[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 4: Across borders and networks: migrants, asylum seekers, or refugee?

Maurice Stierl maurice.stierl at gmail.com
Fri Feb 26 14:00:59 AEDT 2016

Dear all,

It has been a pleasure following the discussions here, though I must admit
that I probably have missed several contributions. So, nearly at the end of
this month, I want to add a few thoughts to points that were made earlier
and please forgive me if I re-state issues that were already debated. What
follows relates to different threads, in particular to the Transborder
Immigrant Tool introduced by Ricardo and some of the really intriguing
points that Huub provided.

First of all, as a way of introduction, I am currently at UC Davis and part
of a Mellon initiative on Comparative Border Studies. I just moved over
from Europe where I had spent most of my life and where my research focus
remains to be. I consider myself both a researcher and activist and see
these as entangled, difficult and to an extent unnecessary to disentangle.

I am part of an activist project called the “Watch The Med Alarm Phone” –
which functions as a “hotline” to support travellers in distress at sea. We
launched the project in October 2014 to protest border deaths at sea and to
create practical tools that would support ‘disobedient’ and ‘unauthorized’
movement. This project emerged out of many many years of no-border
struggles in and beyond Europe and our collective really
transcends/collapses the signifiers ‘migrant’ and ‘activist’, with some of
us having survived dangerous sea journeys, others being ‘citizens from the
Global North’ and again others who would situated themselves in ‘migrant
communities’ that support those on the move. You can find two websites here
that we have built: one onto which we upload our Alarm Phone reports and
that also contains a map that seeks to display the violence of the European
border regime which, especially in the sea, usually remains invisible (
http://watchthemed.net/) and a second one specifically dedicated to the
Alarm Phone project, our public campaigns, statements and so on (

So far, we have engaged in about 1400 emergency situations in all parts of
the Mediterranean (between Morocco-Spain, Libya-Italy/Malta,
Turkey-Greece). In a complex way we cooperate with coastguards in distress
cases but see ourselves also as ‘controllers of border controllers’ as
Balibar had called for. We have a very ambivalent relationship with them
and, as you can imagine, they are often not very happy about the fact that
non-state actors have so many insights into real-time border struggles but
at the same time they are quite often dependent on the information we have.
We also cooperate with some humanitarian actors at sea (e.g. Doctors
without Borders, MOAS, Sea-Watch) so that we even have a sort of ‘physical’
presence in maritime spaces. There is so much I could tell you about our
experiences in the past year but in order to keep this email somewhat
readable, I will just point you to our Anniversary Brochure which we
published a few weeks ago:

In one of your contributions, Huub, you talked about how the ‘hotspotting’
approach “is a denial of history and a denial of transactions and
exchanges that
have been going on culturally, socially, economically and religiously between
different regions for centuries.” I think this is a really valuable point
and one of the reasons why our collective always refers to alternative
imaginaries of the Mediterranean, as a (potential) space of exchange,
movement, and solidarity, not as some sort of ‘naturally defined’
border/divide. I completely agree with your point that “by defining an area
as a high voltage border and putting it under permanent control [it]
demolishes the visual manifestations of solidarity and voluntary support.”
At the same time, our network in some ways shows that the European border
regime is also quite helpless at times, despite increasing border
externalisations and militarisations. The historic year of 2015 has really
shown how people disobediently move despite all these border-obstacles and
what I find personally incredible are these ‘under the surface’ networks
and solidarities.

I consider the Alarm Phone part of it. Ricardo mentioned the book ‘Escape
Routes’. I think the ‘Autonomy of Migration’ approach more generally (while
sometimes rightly criticised – I am currently editing a special issue on
this which will appear in Citizenship Studies in August) is a good way to
think about these ‘mobile commons’, the (digital) networks/knowledges that
exist beyond the sovereign gaze. Many in our network regard ourselves as
part of a sort-of ‘underground railroad’ that facilitates unauthorised
mobilities and acts of escape. We currently work with migrant communities,
solidarity activists, future border-crossers, past travellers throughout
the globe and I would just point you to a WhatsApp exchange between one of
our members and a Syrian woman that we reprinted in our Anniversary
Brochure (as of page 71). They encountered one another in a moment of panic
and severe distress and after survival/arrival the exchanges continued. I
think, while hopefully not being overly romanticising, this in many way
showcases migration’s ‘excessive’ capacity and creativity, as well as the
novel solidarities that are being formed despite all the border
reinforcements, militarisations, and atrocities that we see all around us.

