not through seeking an alternative distribution, but through subverting the very designation of roles themselves. If the police refer to “an established form of governance with everyone in their ‘proper place’” (Dikeç 2007:18), politics denotes a “polemical scene” where “subjects that do not count” place in contention “the objective status of what is ‘given’ and impose an examination … of those things that were not ‘visible’” (Rancière 2000:125).

What Rancière's account of the political offers is a sense of politics as a mode of interruption into a “division of the sensible” which dictates perception. Such interruptions are, in the view of Rancière (1999:139), always specific, “local and occasional” moments in which order is challenged and its contingency revealed. Politics in this framework becomes not the negotiation of power relations, but rather the meeting of different logics of perception which arise from specific and localised demands. It is this sense of politics, and its engagement with a perceptual ordering of the police, which this paper takes forward in considering contemporary domopolitics. In doing so, I want to explore not only how Rancière's reading of the political might account for the depoliticising tendencies of domopolitics, but also how a consideration of the “policing” of asylum opens a critical pathway to consider the value of different modes of political action. With this outline of Rancière's concern with the perceptual distinctions of politics in mind, I want to now consider how such ordering may be witnessed in domopolitics.

The Depoliticisation of Asylum

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Politics, Police and Depoliticisation
  4. The Depoliticisation of Asylum
  5. Acts of Citizenship
  6. Beyond the Episodic Act
  7. Incremental Becoming
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

Considering the mechanisms of “managed migration” and asylum currently utilised in the UK as domopolitical in nature—as filtering devices designed to manage and maintain an image of the “homely” nation—involves a critical focus upon both the discretionary and selective nature of the asylum system and the political, emotional and affective exclusions of such a system (see Darling 2011; Ingram 2008; Squire 2009). Domopolitics thus denotes a confluence between concerns with immigration, terror and territory, such that the nation-state is viewed as a domestic sphere to be governed as a home—a site of inclusive belonging for some and restrictive control for others (Walters 2004). To call such a system post-political would be to reduce its complexity too far. However, it is important to note a series of confluences between Rancière's account of the police order and contemporary domopolitical practices, as these shape the ways in which we not only perceive asylum as a political issue, but also how we might frame modes of political challenge to domopolitics. I wish to thus highlight two domains of domopolitics which express particular moments of depoliticisation; the classificatory nature of domopolitics and its discursive framing of the “homely” nation.

Classification and the Production of Abject Spaces

The first area of confluence arises when we consider the classificatory nature of domopolitics as a system of securing, managing and ordering asylum. These mechanisms of classification, identification and spatial distribution might be linked to different modalities of security, yet they also bear traces of the police. Dikeç (2007:172) argues that the police order is a central mechanism of spatial categorisation, not merely a tool of social regulation, thus for him; “[n]aming, fixing in space, defining a proper place, are all functions of the police, whose principle is not repression but distribution”. Similarly, domopolitics demands processes of categorisation, accommodation, dispersal and detention through which the “secure borders” of the nation might be maintained, and as such, domopolitics represents a mode of governmentality which is not only concerned with securing circulation but also with fixing locations, imposing mobility and defining distributions (Darling 2011). Domopolitics might thus be thought of as part of a police order that views asylum seekers as suspect presences to be detained, contained and removed, a means of naming, distributing and defining those under question by the nation. The governmental trend of differential migration control and enforcement locates individuals both through material practices of dispersal, detention and deportation, and through the production of specific subjectivities and identifications, from the “worthy” refugee to the “bogus” “illegal” migrant (see De Genova 2002). This classificatory order is part of a wider biopolitical framing of the border, in which risk management and pre-emptive securitisation seek to allow certain movements and circulations as “productive”, “safe” and “secure” (Amoore 2006; Vaughan-Williams 2010).

The classificatory impulses that underpin domopolitics might thus be considered as part of a para-political framing of asylum, para-politics denoting a modality of depoliticisation (Rancière 1999). As Gill et al. (2012) note, within para-politics the depoliticisation of particular presences is attempted through “claiming to name and render calculable the excluded”. Here that “part with no part” is accounted for precisely in the act of naming and classifying such a part as unaccounted for, as under suspicion. Para-politics positions those seeking asylum as a presence to be governed and ordered, whilst disavowing their potential to count for more than simply their assigned and classified position as “suspicious” presences within the nation.

