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The Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement


Acting against the discourses and images of the “migration crisis” in the Mediterranean. The subjectivation at stake in images made by migrants.

Talk by Anthony Blanc, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle

Coordinated by Study Group - Borders, Colonialism and Migration


My talk will explore the possibility of migrants acting against the discourses and images produced in the European migration context since 2013 by making images themselves. The idea here is to consider the practice of filming from the angle of subjectivation (Foucault 1984); specifically, I will attempt to explore the possibility of constructing oneself as a subject, through the filmic device, outside the 'grips of power' (Deleuze, 2003).

My research has led me to hypothesize that the issue of migration in Europe has become a central topic since 2013, particularly with the shipwreck off Lampedusa in October. The so-called 'migration crisis', a term often used by the media and politicians to describe the growing number of migrants arriving at Europe's gates, has in fact been constructed drawing on specific images and discourses, some of which I will discuss in my presentation. For this reason, the first part of my talk challenges the very existence of the énoncé (Foucault, 1969) 'migration crisis' based on its ‘regularities and forms of exteriority’, more specifically, those evident in the images and discourses produced by journalists and European agencies. Most of the photographs and videos showing migrants arriving by boat in the mainstream media are what Hito Steyerl calls 'floating images' (Steyerl, 2013). They contribute to a ‘border spectacle’ (de Genova, 2013), which dehumanizes the people represented in such visual narratives. The second part of my presentation looks at how people fleeing to Europe from the southern shores of the Mediterranean (i.e. Syria, Afghanistan, Sub-Saharan Africa) can act against the dominant images and discourses. The videos produced by these migrants offer a unique perspective on migration to and across Europe.

The media coverage of Mediterranean migration to Europe since the early 2010s has rarely reflected the personal trajectories of migrants, who are always considered as just numbers. To reclaim a singular voice that truly matters in the public arena, and at the same time to make the voices of thousands of other refugees heard, several people living in exile have decided to tell their own stories using their own images as part of a collective documentary approach. These documentaries are produced in collaboration with professional French, German and British film producers, enabling migrants to find broadcasting spaces in Europe which can accommodate their personal and collective stories of exile in the Mediterranean. Through these documentaries, the migrants tell their own stories, but the presence of European producers does not disappear in the filmmaking process. Creative autonomy thus varies from one project to another. I will briefly discuss documentaries produced for theatrical release and shown at festivals such as Purple Sea (2020) in which a Syrian artist, Amel Alzakout, films her journey across the Mediterranean with the help of a GoPro camera attached to her wrist. Her film, which is part of an artistic process, is accompanied by the artist’s voice-over monologue, hence allowing her story to be heard. Alongside this example, I will also discuss Les Sauteurs (2016) and Midnight Traveler (2019), which to a certain extent follow a similar approach while allowing for specific research questions.

These examples will enable us to assess how such exercises in documentary filmmaking become the site of subjectivation. Challenging the notion of subjectivation allows us thus to find an alternative to the knowledge produced by the power – ‘informal’, to borrow Deleuze’s theoretical framework (Deleuze 2004), but sometimes embodied in the French media and especially Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency that produces videos about the alleged delinquency of migrants and the danger that mobility represents for Europe’s sovereignty. In comparison with these discourses, certain documentary films offer a platform for expression and enable migrants to produce a different kind of knowledge, one that is more embodied and rooted in experience (Nichols, 2017).


Anthony BLANCPhD candidate, Institut de Recherche sur le Cinéma et l’Audiovisuel, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle


Thursday, 26 October, 2023 - 16:00 to 18:00
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