Best wishes, Maurice

On Mon, Feb 22, 2016 at 9:30 AM, Renate Terese Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Dear -empyreans,
> Thanks to  this past weeks guests Pau Delgado, Alba Moses, Robert McKee
> Irwin, and Ian Alan Paul.  The week was an evocative one with many -empyre
> subscribers also posting.  Hoping you will all stay part of the discussion
> if your schedules permit.  This month seems to be flying by and I am
> looking forward to this last week in particular to wrap up loose ends but
> also introduce some new ones.  For those of you who might want a synopsis
> of the entire month’s discussion you can visit our archive
> http://lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/
> We warmly welcome and introduce: Laila Shereen Sakr, Dr Maurice Stierl,
> Tanja Ostojić,  Horit Herman Peled for Weel 4 on -empyre soft-skinned
> space.  Their biographies are below.
> Best to all of you.  Renate Ferro
> Horit Herman-Peled is Professor of Media Art and Culture at Pollack Art
> College and Talpiyot college in Tel Aviv and at the Art Institute of Oranim
> College in Kiryat Tivon, Israel.
> Current work includes
>         Yoav Peled, Horit Herman Peled,  ” The Religionization of Israeli
> Society, London: Routledge, (2017).
>         Horit Herman Peled, Yoav Peled, “The Way Forward in the Middle
> East,” in John Eherenberg  and  Yoav Peled, eds., Israel/Palestine:
> Alternative Perspectives on Statehood, Rowman and Littlefield, (2016).
> Other work can be accessed at her website at
>         http://www.horit.com
> Tanja Ostojić is a feminist performance artist. Her work draws inspiration
> from her own experience as a non-European Union citizen, a traveler and
> female artist. Ostojić has lived in Serbia, Slovenia, France, and Germany,
> but refuses to claim any particular nationality. In December 2005, Ostojić
> became well known in Europe as a result of her poster After Courbet,
> L´origine du Monde, also referred to informally as "EU Panties" The work, a
> satire of French Realist Gustave Courbet's 1866 painting L'Origine du
> monde, was first displayed
> on billboards at the public exhibition EuroPart held inVienna in December
> 2005-January 2006.Ostojić's version displayed her own crotch, clothed in
> blue underwear complete with EU
> stars. The image was meant as an ironic suggestion that foreign women are
> only welcome in Europe when they drop their underwear. Ostojić's grand
> theme is the "arrogance of the EU" with regards to the integration of
> south-eastern Europe into the union. For south-east Europeans, and
> particularly women, becoming resident in the EU is
> often only possible through marriage, which Ostojić depicts as a form of
> prostitution. From 2000 to 2003, she publicly addressed this issue in an
> online performance piece, Looking for a husband with a EU passport, in
> which she presented herself naked and with a shaven head, possibly
> reminiscent of a prisoner from socialist times.This led to an actual
> marriage to an artist from Cologne, from whom she then separated in 2005,
> again as an online performance.
> http://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_article/crossing-borders-development-of-diverse-artistic-strategies/
> Laila Shereen Sakr is a digital media theorist, artist, and activist
> working in social media, digital archives, computer analytics, data
> visualization, glitch art, live cinema, video installation, and
> Middle East film and new media. She is Assistant Professor of Film and
> Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Her work uses digital logic and
> technique to map how participation in virtual worlds and networked publics
> has influenced the formation of a virtual body politic. This research led
> her to design the R-Shief media system for archiving and analyzing content
> from social networking sites, and the cyborg representation of VJ Um Amel.
> Professor Sakr has been a leading voice in the open source movement in
> Egypt and the Arab world. Sakr has
> shown in solo and group exhibitions and performances at galleries and
> museums across the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East, and has published
> extensively. http://vjumamel.com
> Dr Maurice Stierl is Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of
> California, Davis. His research focuses on migration and border struggles
> in contemporary Europe and is broadly situated in the disciplines of
> International Relations, International Political Sociology, and Migration &
> Border Studies. He concluded his doctoral research in 2014 at the
> University of Warwick and is the author of the journal article ‘‘No One is
> Illegal!’ – Resistance and the Politics of Discomfort’ (2012), published in
> Globalizations. His forthcoming publications will appear in the journals
> Citizenship Studies, Political Geography, Global Society, and Antipode, as
> well as in a volume edited by Dr Nicholas De Genova. Dr Stierl is a member
> of the activist project WatchTheMed Alarm Phone and the research
> collectives Kritnet, MobLab, Authority & Political Technologies and a
> co-editor of Movements.
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

Dr Maurice Stierl
Visiting Assistant Professor
University of California, Davis
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