Vehicles of mobility: Transportation & migration infrastructures
Migration is not only about the movement of humans; vehicles, roads and routes play a central role in shaping journeys, facilitating or hindering the circulation of humans and objects. Infrastructures are an instrument for communication and engagement, connecting sending and receiving societies and diasporas over the distance, or helping newcomers navigate their community. But they can also build barriers to movement and enforce separation and immobility, acting like a selective screen for people on the move. From aeroplanes carrying migrants, tourists and deportees across borders, to the various watercrafts (migrant boats, rescue ships and coast guard vessels) that constitute hazardous seascapes such as the Mediterranean, as well as the trains, cars and trails crossing land borders, vehicles create radically different conditions and experiences for travellers.
Adapting to a particular geographic context, infrastructures are also intrinsically linked to notions of security and economics. They are shaped by divisions of class, race and legal status, and in turn produce new distinctions between mobile and immobile subjects, deciding who can move and how, and bringing about a series of political, social, and economic consequences in the aftermath of crossing borders.
In this issue, we reflect on different infrastructures, some more visible than others: we stop at border controls between Hungary and Serbia or Zimbabwe and South Africa, follow the train transporting Central American migrants through Mexico, and map the laws and technologies that carve the journeys to Europe across and beyond the Mediterranean. Many of the pieces in this issue analyse human mobility and the structures shaping it through art forms and personal testimonies: a photo essay follows closely the lives of two Sudanese refugees in France, and three film reviews take us through media representations of migration, mental health challenges for asylum seekers, and the work of a grassroots organisation assisting migrants en route.
When we started planning this issue months ago, we did not know that a global pandemic would soon spread tragically, making the role of infrastructures in enforcing immobility more salient than ever through lockdowns and border shutdowns. We would like to extend a word of appreciation to our writers for staying with us and seeing this issue through in such a tough time for everyone. To our readers: please stay safe, remain home if you can, and take care of each other – from a distance.
Love, friendship and family ties reach beyond borders. Through migration and mobility, people on the move build connections that spread across geographies and take a variety of forms. New relationships develop in receiving societies, weaving together migrant communities and binding locals and migrants. At the same time, borders and distance are also agents of separation. Border and deportation policies that tear families and loved ones apart have become common in many countries. In this issue, we reflect on stories of connection and distance across borders, looking into the political and social dimensions of migration, family, friendship and love, through a collection of academic insights and family stories. Read more here.
In a world of increasing mobility and global connections, citizenship continues to be one of the most important political issues of our time. From classical theories to contemporary lived experiences, the boundaries between citizens and non-citizens have shifted, constituting new spaces, new politics, and new ways of understanding the fabric of society. In this issue, we look at the politics of becoming a citizen or staying a foreigner; and the ways of crafting and navigating the ties of belonging to a diaspora, a migrant community, and a receiving society. Read more here.
In the messy world of migration politics, art has the power to stir debate, promote action and open our imaginations to new political possibilities. Borrowing its title from James Scott's seminal book, his monographic issue focuses on forms of art that allow us to see migration ‘like a poet’: revealing the emotions and tensions inherent to both the migrant condition and the ways in which migration is understood and acted upon. Read more here.
With the media dominated by popular narratives of migration crises, it is easy to focus on the here and now of migration and lose track of context, especially the historical one. This risks reinforcing the notion of the exceptionalism of the current situation and discourses that overestimate the impact and the scale of the issue; yet migration is far from being a new phenomenon. This issue looks beyond the current headlines to how migration and mobility have been present throughout history. Here, we put the migration stories of today into the context of the past, highlighting similarities and differences, bringing to light forgotten stories, and showing how our ‘today’ is influenced by the ‘todays’ of the past. Read more here.
Across the world human-induced climate change is transforming the planet’s environments and ecosystems and affecting migratory movements of people and animals. At the same time, migratory movements can transform local environments by putting pressure on finite resources and exacerbating the conditions for environmental damage. In this context, the phenomenon of ‘climate refugees’ has emerged prominently among other forms of mobility. Politics has also taken on transnational dimensions with social movements mobilising between continents calling on their respective governments to do more to reduce fossil-fuel dependency. Read more here.
While migration is often synonymous with movement, in reality, many people ‘on the move’ struggle to realise their aspirations and remain stuck. When movement is not an option, migration creates spaces of immobility filled with tensions, resignation, suffering, struggles and waiting. These include makeshift camps, processing centres, jails, workhouses and boats stuck in ports. In turn, people use their agency to reshape these and other immobile spaces that emerge in the process of migration. Read more here.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted in December 2018, became a milestone in the history of migration politics. It represents an effort to ‘regularise’ migration, which has been lauded by many members of the international community. At the same time, it has provoked an unprecedented level of far-right populist backlash, causing many states to withdraw from the agreement. Read more here.
In our first issue, we question existing perceptions of migration as a binary choice between roots and routes: staying and moving, belonging and leaving, being stuck and running free. Are we humans really faced with such a dilemma? How do politics, markets, and cultures create it and reshape it? What are its consequences over people's lives, and how do migrants think of themselves in the light of it? What alternative ideas are emerging? Read more here.