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LAUGHABLE BORDERS: On the everyday absurdities of border enforcement

Conference contribution
Authors Anja K. Franck
Published in IMISCOE Annual Conference 2019, Malmö
Publication year 2019
Published at School of Global Studies, Peace and Development Research
Language en
Subject categories Peace and development research, International Migration and Ethnic Relations


Absurdity is an integral feature of contemporary border enforcement. From the very incongruity of forcing people to cross borders ‘illegally’ in order to exercise the human right to seek international protection, to the arbitrary and ‘Kafkaesk’ bureaucracies associated with the process of seeking asylum, work permits or residence, refugees and migrants habitually have to navigate ‘seemingly absurd forms of state power’ that are often as violent as they are illegible. In the following paper I am suggesting that attention to the many absurd – or even laughable – everyday situations produced through border technologies can tell us something important about the social and political dynamics that make borders both dangerous and unreadable spaces to inhabit, transgress and challenge. In developing this argument, I am inspired by the work of Algerian-French writer and philosopher Albert Camus, whose work suggests that we tend to recognize the absurd when we experience the world as strange or outright inhumane. While Camus’ writing relates to much broader issues around the human inclination to seek meaning in life, I am proposing that his work is also useful for thinking about how the absurd is rendered visible through the profound injustice and violence of borders. Building on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the Greek Island of Lesvos between 2015 and 2018, the following paper will provide some snapshots of the absurd situations that border enforcement gives rise to and discuss how these relate to different types of violences, using three main themes: irregularity in refugee reception; rumors and illegible information landscapes and the theatrics and spectacle of border security.

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