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The Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement


Borders, colonialism and migration

Study Group

Convenors: Danai Avgeri / Tugba Basaran

For dates, please consult:

If you would like to attend, please send an email to Danai Avgeri


Modes of human mobility and the systems that regulate it have been profoundly shaped by histories of colonialism. Yet, both mainstream policy-oriented studies of migration and critical migration and border studies are haunted by a persistent ‘colonial amnesia’.  This study groups aims to address this predicament by rethinking migration and borders under the lens of colonialism and its enduring legacies. It brings insights from different disciplines to explore the racialised violence and colonial hierarchies that are embedded within contemporary border and migration regimes. By doing so, it seeks to consolidate a collective research agenda for those engaged in related work. 
The study group will delve into the historical and conceptual layering processes that both ingrained racial categories into the government of human mobility and continuously rework them into putatively race-free migration and refugee systems. It will critically unpack the colonial assumptions underpinning the idea of equal nation-states and citizenship rights that are central to the global organisation of mobility and labour. Finally, it will grapple with the coloniality of our own methods and practices when researching migration and borders and engage with post/decolonial approaches to mobility justice and knowledge production.  

During each session, the group will discuss a specific aspect of this overarching theme. The discussion will take inspiration from one/two pre-agreed readings (chosen among the references below) and/or an informal presentation by an invited speaker. The final plan will be concluded in the first meeting according to the group’s backgrounds and research interests.



Meetings and related literature

1.    The coloniality of migration, borders and their ‘crises’

In this introductory meeting, we will discuss the recent turn in studies of migration and borders to histories of colonialism, decolonization as well as the concept of coloniality (Quijano, 2000) as a framework to understand colonial structures of domination that continue to reverberate beyond the historical experience of formal decolonization. We will see how such attempts have troubled discourses of contemporary migration and refugee ‘crises’ that tend to present certain mobilities as sudden and external ruptures. By grounding the racial coding of immigration and asylum systems to specific histories of colonialism, nation-state building and systems of mobility control, we will examine the recent securitization of migration as a reformulation of colonial rule and migration as ‘an act of decolonization’ (Achiume, 2017) in itself.  

Related readings:
Achiume, E., (2017). Reimagining International Law for Global Migration: Migration as Decolonization?. AJIL Unbound, 111, pp.142-146.
Achiume, E., (2022). Racial Borders. Georgetown Law Journal 110: pp. 445–508
Bhambra, G.K., (2017). The current crisis of Europe: refugees, colonialism, and the limits of cosmopolitanism. European Law Journal 23 (5), pp. 395–405.
De Genova, N., (2010). Migration and race in Europe: The trans-Atlantic metastases of a post-colonial cancer. European Journal of Social Theory, 13(3), pp. 405-419.
De Genova, N., (2017). The ‘migrant crisis’ as racial crisis: do Black Lives Matter in Europe?. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 41(10), pp.1765-1782.
Gutierrez Rodriguez, E., (2018). The Coloniality of Migration and the ‘Refugee Crisis’: On the Asylum-Migration Nexus, the Transatlantic White European Settler Colonialism-Migration and Racial Capitalism. Refuge 34, pp. 16-28. 
Mayblin, L., (2017). Asylum after Empire: Colonial Legacies in the Politics of Asylum Seeking. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Mayblin, L. and Turner, J., (2021). Migration studies and colonialism. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Moffette, D. and Vadasaria, S., (2016). Uninhibited violence: race and the securitization of immigration. Critical Studies on Security, 4(3), pp.291-305.
Lemberg-Pedersen, M., Fett, S., Mayblin, L., Sahraoui, N. and Stambøl, E., (2022). Postcoloniality and forced migration: Mobility, Control, Agency. Bristol: Bristol UP.
Picozza, F., (2021). The coloniality of asylum: mobility, autonomy and solidarity in the wake of Europe’s refugee crisis. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Ponzanesi, S. and Colpani, G. eds., (2015). Postcolonial Transitions in Europe Contexts, Practices and Politics. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Quijano, A., (2000). Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Nepantla: Views from South 1(3), 533-580.
Samaddar, R. (2020). The Postcolonial Age of Migration. London: Routledge.
Shahabuddin, M., (2019). Post-Colonial Boundaries, International Law, and the Making of the
Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar. Asian Journal of International Law 9, pp. 334–358.
The Black Mediterranean Collective, (2021). The Black Mediterranean: Bodies, Borders, and Citizenship, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