It is this process of para-political categorisation which helps to maintain a police order of perception. Critically this is a confluence of both a logic of identification and a logic of spatial containment, as Dikeç (2005:181) argues:

It is, in spatial terms, the embodiment of geometrical reason, of administrative rationality, inviolable and sharply partitioned. It spatially articulates identities (logics of identification) and distributes them to their proper places (logics of the proper), and thus displaces, through placement, the disruption of politics through an exhaustive ordering of space.

The domopolitics of contemporary asylum, of systems of claims-sorting, identity assignment and dispersal, embodies an administrative rationality of spatial partitioning, ordering and control. The significance of such a system when viewed as part of a police order is twofold. First, it means that logics of identification and placement serve to reproduce the conditions of their own existence. A way of seeing asylum is constructed through this order which is at once both classificatory and spatial—it communicates an ability and a will to locate those seeking asylum in certain ways as the “natural” way of dealing with the “asylum problem”. As a result, perceptions of asylum become founded within this confluence of identification and “proper” placement. Second, this rationality leads to the production of specific spaces of allocation. As Swyngedouw (2011:375) argues, the basic gesture of the police is “distribution, the allocation of things and people, the temporal and spatial organization of activities”. It is through distribution that the depoliticisation of particular presences is enacted as a means to avert the risk of political contestation. In the case of domopolitics, it is accommodation that both expresses and produces modes of depoliticisation that seek to maintain the “given distribution” of the “homely nation”.

To explore the depoliticising impulses of accommodation, we might turn to Isin and Rygiel's (2007) examination of “abject spaces”. They argue that these mark:

spaces in which the intention is to treat people neither as subjects (of discipline) nor objects (of elimination) but as those without presence, without existence, as inexistent beings, not because they don't exist, but because their existence is rendered invisible and inaudible (2007:184).

Isin and Rygiel (2007:186) argue that politics lies in “the very claiming of rights … where one enacts one's political existence” and it is precisely this claim to politics that abject spaces seek to foreclose through “attempting to prevent individuals from exercising political subjectivity by holding them in spaces of existential, social, political, and legal limbo” (188–189). Isin and Rygiel (2007) cite three forms of abject space; camps of detention and detainment through which rights are stripped from subjects, “frontiers” of extraterritorial detention and “zones” of containment within state territories. It is this latter category of the “zone” that exemplifies the role of accommodation within domopolitics. For, as Isin and Rygiel (2007:193) suggest, zones mark:

… spaces where abjects live under suspended rules of freedom as spaces of inexistence … These include zones within cities to which various subjects are dispersed but then live under some form of conditional freedom and surveillance. These are zones of inexistence insofar as abjects who inhabit them are constituted as inexistent subjects in a state of transient permanence.

Whilst the “transient permanence” of such an existence is clear in accounts of the imposed mobility of asylum seekers (Gill 2009), the depolicitising role of accommodation as part of a logic of the proper is also notable. Seen as abject spaces, sites of accommodation distance those seeking asylum from the political and the public gaze, and come with conditional ties attached around mobility, employment and welfare.

In domopolitics “abject spaces” are central to the construction of an image of the homely nation and the affective links of citizenship, security and belonging seen to accompany such an ideal (Fortier 2010; Tyler 2010). These spaces both locate and hide from political view, those “part with no part” within the domopolitical order. Zones of accommodation allow those seeking asylum to be located within the nation-state, but the restrictions placed upon their mobility, rights and welfare act to discourage and foreclose political presence, making political attachments difficult to maintain (Gill 2009). Following Rancière, we might suggest that the abjects of asylum accommodation do not count; they are not to be heard until their status or position within an order of perception has been categorised. The role of abject spaces is thus to ensure that such undecided abjects remain unaccounted for. They represent spaces of depoliticisation, yet they are also essential to the effective operation and affective legitimation of domopolitics, as the way to “manage migration”.

