We are All Migrants: Expanding the Margins under the Condition of Migrant-hood

by Gregory Feldman

screamThis paper argues that the categorical distinction between the “migrant” and “citizen” collapses under careful scrutiny. Rather than signify different subject-positions, the migrant and the citizen are subject to highly similar conditions of existence that 1) impair their ability to initiate joint political action; and 2) render them atomized, lonely, and disempowered. As atomized individuals, both citizens and migrants must nevertheless be “connected” (or “integrated” in migration policy speak) to satisfy the ceaseless motion of liberal economics. However, these connections involve the denial of one’s particular subject-hood because they rely on the body’s generic, animalized capacities to labor physically and/or cognitively in co-operation with others. In this context, “connection” does not equal empowerment as it leaves people isolated while absorbing their collective labor power into economic-cum-administrative systems. Finally, this paper argues that to eliminate this condition of migrant-hood people must be capable of constituting what Hannah Arendt called “spaces of appearance.” These inter-subjective spaces materialize when individuals, qua particular speaking subjects, deliberate and organize joint actions based on their own assessments of what an ethical course of action should be. The constitution of such spaces requires use of the faculty of thought (in contrast to the faculty of cognition) to make, and act upon, ethical judgments in situations lacking a satisfactory ethical code. Given that the particular speaking subject only obtains a worldly reality in such spaces, these are essential for transforming atomized individuals (citizen and migrant alike) into political agents.

Greg Feldman (School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University)