2.    Racial capitalism: From colonial slavery to the coloniality of migrant labour

In this session we will explore the legacies of enslaved labour within the postcolonial regime of global capitalism, for which migrant mobility and labour is an indispensable feature. Beyond metaphorical understanding of migrants’ subordinate labour as something akin to slavery, what will be of interest here is both the historical and conceptual connections between colonial forms of unfree labour and the racialized subordination of ‘free’ migrant labour within the modern sociopolitical order. It is now well argued that slavery and colonial extraction was indispensable for the dramatic advances in industrial capitalism and thus for the very creation of wage-labour markets. But more than that, it has been a premier space for the production of socio-political difference that sustains global capital accumulation through the racialised segmentation of contemporary labour markets. In this session, we will examine how the legacies of slavery and colonialism might instructively serve to comprehend contemporary racial capitalism and the subordination of migrant labour.

Related readings:
Ashiagbor, D., (2021). Race and Colonialism in the Construction of Labour Markets and Precarity. Industrial Law Journal, 50(4), pp. 506-531.
Baptist, E. E., (2014). The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. New York: Basic Books. 
Beckert S.and Rockman S., eds., (2017). Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development. Philadeplphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 
Bhattacharyya, G., (2018). Rethinking Racial Capitalism: Questions of Reproduction and 
Survival. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 
Cohen, A., (2017). ‘Slavery hasn’t ended, it has just become modernized’: Border Imperialism and the Lived Realities of Migrant Farmworkers in British Columbia, Canada. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 18(1), pp. 130–148. 
De Genova, N. (forthcoming). A Racial Theory of Labor: Racial Capitalism From Colonial Slavery to Postcolonial Migration. Historical Materialism. 
Roediger, D. R. and Esch, E. D., (2012). The Production of Difference: Race and the Management of Labor in U.S. History. New York: Oxford University Press. 
Tomich, D. W., (2004). Through the Prism of Slavery: Labor, Capital, and World Economy. New York: Rowman & Liittlefield. 
Van der Linden, M.,(2010). Re-Constructing the Origins of Modern Labor Management. Labor History 51(4), pp. 509-522. 

3. From the colonial state to modern sovereignty: post-colonial mobility governance and the production of citizenship

This session explores the production of sovereignty and citizenship in the framework of the post-colonial state. It will focus on the afterlife of various classifications and administrative categorizations through which colonial bureaucracies distinguished subjects and organised their movements and, in that way, shaped national identity, political belonging and the remit of statehood in the post-colonial landscape. Through specific historical examples, we will see how empire-states inherited to nation-states regulatory framework and practices that facilitated and inhibited specific mobilities but also naturalised state authority over migration. Questioning the idea that state control over migration is a contemporary phenomenon, we will unpack the colonial genealogy of mobility control practices and with that the centrality of such practices in constituting the modern state and its territorial attachment. Finally, we will explore the role of international organisations and international law in mediating and legitimising state control over mobility while erasing the colonial heritage of associated practices and norms.

Related readings:
Abuya, E., Krause, U., and Mayblin, L., (2021). The Neglected Colonial Legacy of the 1951
Refugee Convention. International Migration 59, pp. 265–267.
Bradley, M., (2022). Colonial continuities and colonial unknowing in international migration management: the International Organization for Migration reconsidered. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, pp. 1-21.
Berda, Y., (2022). Colonial Bureaucracy and Contemporary Citizenship: Legacies of Race and Emergency in the Former British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
de Vries, K. and Spijkerboer, T., (2021). Race and the regulation of international migration. The ongoing impact of colonialism in the case law of The European Court of Human Rights. Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, 39(4), pp. 291-307.
El-Enany, N., (2021) (B)ordering Britain: Law, Race and Empire. Manchester: Manchester UP.
Goldberg, D., (2002). The racial state. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers.
Krause, U., (2021). Colonial Roots of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its Effects on the Global
Refugee Regime, Journal of International Relations and Development 24, pp. 599–626.
Mongia, R., (2018). Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Sharma, N. R., (2020). Homerule: National sovereignty and the separation of natives and migrants. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 