Discursive Displacement

The second point of confluence between a domopolitical framing of asylum and processes of depoliticisation lies in the discursive contours of asylum. Here, domopolitics denotes the framing of asylum as an issue of security (Walters 2004), of a concern with the “threat” that strangers may pose to the “homely” nation. It is on the basis of this imaginary that those classificatory and distributive mechanisms of police order noted above are set to work—they need to identify and order “threats”, manage risks and monitor strange presences (Bigo 2002). The dominance of such a discourse is significant as this promotes the emergence of a series of tropes of discussion which displace political antagonisms onto a set of pre-determined sites of contest. In the case of asylum as securitization, these sites of discussion are twofold, first centred upon statistics, costs and procedures and second upon a populist management of asylum as an object to be policed.

In the first case, the numbers of asylum applicants annually within the UK, the varied acceptance rates of such claims and rates of deportation and detention become key sites of discussion. Here statistical evidence is collated and presented as a means of documenting an assumed “asylum problem” which, in turn, demands particular forms of response. For example, we might consider stories which highlight concerns over the costs of asylum to the taxpayer. These include reports that in 2009 the UK Border Agency (UKBA) cut subsistence payments from £42.16 a week to £35.15 a week amidst claims that the government was being “too generous” (The Daily Mail 2009), and discussions over the cost of continuing to support those who are unable to be deported—an estimated £40 million in 2011, or £100,000 a day as Whitehead (2011) reports. This focus on numbers and costs is forged around particular languages of identification as Doyle (2011) exemplifies:

In 20 years, a city of illegal immigrants the size of Brighton is allowed to stay in Britain. A staggering quarter of a million failed asylum seekers have been granted an “amnesty” in Britain over the past two decades.

Finney and Simpson (2009) note that this rhetorical device of comparing asylum figures to existing UK cities reflects a populism which seeks to enhance fears of such “influxes” and their potential impacts. Alongside this, we also see a concern with procedure and process within discussions of asylum, such that the reproduction of an “asylum problem” demands certain responses. Here a series of contradictory impulses abound, for in part, discussion is dominated by accounts of the practice of deportation as a means of removing unwanted elements from the nation-state, such as Palmer's (2009) report on the use of external contract flights to deport failed asylum seekers and the UKBA's claim to “deport an illegal immigrant every eight minutes” (Ginn 2010). Yet at the same time there is an impulse to focus upon how attempts to “secure” the borders of the nation are undermined by a series of external pressures. For example, reports that a disabled asylum seeker was unable to be deported due to a failure to transport his wheelchair (Leach 2010) and Home Secretary Theresa May's claim that an “illegal immigrant” could not be deported “because he had a cat” (Welch 2011) highlight this trend. Cases such as these are elevated to a level of absurdity through repetition and are central to a rhetorical opposition to “human rights” cast as an abstract and constraining force on the right of the domos to regulate, manage and order its own space. The role of these cases is to maintain within the domopolitical imaginary a sense of the constrained urgency and embattled nature of a police order of regulation and management. The “givens of the situation” may appear natural, but they must also be continually protected from the “threat” of those unwanted elements within. As a result, the right to expel is elevated as a key tool of affective security.

There are two consequences of such a focus upon security, costs and procedure. The first is the reiteration of a populist trend associated with post-democratic discussions whereby the evocation of future crises continually demand “decisive action” and “expert” responses (Swyngedouw 2010). The continual production and narration of the “asylum problem” through stories of illegality, numbers of applicants, overstayers and escalating benefit bills serve precisely this demand. As Swyngedouw (2011:372) asserts, within post-democracy the “perpetual canvassing of ‘popular’ views”, directly signals “the parameters of what needs to be ‘policed’”. These tropes of discussion not only act to legitimate the actions taken through modes of domopolitical sorting, but also naturalise that very “proper” order of perception and political hierarchy that demands asylum seekers be “policed” as an unwanted element within.

