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The Gaze of Autonomy. Capitalism, Migration and Social Struggles

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‘To speak of the autonomy of migration’, Papadopoulos, Stephenson and Tsianos write, ‘is to understand migration as a social movement in the literal sense of the words, not as a mere response to economic and social malaise.They go on: ‘The autonomy of migration approach does not, of course, consider migration in isolation from social, cultural and economic structures. The opposite is true: migration is understood as a creative force within these structures’ (2008: 202). To engage with the autonomy of migration thus requires a ‘different sensibility’, a different gaze, I would say. It means looking at migratory movements and conflicts in terms that prioritize the subjective practices, the desires, the expectations, and the behaviours of migrants themselves. This does not imply a romanticization of migration, since the ambivalence of these subjective practices and behaviours is always kept in mind. New dispositifs of domination and exploitation are forged within migration considered as a social movement, as well as new practices of liberty and equality. The autonomy of migration approach in this regard needs to be understood as a distinct perspective from which to view the ‘politics of mobility’ – one that emphasizes the subjective stakes within the struggles and clashes that materially constitute the field of such a politics. It shows, to employ the terms proposed by Vicki Squire in the introduction to this book, how the ‘politics of control’ itself is compelled to come to terms with a ‘politics of migration’ that structurally exceeds its (re)bordering practices. Indeed, it allows for an analysis of the production of irregularity not as a unilateral process of exclusion and domination managed by state and law, but as a tense and conflict-driven process, in which subjective movements and struggles of migration are an active and fundamental factor.

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