4.    Spaces of colonial rule and postcolonial geographies of bordering 

This session delves into the multiple ties that link colonial histories of mobility governance with contemporary geographies of migration control.  Spatial practices of incarceration, containment and enforced mobility have been powerful tools of colonialism and settler colonialism. However, it is only in recent years that scholars have attended to the material and ideological continuities that link spatial technologies of colonial encampment, penal transportation and apartheid with modern histories of migrants’ administrative detention, refugees’ protracted encampment, displacement and urban racial segregation. Drawing on various historical examples, this session will seek to understand how spatial technologies of colonial rule endured after formal decolonization, forming the racial underpinnings of post-colonial global systems of migrant containment and mobility.

Related readings: 
Besteman, C., (2020). Militarized Global Apartheid. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Davies, T. and Isakjee, A., (2019). Ruins of Empire: Refugees, race and the postcolonial geographies of European migrant camps. Geoforum, 102, pp. 214-217.
Bhui, H. S. (2016). The place of ‘race’ in understanding immigration control and the detention of foreign nationals. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 16(3), pp. 267–285. 
Bruce-Lockhart, K., (2022). Carceral Afterlives: Prisons, Detention, and Punishment in Postcolonial Uganda. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Legg, S., (2008). Spaces of Colonialism: Delhi's Urban Governmentalities. John Wiley & Sons, London.
Nethery A., (2021), Incarceration, classification and control: Administrative detention in settler colonial Australia, Political Geography 89. 
Picker, G., Greenfields, M., Smith, D., (2015). Colonial refractions: the ‘Gypsy camp’ as a spatio-racial political technology. City 19 (5), pp. 741–752.
Rahola F., (2010). The space of camps: Towards a genealogy of places of internment in the present, in Dal Lago A. and Pallida S. (eds.), Conflict, Security and the Reshaping of Society, Routledge: London, pp. 185-199.
Saito, N., (2018). Indefinite Detention, Colonialism, and Settler Prerogative in the United States. Social & Legal Studies, 30(1), pp.32-65.

5.    Racialising the 'human' in migration: Humanitarian reason, neo-coloniality, abolitionism

Critical approaches to migration control and its associated violence commonly draw on concepts of bare life. Concomitantly, critical approaches to the humanitarian governance of refugees trouble the biopolitical discourses and practices of humanitarianism and its recourse to the protection of minimal biological existence. Recent interventions by postcolonial thinkers have complicated these understandings, by vividly demonstrating the significance of race in any construction of the ‘human’ (Weheliye 2014). In this session, we will grapple with these important correctives to conceptualisations of ‘humanity’ and will seek to understand their implications for critical border studies and human-rights based approaches to migration. Moreover, we will explore critiques of neo-colonialism that have been expressed for humanitarian/development models of migration management while seeing what possibilities abolitionist visions may offer in an era of increasing criminalisation of humanitarian activities at the borders.

Related readings:
Brankamp, H., (2022). Camp Abolition: Ending Carceral Humanitarianism in Kenya (and Beyond). Antipode 54(1): pp.106-129. 
Crawley, H. (2022). Saving Brown Women from Brown Men? “Refugee Women” Gender and the Racialised Politics of Protection. Refugee Survey Quarterly 41 (3): 355–380.
Danewid, I., (2017). White innocence in the Black Mediterranean: hospitality and the erasure of history. Third World Quarterly, 38(7), pp.1674-1689.
Lester, A., & Dussart, F. (2014). Colonization and the Origins of Humanitarian Governance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Madianou, M. (2019). Technocolonialism: digital innovation and data practices in the humanitarian response to the refugee crisis. Social Media and Society, vol. 5(3)
Mezzadra S. (2020), Abolitionist vistas of the human. Border struggles, migration and freedom of movement. Citizenship Studies 24 (4). pp. 424-440.
Palladino, M. and Woolley, A., (2018). Migration, Humanitarianism, and the Politics of Salvation. Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory, 29(2), pp.129-144.
Rao A, Pierce S. (2006) Discipline and the other body: Humanitarianism, violence, and the colonial exception. In: Pierce S, Rao A (eds.) Discipline and the Other Body: Correction, Corporeality, Colonialism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 1–35.
Sahraoui, N. and Tyszler, E., 2021. Tracing Colonial Maternalism Within the Gendered Morals of Humanitarianism: Experiences of Migrant Women at the Moroccan-Spanish Border. Frontiers in Human Dynamics, 3.
Tazzioli, M., (2021). The making of racialized subjects: Practices, history, struggles. Security Dialogue, 52(1_suppl), pp.107-114.
Weheliye, A. G. (2014). Habeas Viscus. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