The second consequence of such populist anxiety is that it displaces discussion to the level of managerial capacity and emergency response. In doing so, it places a series of more politically challenging questions over rights, justice and the very nature of domopolitics outside the domain of mainstream debate. The issue of asylum is translated in the popular imaginary from an issue of politics and contestation to one of managerial processes, decisions and governmental regulation and culpability, whilst the debates that remain over asylum take place precisely at a level of abstraction, which focuses on quotas for refugee resettlement schemes, responses to exceptional humanitarian events and the costs of “securing” borders. Cases of abuse in deportation practices exemplify this further, as The Observer (2010) found in reporting on allegations raised in 2010 that 42 Iraqi men were beaten by both British and Iraqi security staff during a deportation flight from London to Baghdad. The newspaper reports that:

there are many things that are disturbing about this story, not least the fact that British officials, purporting to act on behalf of us all, might carry out a vicious assault and prompt no popular outrage or even attract much notice. That would not be the case if police officers were thought to have handcuffed and beaten a group of British citizens in Heathrow airport. But these are not police officers. They are the employees of private security firms working on contracts for the Border Agency. The men allegedly assaulted were not citizens, but “failed asylum seekers”, a category that apparently negates all civil rights.

The privitisation of asylum provision and securitisation has significant depoliticising effects. It allows for a partial foreclosure of dissent and debate, as asylum becomes an issue of outsourced responsibility, multiple and shifting accountability and procedural practices of “disciplining, quantification and benchmarking” (Swyngedouw 2011:372). What is significant is not necessarily the denial of rights to those being deported as noted above, but rather the manner in which the framing of asylum as an issue of domopolitical concern—of regulations, risks, quantification and procedures – serves to displace discussion of political rights, political alternatives and human lives rather than abstract figures.

Domopolitics, as an order of perception, constantly seeks to make and re-make categorisations and classes of migrant to be accommodated. What such a system amounts to is the continual recitation of an image of asylum as an issue of managerialist organisation, coordination and provision and, in exceptional circumstances, an issue of humanitarianism to those defined as “worthy refugees”. The depoliticising tendencies of domopolitics as a mode of governing asylum might thus be viewed as producing and maintaining “an aesthetic order where non-status migrants are variously seen as a threat, a risk, or a victim. They are rarely perceived as agents, actors, participants” (Nyers 2010:130). The domos that emerges through this aesthetic order is one to be protected and secured, rather than one to be transformed. Addressing this closure is critical for contemporary asylum politics. In the remainder of this paper I want to sketch a path through varied modes of response to the entanglements of domopolitics and begin with accounts of asylum activism that focus upon “acts of citizenship”.

Acts of Citizenship

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Politics, Police and Depoliticisation
  4. The Depoliticisation of Asylum
  5. Acts of Citizenship
  6. Beyond the Episodic Act
  7. Incremental Becoming
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

In recent years a number of scholars have articulated a conceptualisation of citizenship as an active political demonstration of dissensus. Work on “acts of citizenship” highlights the constitutive role of rupture to both political subjectivity and citizenship itself, focusing predominantly on the rights claims of undocumented migrants across Europe and North America (see Isin 2008; McNevin 2006; Nyers 2006). Within this framework, acts of citizenship are seen to “allow for an exploration of the ways in which citizenship is created anew – not necessarily in an institutionalized legal form but in a political form that contests the existing institutional order” (Aradau et al., 2010:957). To focus on acts of citizenship is then to “focus on those moments when, regardless of status and substance, subjects constitute themselves as citizens—or … those to whom the right to have rights is due” (Isin 2008:18). In such acts individuals and groups articulate a claim to political subjectivity through assuming the very rights they are seen to lack. It is this disruptive assumption that connects this account of citizenship practice with a Rancièrian politics of dissensus, for in both cases an intervention is made that ruptures a given perceptual order. Indeed, Isin (2009:380) is clear that it is the rupture itself which constitutes the act, for to “act is to actualize a rupture in the given, to act always means to enact the unexpected”.

