Revisiting Borders and Boundaries: Gendered Politics and Experiences of Migrant Inclusion and Exclusion. An Epilog.

In the wake of the so-called migration- or refugee crisis, borders, border crossings, border policing and border closure feature prominently in the media as well as in public and political discourse. We think of borders as surrounding and delineating state territories and national societies. Lines of separation, however, also exist within societies. Here, we would not necessarily speak about borders but rather about boundaries that are based on distinctions between different groups, which form part of a society. Both borders and boundaries have profound implications for migratory movements and for the lives and experiences of migrants in societies of settlement.

Following an invitation of Christin Achermann and Janine Dahinden, a group of 11 international scholars gathered in Neuchâtel for a two-day workshop on 3 and 4 November 2016. The aim of the workshop was to revisit borders and boundaries and to explore the role of gender in shaping politics, practices and experiences of migrant inclusion and exclusion. Participants came from various disciplines, including Sociology, Social Anthropology, Development Studies and Human Geography.

Borders and boundaries are rooted in different research fields and traditions. The idea of boundaries revolves around the creation, maintenance and contestation of institutionalized social differences. Conversely, the concept of borders traditionally captures the maintenance of territorial sovereignty and national inclusion and exclusion. Nevertheless, borders and boundaries often go hand in hand. The entitlement to cross borders and reside on a national territory delineated by borders is directly linked to aspects such as nationality, ethnicity, gender and religion. These aspects – often in conjunction –function as markers of difference, which facilitate the drawing of symbolic boundaries between groups. Hence, borders and boundaries can not only be linked, but may mutually constitute each other.

This aspect of mutual constitution featured centrally throughout the workshop. It emerged from nearly all papers and case studies that were presented (see an overview of the full programme). Overall, contributions addressed a broad variety of themes, including regulation of borders and migration (Amelina), the shift from a gendered boundary to an international border between Zambia and Angola (Bakewell), border control and gendered performances (Häberlein), everyday bordering and everyday incarceration (Cassidy) and an ethnography of immigration facilities in Switzerland (Rezzonico). However, let us have a closer look at two exemplary contributions, which clearly illuminate the close-knit relationship of borders and boundaries.

In her paper on Refugee Muslim Men and Gendered Violence in Germany and Canada, Anna Korteweg (University of Toronto) draws on two moments in the recent arrival of Syrian refugees at various destination countries. She focuses on the events that took place in Cologne on New Year’s eve 2015, where refugee men were accused of sexually assaulting a large number of women and the decision by the Canadian government to place single Syrian men at the bottom of the admissible refugee list. In both cases, symbolic boundaries are employed to represent Muslim refugee men in public discourses as “undeserving” of asylum. Masculinity in conjunction with religion and ethnicity work as boundary markers, which have crucial implications for the regulation of borders. They promote or restrict asylum seekers’ or refugees’ ability to move across borders. Korteweg shows that people carry borders within themselves at any time. Whether or not these borders are activated, however, depends on prevalent markers of difference that form the basis for boundaries between the majority society and immigrant groups and for a differentiation between different more or less desirable groups within the same immigrant population.

Melanie Griffith’s (University of Bristol) examined exclusionary discourses and practices that pertain to irregular male migrants in the UK who are part of mixed-citizenship families and partner to a British national. Their precarious legal status, together with nationality, ethnicity and gender, work as boundary markers, which influence the way these men’s relationships are judged and often deemed as insincere by migration authorities and sometimes also family members. They are portrayed as economic migrants who disguise as partners and fathers. Being labelled as insincere partners in their relationships reinforces the probability for male migrants to be deported, while their role as husbands, partners or fathers remain ignored Griffith’s case study shows that boundary markers have a direct effect on border enforcement. In addition, the restrictions placed on precarious migrants leave deep imprints on their gender identities and intimate relationships.

Borders and boundaries describe different processes and explain different social realities. However, as the above examples show, borders and boundaries are often linked and mutually constitute each other. The papers presented at the workshop and particularly the lively discussions among participants and the wider audience underlined that gender lends itself to better understanding the workings of and links between borders and boundaries. Gender, often in combination with ethnicity, religion and class, influences how boundaries are drawn and how borders are activated. Gender supports or inhibits entitlements to inclusion and claims-making and influences how borders are being enforced.

At the end of the workshop, participants agreed that the event marks a rich and inspiring start of an ongoing debate which aims to contribute new facets to the understanding of mechanisms, politics and practices of migrant inclusion and exclusion.

Carolin Fischer, nccr – on the move, PostDoc on the project Gender as Boundary Marker in Migration and Mobility: Case Studies from Switzerland