6.    Whiteness and racialisation in global post-colonial mobilities

Rather than installing a clear binary opposition, racialisation is a boundary-making process that that gives rise to hierarchies and contingencies of race that vary historically and geographically. While all hierarchies invest whiteness with an advanced capacity for humanity, and blackness with its lack, racial formations exhibit core and peripheries depending on their intersections with spatial imaginaries and identities that have been also constructed racially, such as ‘Europeaness’, ‘the East’, ’the West’ etc (Baker, 2018). Migratory trajectories in and between these post-colonial spaces and identities often expose racialisation as a socio-historical process and pose important questions regarding the racialisation of migration and the production of race in the context of global coloniality. In this session, we will investigate the continuous co-production of race and migration within the post-colonial world order, as seen, for example, in the contingent inclusion of Easter European migrants, processes of ‘deracination’, the differential treatment of racialised migrants and the numerous incidents of legal re-migrantization of Black citizens from former colonies.

Related readings:
Allen, T., (2012). The invention of the white race, Volume 1: Racial Oppression and Social Control. London: Verso.
Baker, C. (2018). Race and the Yugoslav region: Postsocialist, post-conflict, postcolonial? Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Baker, C. (2021). The contingencies of whiteness: Gendered/racialized global dynamics of security narratives. Security Dialogue, 52(1_suppl), pp.124-132.
Christian, M. (2019). A Global Critical Race and Racism Framework: Racial Entanglements and Deep and Malleable Whiteness. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 5(2), 169–185.
Colic-Peisker, V., (2005). ‘At Least You're the Right Colour’: Identity and Social Inclusion of Bosnian Refugees in Australia. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 31(4), pp. 615-638.
El-Tayeb, F. (2011) European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 
Goldberg, David Theo. (2006). ‘Racial Europeanization.’ Ethnic and Racial Studies 29(2): 331–364.
Hesse, B., (2007). Racialized Modernity: An Analytics of White Mythologies. Ethnic and Racial Studies 30(4), pp. 643–663.
Fox, J. E., Moroşanu, L., & Szilassy, E. (2012). The Racialization of the New European Migration to the UK. Sociology 46(4), pp. 680–695. 
Krivonos, D., (2017). Claims to whiteness: Young unemployed Russian-speakers’ declassificatory struggles in Finland. The Sociological Review, 66(6), pp. 1145-1160.
Krivonos, D. and Diatlova, A., (2020). What to Wear for Whiteness?. Intersections, 6(3).
Krivonos, D. and Näre, L., (2019). Imagining the ‘West’ in the Context of Global Coloniality: The Case of Post-Soviet Youth Migration to Finland. Sociology, 53(6), pp.1177-1193.
Lingelbach, J., (2020). On the Edges of Whiteness: Polish Refugees in British Colonial Africa during and after the Second World War. Berghahn Books.
Lyubchenko, O., (2022) On the Frontier of Whiteness? Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine. LeftEast.
Perry, K., (2018) London Is the Place for Me: Black Britons, Citizenship and the Politics of Race. Oxford University Press. 

7. Migrant struggles and the present of modern marronage 

The figure of the migrant slave has often been mobilized in ‘anti-trafficking campaigns’ that seek to increase policing of all irregular migration as a means to protect the victims of ‘modern day slavery’. As scholars have argued (Martins Junior& O’Connell Davidson 2022, Stierl 2020) such parallels conveniently ignore the fact that migrants who are perceived as both ‘trafficked’ or ‘smuggled’ today in most cases actively seek to move to a place of perceived greater freedom. Beyond dehistoricized metaphors that conflate enslaved mobility with conditions of enslavement within desired mobility enabled by systems of tightened immigration control, they argue that there are much more fruitful historical and experiential parallels. In this session, we will interrogate the connections between migrants’ appropriation of freedom of movement through irregularity and enslaved people’s fugitivity. In juxtaposing the legacy of marronage and slave rebellions with contemporary unruly migrations and migrant struggles, we seek to better grasp past, present and future enactments of escape, freedom, and collective agency. 