To provide an example of such political practice, both May (2010) and Nyers (2003, 2006) examine the work of an Algerian refugee group in Montréal who in 2002 began to contest both the lifting of a moratorium on deportations to Algeria and their position as refused asylum seekers. The group, the Comité d'action des sans-statut (CASS) demanded the end of deportations to Algeria, the reinstatement of the moratorium and the regularisation of non-status Algerian migrants in the city. The importance attached to this group is that whilst CASS received support and recognition from other migrant rights groups, CASS was first and foremost an organisation driven by non-status migrants. In this sense both May (2010) and Nyers (2006) argue that the actions undertaken by the group might be read as a form of political interruption in which the “givens” of the situation, the perceptual ordering and distribution of what should be where and who should be heard, are placed in question. They document how CASS undertook to invade the offices of immigration officials and disrupt their work, to demonstrate publicly outside immigration buildings, to lobby, pressurise and disrupt the airlines involved in deportation flights. These acts, organised and undertaken by those without status, “insisted that they could speak and they would be political” (Nyers 2006:59). Nyers thus suggests that the demonstrations, protests and disruptive tactics of anti-deportation groups such as CASS work precisely as a form of political “interruption”, through which a political subjectivity could be articulated. As Nyers (2003:1089) argues “[w]hen speechless victims begin to speak about the politics of protection, this has the effect of putting the political into question”. Acts of anti-deportation opposition by asylum seekers throw into doubt the edifice of political normality previously in place, the political consensus of deportation is faced with a dissensus which denies the distinction between “legal” and “illegal” migrants.

Yet these acts also offer a potentially wider resonance, for as May (2010:40) argues, CASS acted to reconfigure how the “givens” of the situation were perceived—how Montréal and its citizens saw this situation. Through the acts of CASS, individuals who were previously invisible became visible; “through CASS they become identifiable. And once identifiable, they could become identified with”. It is precisely this art of identification, of a political visibility that accrues through acts of citizenship, which runs counter to the depoliticisation of domopolitics. These acts seek to challenge the abjection of those seeking asylum and their distribution into “zones” of depoliticised accommodation via making political the presence of those given no part within the order of the present.

Acts of citizenship are in some senses surprising and exceptional. For those “part with no part” to assert a political voice in this manner is a dangerous undertaking. Indeed, as May (2010:32) states, “[i]t is often best, if one is alone and without protection, to install oneself within the social cracks rather than to confront openly the forces that oppress one. The latter course is usually an invitation to deportation”. It is in part this fear of deportation which domopolitics uses to regulate the presence of irregular migrants and to ensure their invisibility. Acts of citizenship highlight the fact that despite the “considerable risks that come when the non-status interrupt the public realm as speaking beings … people find themselves in political situations acting as political actors” (Nyers 2006:64). These acts are political in a disruptive sense, but they are not the revolutionary interruptions that many post-political theorists seek as the catalysts for alternative democratic futures. In the following section I critically question the weight attached to such acts.

Beyond the Episodic Act

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Politics, Police and Depoliticisation
  4. The Depoliticisation of Asylum
  5. Acts of Citizenship
  6. Beyond the Episodic Act
  7. Incremental Becoming
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

Whilst acts of citizenship might provide examples of insurgent practices, such acts alone are insufficient to address the closures and exclusions of domopolitics in and of themselves. This is a failing which might be traced in part to the nature of the alternative to post-politics proposed in this literature, whereby politics is presented as a rare, eruptive event, something which occurs as an interruption which can be recognised only retrospectively. Paddison (2009) argues that such a view fatally undervalues human agency and the possibility for resistance, noting that contestation and antagonism still mark contemporary life. Whilst I agree with Paddison's (2009) account of a contested present, I fear he misses a central element of the post-political debate—that within such writings it is not the presence of contestation that is placed in question. Indeed, one of the failings of any police order is its inability to ensure that all contestation is subsumed within consensus (Swygendouw 2011). Rather, the question becomes whether such contestation amounts to a “properly political” moment of interruption and reordering. Minor antagonisms are not the issue here; their revolutionary impact is. Against such a position is the articulation of a politics of the extraordinary, the act or event through which “people … rise up and create or act in fidelity towards new rules and circumstances” (Hewlett 2007:115).

