DANIELLA TRIMBOLI recently completed a jointly-awarded Ph.D. at the University of Melbourne and the University of British Columbia. Her dissertation analysed the intersection of everyday multiculturalism and digital storytelling from a cultural studies perspective. Daniella has taught Australian Studies and Tourism at Flinders University and fulfilled various research roles, including one for the Ngarrinderji Regional Authority at the Yunggorendi First Nations Centre. Daniella is currently working for the Research Unit in Public Cultures at the University of Melbourne, and is a researcher on the public art project, Immigration Place. Daniella is an assistant editor of Journal of Intercultural Studies.
Thomas Nail presents a thorough and compelling case for the reconfiguration of the migrant and migration theory at large. His central argument is that motion needs to be the starting point for the theorisation of migration. My particular interest in Nail’s book is its capacity to add to understandings of how the migrant in contemporary society is materially shaped by motion, and, just as importantly, how that motion might be channelled into new kinds of resistance. I thus target the word figure to explore how some figures come to ‘figure less’ and some figures come to ‘figure more.’ Playing on de Beauvoir, Nail writes in his introduction: ‘One is not born a migrant but becomes one’ (p. 3). To further this claim: one is not born a migrant but is always becoming one. What possibilities exist for the becoming migrant in the contemporary moment of global migration?
Nail maps out a kinetic framework for migration that challenges the predominant model of studying migrants from the perspective of stasis, ‘as a secondary or derivative figure with respect to place-bound social membership’ (p. 3). His argument is reminiscent of that presented in Nikos Papastergiadis’ work on the turbulence of migration, in particular, the connection Papastergiadis makes in Cosmopolitanism and Culture (2012) between theorisations of migration and kinetophobia; that is, between migration and the fear of movement. Nail illustrates how mobility acts as constitutive of social life, rather than, as Papastergiadis writes, ‘the temporary disruption to the timeless feeling of national belonging’ (2012, p. 49). Nail also argues that histories of States often subsume migrant histories, even though the mobility of migrants has created its own forms of social organisation that move across, through and beyond nations/States.
In contrast to the dominant model of migration that is founded on stasis and states, Nail develops a kinetic and political theory of migration by tracing the historical regimes of social motion. The word regime is important because, while mobility is fluid and incapable of division, it ‘is always distributed in different concrete social formations or types of circulation’ (p. 4). Nail argues that social movement is regulated by various apparatuses of expulsion that take on territorial, political, juridical and economic forms. These forces give form to key migrant figures: the nomad, the barbarian, the vagabond and the proletariat.
The emergence of each of these figures is the result of different articulations of movement so that the ‘movement of creation precedes the thing created’ (p. 42). For example, Nail traces the barbarian back to Aristotle, who defined the barbarian as having political inferiority: ‘a natural incapacity for proper speech and reason that disallows political life’ (p. 52). In the ancient world, this notion of natural inferiority is needed in order to conceptualise political slavery: ‘the ancient figure of the migrant is called the “barbarian” or “inferior subject,” not the “slave,” because the concept of barbarism or natural inferiority is first required to legitimate slavery’ (p. 52). As Foucault (1978) and later Butler (1993, p. 2) showed us, the performative power of discourse is its ability to create that which it names. This performative power is evidenced in Nail’s historical analysis of the four main types of migrants, each of which emerges as a particular figure in accordance with certain kinds of kinetophobias. Anyone moving in ways that could potentially undermine the State’s core directive of maintaining and expanding control is targeted, grouped and ‘moved elsewhere.’ Thus, as Nail observes, when unwanted forms of mobility like vagabondage increased, so too did the types of people deemed to be vagabonds. In short, when unwanted forms of movement increased, more types of unwanted movers are produced. What becomes clear is that these types of unwanted movers are not ‘new’ kinds of people, but people bearing accumulative histories of undesirable mobility. These accumulative histories move ahead in time, so the migrant is always a subject-in-motion. Continue reading “Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: (Re)figuring the Migrant Body (Trimboli)”