Related readings:
Dunnavant, J. P., (2020). Have confidence in the sea: maritime maroons and fugitive geographies. Antipode, 53(3), pp. 1-22. 
Gopal, P., (2019). Insurgent empire: Anticolonial resistance and British dissent. London: Verso Books.
Hesse, B. (2014). Escaping Liberty: Western Hegemony, Black Fugitivity. Political Theory 42(3), pp. 288–313.
Roberts, N., (2015). Freedom as Marronage. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Müller, V. F., (2019): Early undocumented workers: runaway slaves and African Americans in the Urban South, c. 1830-1860, Labor History 61(2), pp. 90-106.
Müller, V. F., (2020). Runaway slaves in Antebellum Baltimore: an urban form of marronage?. International review of social history, 65(S28), pp.169-195.
Montel, T. (2021). Policing Asylum Seekers’ Flight Within Europe. Journal of World-Systems Research 27(1), pp. 77-108.
Martins Junior, A., & O’Connell Davidson, J., (2022). Tacking towards freedom? Bringing journeys out of slavery into dialogue with contemporary migration. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 48(7), pp. 1479-1495.
Pargas, D. A., (2017). Urban Refugees: Fugitive Slaves and Spaces of Informal Freedom in the American South. Journal of Early American History, 7(3), pp. 262-284.
Stierl, M., (2020). Of migrant slaves and underground railroads: movement, containment, freedom. American behavioral scientist, 64(4), pp. 456-479.

8.     ‘Decolonising’ migration and border studies? 

Questions around the politics of representation have been haunting the social sciences since the colonial origin of anthropological and ethnographic constructions of the ‘field’ were first put into full view. Such questions naturally extend to migration and border studies, which, while not requiring the movement of a researcher to a distant elsewhere, are epistemologically premised on similar presumptions of cultural difference that often refashion migrants as natives out of place and reify juridical categories into circumscribed social groups to be researched (De Genova, 2005). In this session, we will investigate the coloniality of migration and border research and explore opportunities and challenges of developing non-hegemonic and decolonial ways of producing knowledge in this field. We will ask to what extent, under which conditions and with what effects is the ‘decolonisation’ of migration and border studies possible, meaningful or tokenistic in nature.

Related readings:
Chimni, B. S. (1998). The Geopolitics of Refugee Studies: A View from the South. Journal of
Refugee Studies 11 (4): 350–374.
Chimni, B. S. (2009). The Birth of a ‘Discipline’: From Refugee to Forced Migration Studies.
Journal of Refugee Studies 22(1), pp. 11–29.
De Genova, N., (2005). Politics of Knowledge/Politics of Practice. In: Working the Boundaries: Race, Space, and ‘Illegality’ in Mexican Chicago. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Grosfoguel, R., (2007). The epistemic decolonial turn. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3), pp.211-223.
Grosfoguel, R., (2011). Decolonizing Post-Colonial Studies and Paradigms of Political-Economy: Transmodernity, Decolonial Thinking, and Global Coloniality. TRANSMODERNITY: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 1(1).
Mignolo, W., (2007). Introduction: Coloniality of Power and De-colonial Thinking. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3), pp.155-167.
Murrey A. and Jackson N.A., (2020). A Decolonial Critique of the Racialized ‘Localwashing’ of Extraction in Central Africa, Annals of the American Association of
Geographers. 110 (3), pp. 917-940.
Simpson, A., (2014). Mohawk interruptus: Political life across the borders of settler states. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Smith, L.T., (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous peoples. Zed Books.
Tuck, E., and Yang, K. W., (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society,1(1), pp. 1-40.
Walia, H., (2013). Undoing Border Imperialism. London: AKPress.
Vergara-Figueroa, A., (2018). Afrodescendant Resistance to Deracination in Colombia. Palgrave Macmillan.



Julia Morris, Asylum and Extraction in the Republic of Nauru, Cornell University Press 2023.