The limits of this form of politics are clear when we explore the politics of asylum. Certainly, this body of work is provocative and centres attention upon the politicisation of those who have “no part”. Yet, it places upon them too great a burden of political expectation, for all actions within this framing must be either radically transformative or part of an endless, and seemingly pointless, process of framing and reframing a police order without its fundamental alteration. In doing so, a focus on the revolutionary content of political acts leaves little space for political actions which take different forms—actions such as “identity-stripping” and hunger striking which constitute modes of “everyday resistance” borne of desperation and abjection (see Ellermann 2010; McGregor 2011). A key element of this model is that politics must always emerge as an interruption; it is defined against a mode of seeing and distributing, yet the presupposition of equality it asserts does not necessary remain in place. It is rather the continual struggle between the police order as a mode of perception and the claim to equality that denotes a “properly political” moment. This moment is “unabashedly sporadic and intermittent” (Hallward 2006:123), and it is this sporadic nature which harms its ability to address the claims and contestations of forced migrants the most. For while asylum seekers might be viewed as distributed within a police order of regulation and moralised compassion, suggesting that the political sequences which might challenge such an ordering are rare, temporary and fleeting serves to further depoliticise those who seek asylum. Unless individuals act in such a revolutionary guise then their actions become simply an always-already subsumed part of the police order, a manageable diversion; “an active part of the process of post-democratization” (Swyngedouw 2011:377).

The importance of this limitation is that in a Žižekian reading there is no room for an incremental politics of small happenings, acts and events which come to cohere and sustain a radical intent, rather each “properly political act” must itself bear the weight of changing the order of the present. Such events are indeed rare. This however, does not mean that they should obscure a focus from addressing a politics of sustained dissensus that draws on Rancière's insights but which seeks to engage moments of interruption as the points around which political processes are orientated. To do so allows emphasis on moments through which domopolitics is questioned and its distinctions shown to be contingent, whilst also allowing a concern with sustaining such moments of dissensus. This move is significant because those acts of citizenship associated with anti-deportation groups noted above clearly do not affect that radical rupture associated with a “properly political” moment. These acts assert a political moment through disrupting office practices, delaying flights and throwing “normal” state practices into question, but they do so only through a myriad of small acts, demonstrations, emails, faxes and phone calls which build a critical weight of support behind them. May (2010:43) argues that one of the implications of Rancière's thought is that “in the face of the police orders that govern us, politics remains among our possibilities, when and where there is the context and the will to create it”. It is this question of the will and context to create politics that is central, for modes of anti-deportation campaigning do not simply arise from nothing; they accrue through banal practices of organisation, coordination and planning. Acts of citizenship thus occur in the context of an everyday accretion of injustices and wrongs that are felt and embodied, such that dispositions and actions are felt in response to such wrongs.

What such a framework suggests is the need for what Pieterse (2008:6) terms “radical incrementalism” which focuses upon “multiple small revolutions that at unanticipated and unexpected moments galvanize into deeper ruptures that accelerate tectonic shifts of the underlying logics of domination and what is considered possible”. It is this image of an alternative order of perception that post-political discussion has notably failed to convincingly address. For, as Dean (2009:31) suggests, the “claim that the situation could have been different fails to provide leverage toward making the situation different”.

To take up Dean's (2009) point in reference to domopolitics, it would be unrealistic to expect that simply relying upon moments of interruption which highlight the contingencies of a perceptual register would effectively undermine or transform these varied entanglements of interests, security, affectivity and identification. Domopolitics is sustained through a significant degree of investment and engagement from multiple spheres of public and political life; it is reliant upon emotional, affective and material investment from politicians, policy-makers, officials and the wider public in order to maintain its perceptual grip. The very image of the “homely” nation as a site of affective belonging binds such investments together (Tyler 2010). It is these resonances and investments that keep domopolitics alive as a way of viewing asylum and it is precisely these depoliticising investments that ensure that oppositional moments are framed as violent and radical reactions, rather than political interventions (Mouffe 2005). To address the entanglements of this mode of perception I suggest in the next section that whilst a focus upon acts of citizenship is necessary, it is critical to view these acts as interventions within a more incremental politics.

Incremental Becoming

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Politics, Police and Depoliticisation
  4. The Depoliticisation of Asylum
  5. Acts of Citizenship
  6. Beyond the Episodic Act
  7. Incremental Becoming
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

