Journal Article

Conflicts of mobility: Migration, labour and political subjectivities

Published 1 January 2009 / By Bridget Anderson, Rutvica Andrijasevic

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In recent years, the topic of migration has been the focus of innovative theoretical interventions and intense political debates. The uprisings of French youth of Algerian descent in the banlieues of Paris following the police murder of two young men (November 2005); the storming of border-fences at the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla by large groups of co-ordinated migrants from sub-Saharan African countries in order to gain access to Europe (October 2005); the mass protest and general strike across the United States by undocumented migrant workers demanding legalisation (May 2006), all prompted scholars to rethink the relationship between migration, labour and citizenship and to consider, with heightened urgency, the emerging forms of subjectivity related to mobility.

Migrants’ crossing of borders, their mobilisations, and strikes in Europe, the United States and Australia are at the centre of this special issue. To begin a discussion on labour and citizenship with border crossing or mass protests means to firmly position migrants as protagonists of struggles around freedom of movement and labour rights. To stress the organised format of these struggles entails advancing a political reading of mobility. Mobility enacted by migrants, such as scaling the security fence at the Moroccan-Spanish border, arriving on boats at Australia's northern shores or getting across the Mexican-US border with the help of a coyote (that is ‘smuggler’) is not seen as political nor are migrants understood as making a political claim. Quite the opposite, they are seen as economically desperate and destitute individuals whose mobility is prompted by economic necessity or humanitarian need. This representation is even more extreme in cases of women migrants who, as the terms ‘sex trafficking’ and ‘sexual slavery’ indicate, are often perceived as victims of forcefully imposed mobility and merciless labour exploitation. The depiction of migrants as a disorderly mass of people and/or as desperate individuals reduces mobility to a socio-economic logic and reproduces the distinction between masses on the one hand and citizens on the other (Aradau and Huysmans, 2009).


Andrijasevic, R., Anderson, B. Conflicts of mobility: Migration, labour and political subjectivities. Subjectivity 29, 363–366 (2009).