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Contesting the Liberal Border Script. Migrant Protests as Struggles for Citizenship and Personhood

Principal Investigator:
Research focus:
Oct 01, 2022 — Mar 31, 2023

The liberal script rests both on the notion of sovereign territorial nation states and the universal promise of fundamental rights for everyone. In recent years, borders of liberal democracies have become more and more militarized, nearly insurmountable for those seeking entry, and frequently cause breaches of human rights. At the same time, liberal democratic orders have to be considered the most stable guarantors of legal and political entitlements for their citizens and others. Even more, the liberal script transcends itself by providing a logic of universal legitimation upon which claims for political inclusion can be brought forward. This tension between practices of exclusion and the promise of equal universal rights has been addressed in multifaceted ways in political and social struggles.

The project focusses on protests by irregularized migrants and seek to scrutinize their contestations of the liberal border script from a democratic theory perspective. It maps  the field of contestations by irregularized migrants by analyzing the different ways in which the liberal border script is challenged and renegotiated by migrant protest and assess to what extent this is relevant in terms of democratic legitimacy.

Migrant protests have significantly increased over the last decades on a global scale, explicitly posing questions of identity, rights, and equality in a globalized world. With radical actions such as sit-ins, hunger strikes, lip sewing, occupations, squats, street camps and long-distance marches, migrants have raised their political voices. Their demands range from the protection of human rights, freedom of movement, more open and accessible asylum processes, access to the labor markets and housing to severe criticisms of deportations and the dangerous, often deadly external borders.

The political claims represent a concrete and symbolic break with the political order in place. They challenge some of its fundamental ways of functioning and put the question of belonging up for re-negotiation. These protests destabilize not only the territorial boundaries of the nation state and its systems of control, but also the ontological boundaries on which notions of citizenship as a legal status and political identity are based. They politicize symbolic and institutional structures that are usually taken for granted or become naturalized. Thus, contestations by precarious migrants not only pose questions on the legitimacy of certain border practices, but also raise fundamental questions regarding the legitimacy of borders in liberal democracies.