In response to accounts of the post-political, Mouffe (2005:33) argues that “the effective way to challenge power relations, [is] not on the mode of an abstract negation but … through a process of disarticulation of existing practices and creation of new discourses”. Mouffe thus binds politicisation to “the construction of projects and discourses that people can affectively identify with” (Tambakai 2009:112, original emphasis). This approach of affective identification provides an insight into how we might begin to view the form of politics that acts of citizenship may be a part of—that of a “politics of becoming” which seeks to create alternative discourses of asylum. Connolly (1999) argues that a “politics of becoming” denotes the assertion of a right to a legitimate role within agonistic contestation, as a “politics of becoming occurs when a culturally marked constituency … strives to reconfigure itself by moving the cultural constellation of identity/difference then in place” (1999:51). Such a constituency enacts a move towards recognition which destabilises the present political order, questioning the certainties of political categorisation and challenging perceived orthodoxies. In this sense it is a move to “become political”, marking “that moment when the naturalness of the dominant virtues is called into question” (Isin 2002:275). A politics of becoming thus shares with acts of citizenship a focus upon the critical illustration of the contingent nature of the social order—the “givens” of the situation.

A politics of becoming relies upon and draws from those moments of political interruption that have been termed acts of citizenship. More specifically, such a politics arises from the opening of interstices within the police order which allow for new modes of perception. As May (2010) suggests, once those seeking asylum become identified and visible, they are also able to be identified with, to become not only dissenting subjects, but also subjects who inspire dissent. Acts of citizenship might thus be viewed as those points of rupture which destabilise normalised regimes of perception and it is from these acts that emergent modes of political becoming arise.

To illustrate this, we might return to the work of CASS. In their attempts to contest the production of non-status illegality, CASS undertook a series of acts of citizenship that asserted a political presence beyond the “givens” of the police order. For CASS such disruptive acts were partially successful, with the government establishing a limited regularisation programme allowing non-status Algerians to apply for permanent residence, subject to a range of constraints and conditions (Nyers 2003). The outcome of these disruptive acts was therefore a reform of the position of the state. Thus whilst the acts of citizenship that CASS performed might be viewed as non-hegemonic rejections of the police order, the response elicited was one of attempting to draw these demonstrations into such an order, to perform a counter-hegemonic response (Day 2004). It is here that the connection between such acts and a process of political becoming is central.

First, because as May (2010) suggests, the impact of such acts extended beyond the immediate outcome of regularisation for a specific migrant group. These acts demonstrated the possibilities of agency. It is this contagious political intent that is notable in the rise of “action committees” for non-status migrants noted by Nyers (2010) in the wake of the work of CASS. The significance of such committees is in acting to continually reiterate the “naming” of those seeking asylum as rightful presences, rather than as abjects to be located within an order of distribution. As Martin and Pierce (2012:74) suggest, to be “substantially disruptive” any focus on political acts needs to “be one of many similar re-organizing moments”, points of destabilisation that never allow for the sedimentation of a police order. The re-organising moments undertaken by movements such as CASS are therefore critical in producing a context within which other forms of disruptive re-organisation can occur.

Second, this connection between the immediate and the incremental is critical to developing a politics of asylum activism that may endure to be “substantially disruptive” (Martin and Pierce 2012:74). Following CASS, we might note different groups articulating positions on the politics of non-status migrants in Canada. For example, the proclamation that “No one is illegal” suggests a non-hegemonic politics which seeks to neither reclaim nor reform the state (Day 2004), whilst the work of movements to regularise non-status migrants often seek reform in the name of specific migrant groups. Holding these positions in tension is a challenging but necessary task for a politics of becoming that seeks to confront the perceptual power of domopolitics. A politics of becoming will only advance through an ability to not dismiss the political actions and agency of those “part with no part”, even if such actions appear pragmatic and limited at times. Thus whilst this range of “action committees” focus on multiple goals and varied methods of address, a politics of becoming marks a willingness to highlight the affinities between such groups. At the very least this means a shared commitment to the contestation and disruption of the domopolitical order. Whilst the importance of these interruptive acts is in demonstrating the contingency of the police order, within a politics of becoming the audience for such demonstration becomes all of those implicated within this mode of governance—all of those who occupy a part within the police order and who might be challenged to think differently about such a position.

