Where is the Law?

Society and Space just published a marvelous virtual theme issue on international migration, with contributions from Rutvica Andrijasevic and William Walters, Deirdre Conlon and my former colleague Susan Thieme, amongst others.

The collection adds further depth to the ongoing discussion in critical legal geography on the complex and expanding spaces of the law, expressed for example in a recent collection edited by Irus Braverman and others. These authors draw in turn on a long-standing scholarship of legal anthropologists like the Von Benda Beckmanns, Boaventura Santos, legal geographers like Nicholas Blomley and David Delaney, and legal scholars like Zoe Pearson and Oren Yiftachel.

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In the guest editorial of Society and Space, called ‘the where of asylum’, Mustafa Dikeç asks the pugnant question:

Does law produce spaces where it no longer applies? Does it, in other words, set up spaces of lawlessness?”

Parallel to Irus Braverman and colleagues, Dikeç addresses this question not merely from a practical legal perspective (how law is shaped) but out of a profound curiosity into power’s spatial constitution, as John Allen would put it.

What animates this growing body of work, Dikeç writes, is the idea that law may be involved in producing spaces of lawlessness. In other words: violence that is commonly depicted as ‘lawless’ may actually be committed through the law –or rather: through the continuous reproduction of its exception. It is this latter strand that seems to be the main concern of contemporary legal-spatial research.

Dikeç’s question came to mind lately when watching a series of recent Italian documentaries on the expanding migrant ‘ghettos’ in Puglia, Campania and Basilicata (the issue is generating worldwide attention nowadays, some day I need to produce a list of recent contributions). Set up as labour camps for the numerous seasonal land labourers (or braccianti) who invigorate South Italy’s plantation economy, these ‘ghetto’s’ reflect the extremely violent and exploitative forms of encampment capitalist labour regimes engender across international borders today (not to speak about the strong semantic resonance of the term). But they also express how the law (particularly asylum law) consciously creates it own exception, which is henceforth placed outside of its protective realm.

In other words, the conscious abandonment of protection as a fundamental value of state sovereignty within the EU’s national state frameworks is not just made possible through the systematic prevention of access to its territory, or the official detention of migrants across Europe’s many camp sites. But it is also justified through the reproduction of these liminal environments, which simultaneously constitute the law’s outer-space – or frontier zone – and the inner space of cross-border capitalist undertakings. Reflecting on Europe’s schizophrenic hospitality, Andreas Oberprantacher writes:

It is crucial to realise, however, that it is not just states that are implicated in the creation and management of a heterogeneous population of illegal aliens, but also actors that are usually acting in concert with liberal democratic states, so that two major elements of the rule-of-law, that is jurisdiction and accountability, are effectively diffused in a rather viscous and all-too-often treacherous frontier regime.

Somebody who has been working on the transformation of the state’s legal space theoretically more recently is David Delaney. In his recent book, Nomospheric Investigations, he tries to overcome the discrepancy between the legal and the spatial as two autonomous realms. The nomosphere is the cultural-material environment that emerges out of the performative engagements through which the social signification of the ‘legal’ and the legal signification of the ‘social’ materialize and mutually constitute one another. At the same time Delaney makes it plain that nomic settings, like the home, the archive, or the workplace, do not exist in isolation from one another. But they are the contingent products of pervasive cultural processes associated with the nomosphere (he uses the term nomoscapes). His work feels reminiscent of feminist scholarship about the location of knowledge (I think of Donna Harraway and Bell Hooks for example) as well as some of the more recent critical scholarship on borders (of which the Society and Space theme issue is just one recent outcome) I look forward to engage more in-depth with.

 

East Congo: Power to the Margins

9781107082076I am somewhat proud to announce the publication of my first single authored book with Cambridge University Press: Violent Capitalism and Hybrid Identity in the Eastern Congo: Power to the Margins.
The book discusses the radical transformation of eastern Congo’s political order in the context of apparent armed destruction and state weakness. Throughout the seven chapters, I trace back today’s violent rule patterns to a tumultuous history of extra-economic accumulation, armed rebellion and de facto public authority in the margins of regional power plays.
The book’s originality lies in its critically assessment of East Congo’s presumed collapse into “chaos”. Looking beyond the dominant paradigms, my main focus lies on cultural and economic uncertainty. Rather than curing the world’s ills – which, unfortunately, remains the dominant tendency in contemporary conflict analysis – I try to answer the difficult but important question what institutional changes result from strategies of daily risk management in an environment characterised by violent competition over the right to govern.
Pre-order forms can be found here

Out of the Ghetto

Two documentaries just came out on the slavery-like conditions of migrant labourers in South Italy’s agricultural sector. Watch out for screenings of ‘La Belleville‘ and ‘Destination de Dieu‘ at

https://www.facebook.com/labellevilledoc (facebook) and @LaBellevilleDoc (twitter)

https://it-it.facebook.com/pages/Destination-de-dieu/1487329524813007 (facebook)

displacement economies

The LSE Book Review decided to dedicate a piece on an edited volume I have chapter in, on Displacement Economies (edited by Amanda Hammar, and published with Zed Books).

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It describes the book as “a volume of varied, compelling discussions on displacement economies in Africa that seeks to shed light on the large influence of displacement on the continent’s economies, and address the lack of systematic research on this topic. It does so through unusual angles that range from the Somali economy of camel milk to the role that being ‘out of place’ plays in the identity and livelihoods of unarmed youth in Eastern DRC. Each of the ten authors admirably examines both the widening and contracting opportunities present in situations where unpredictability and uncertainty dictate both the economic market and peoples’ lives. All of the chapters in some way address the questions: What do we find when we broaden the lens on displacement economies? And, what is not just destroyed but produced by displacement?”

The book’s compelling invitation – which owes much to Amanda Hammar’s sharp introduction – is that it “to look beyond the crisis of displacement and examine the adaptation and innovation of the economies that persist in, and even result from, such situations.” Also welcome is the reviewer’s emphasis on the cohesiveness of our argument, which, given the disperse character of displacement in the diverse case studies we describe, should be read as an achievement.

You can read the entire book review here.