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Keywords:

  • refugees;
  • Agamben;
  • belonging;
  • complex systems;
  • September 11;
  • globalisation;
  • sovereignty;
  • fear;
  • borders

Abstract

This article examines how the image of the refugee has been defined through the fear of the other, and how the mechanisms of detention have transformed the conditions of belonging. I examine the contemporary geopolitical forces propelling the rise of a new authoritarianism, growing border anxieties and hostility towards refugees, and argue that these emerging shifts provoke an urgent need for a new conceptual framework to understand the dynamics of contemporary global flows and concepts of belonging. I introduce what I call the ‘invasion complex’, a new conceptual hybrid that draws upon elements of psychoanalytic theory and complex systems theory, and Giorgio Agamben's analysis of sovereignty and ‘the camp’, to explain heightened border anxieties and the legitimization of violence towards the Other. I consider the value, applications and limitations of Agamben's analysis, and contend that both the state-centric moral debate on the refugee crisis, and Agamben's method of privileging political agency in terms of sovereign power, tend to discount the role of complexity. Drawing on the Australian political and public discourse on refugees, and the 2001 Tampa crisis, I argue that the hostile reactions can be traced to a complex interplay between old phobias and new fantasies. I conclude by urging the need to move beyond nation state centric critiques of racism, and propose the development of a new paradigm — a potential politics that recognizes the complex dynamics of global flows, and which opens the way for a discourse of hope based on the rights of the human being, rather than the citizen.