Cycling through Undocumented Migration: Social Relations and Subjectivity along Precarious Migrant Pathways

Panel Organizers:
John Doering-White (University of Michigan)
Amelia Frank-Vitale (University of Michigan)

Wendy Vogt (University of Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis)

Preliminary Panel Abstract:
As anti-immigrant sentiment flares across the globe, borders harden, and migration policies become increasingly subsumed into security politics. Those fleeing poverty and violence increasingly cycle through displacement, migration, detention, deportation, and return. Many seek settlement and integration yet are unable to land anywhere. The lived realities of migration are protracted, and new social worlds emerge along transit corridors worldwide. This panel seeks papers that consider the consequences of this cycling. What kinds of subjectivities and social relations emerge when the experience of clandestine mobility is considered the norm as opposed to being an exceptional response to crisis or a punctuated moment of flight?

More specifically, this panel examines how the routinization of clandestine mobility reshapes the boundaries of legality and illegality, agency and obligation, care and coercion. How does churning through clandestine circuits reconfigure the subjectivities of people crossing borders without authorization, as well as their relationships with government officials, smugglers, activists, and other people living along transit routes? Building on scholarship that critically interrogates biopolitical logics of rights and citizenship (Ticktin 2011; Partridge 2012), what can be gained from examining forms of mutuality that emerge amid precarity (Tsing 2015), or the blurring of hospitality and hostility (Albahari 2015)? Can a focus on the relations that develop along precarious pathways push us to think beyond the dynamic tension of inclusion and exclusion that typifies scholarship around walling and state sovereignty?

In raising these questions, this panel seeks papers that engage with recent scholarship calling for a reconceptualization of clandestine migration from below in order to problematize state politics of humanitarian recognition (Papadopoulos and Tsianos 2008). Amid recent calls to problematize innocence (Ticktin 2017), what are the political possibilities of thinking about intimacy in the context of human smuggling (Vogt 2016), or the ways women and men strategically perform gender to survive clandestine journeys (Brigden 2017)? What role do illicit/illegal networks play for vulnerable migrants and organizations that seek to assist them precisely when international mechanisms fail to protect them (De León 2017)? What does this mean for those who migrate specifically to escape entanglement with criminality? Does migrating through these clandestine routes over and over again eventually preclude the possibility of ever going – and staying – home? We are particularly interested in ethnographically grounded papers that examine tensions of care and coercion along migrant routes in ways that do not center the recognition of state authorities, whether those be immigration enforcement agencies or state humanitarian initiatives, as a primary form of belonging and collective action. We invite scholars working in a variety of global contexts to contribute papers, in order to compare how these processes are playing out across the globe.

If you are interested in presenting a paper on this panel, please send an abstract (250 words) to John Doering-White ( and Amelia Frank-Vitale ( by March 30th 2018.