With this audience in mind, such a politics might take the form of continual work to retain the visibility and presence of anti-deportation campaigns after their enactment through media exposure, blogging and testimony. It would involve connecting anti-deportation campaigns and struggles to both the specificities of place and to a wider series of contests over forced migration in other national and international contexts. To do so would be to tie the acts of those questioning domopolitics “here” with the “naming” of asylum as an issue of justice in other places (Squire and Darling 2013). Such political solidarity, forged around collective claims to political becoming for those unaccounted for in present orders of international politics, would offer a powerful counter-narrative to that of the “proper” logics of organisation and distribution that dominate domopolitical thinking. Alliances of this form are evident in the connections drawn between specific “action committees” on non-status migrants in different national contexts and international movements, such as the No Border Network (Millner 2011). Finally, to achieve such a politics would also require the translation of such ways of seeing into a wider public field of vision. This would demand shifting the contours of debate using acts of citizenship as starting points for discussion, rather than as irrational exceptions to an orderly rule. It is this process of translation that a sustained and critical politics of becoming must be orientated towards.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Politics, Police and Depoliticisation
  4. The Depoliticisation of Asylum
  5. Acts of Citizenship
  6. Beyond the Episodic Act
  7. Incremental Becoming
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

In this paper, I have attempted to explore the potential confluences between recent debates within geography around notions of the post-political and the framing of asylum discussion within the UK as an issue of domopolitics. In doing so, I have argued that whilst domopolitics may not be read as part of a general “post-political condition”, its attempts to manage, classify and order those seeking asylum carry traces of depoliticisation through promoting a response of regulatory, managerial and at times humanitarian procedure in place of political engagement and debate. In response, this paper has focused upon “acts of citizenship” (Isin 2008) which bear traces of those political interruptions that some post-political theorists view as challenging the possibilities of the present. However, a focus upon these moments of eruptive enactment alone is inadequate to address the complexities, investments and resonances of domopolitics as a way of perceiving and acting upon asylum. To do so, I have argued for a critical engagement between theories of the disruptive political act and the incremental character of processes of political becoming.

In considering the connections between Rancière's conception of politics and contemporary social movements, May (2010:42) suggests that politics is “successful when those in front of whom and against whom it takes place are forced to confront their own role in the police order”, and that politics mobilises an “obligation to hear” (May 2010:43; Rancière 1995:86). It is this obligation which infuses the political processes of incremental becoming that I have advocated here, processes centred upon changing outlooks and dispositions towards those groups unaccounted for. The importance of acts within these processes is that they formulate democratic movements and visions which may, or may not, gain traction and transformative purchase. This is not then to dismiss those acts of “everyday resistance” and contestation which do not galvanise into sequences of political becoming, or which are aimed squarely at a piecemeal and pragmatic attempt to gain recognition or concession (see Scott 1985). Rather, it is to highlight the ever-present potential that such acts hold for politics, a potential which is too easily denied through a focus on a revolutionary framing of politics but which is present in the ways that transitory and disparate acts may call into question the distributions, assumptions and “givens” of a perceptual order. It is this critical account, this contesting impulse, which makes such acts political, whether they galvanise wider projects of becoming or not. There is no guarantee of success here. However, there is a recognition that political acts may be prosaic and yet still alter a perceptual field in some way, rather than demanding that such acts only ever be revolutionary in nature and effect. Politics in this sense is about attempts to “rearrange what and how we perceive, make us see something new or different” (May 2010:40). This can be achieved in relation to a domopolitics of asylum only through a combination of moments of interruption, with a longer term commitment to political becoming which reinstates those perceptual reconfigurations and which keeps such ways of seeing alive.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Politics, Police and Depoliticisation
  4. The Depoliticisation of Asylum
  5. Acts of Citizenship
  6. Beyond the Episodic Act
  7. Incremental Becoming
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References

Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the University of Exeter and as part of the “Politicizing the Post-Political City” workshop at the Open University; my thanks to the organisers and audiences at both events for their insightful comments and questions. The paper has benefited greatly from the critical insights and observations of Martin Hess, Colin McFarlane, Erik Swyngedouw and Helen Wilson, along with the enthusiasm and encouragement of Gordon MacLeod and Kevin Ward; my thanks to you all. Thanks also to Vinay Gidwani and three anonymous reviewers for engaging so generously with the paper. All errors remain my own.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Politics, Police and Depoliticisation
  4. The Depoliticisation of Asylum
  5. Acts of Citizenship
  6. Beyond the Episodic Act
  7. Incremental Becoming
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgements
  10. References