Anti-mobility, Politics and Tactical Migration: Visibility, Legibility and Suspension

A lecture by Dr. Michael Collyer

 Monday, March 24  at 11am

Balsillie School of International Affairs, Room 143


Over the last few years a politics of anti-mobility has been apparent in approaches to migration across the European Union, but particularly in the UK. Drawing on established approaches to visibility and legibility in analysis of state action, this paper argues that these recent developments highlight how the goal of the state is not the visibility of undocumented migrants but their legibility to state institutions. The paper then turns to empirical material from the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka, applying this framework to internal migration from the north and east of the country to the capital, which was met with a similar anti-mobility response. Extensive interview and survey data with migrants to Colombo allows an investigation of migrants’ responses to this securitized approach. Although migrants’ responses are highly disempowered they are far from passive. Indeed, migrants’ responses can be read as highly tactical, playing on an intimate understanding of the key dialectic between visibility and legibility that they witness in state attempts to control mobility. In relatively few cases, migrants are visible but not  legible to state bureaucracy leading to a suspended status of radical exclusion where human rights abuses were most frequent. This key area of concern challenges the ways in which visibility and legibility are typically seen in understandings of migration.

About Michael Collyer

Michael Collyer is Senior Lecturer in Geography at the University of Sussex, UK. During the 2012/13 academic year he held a Fulbright scholarship in the Department of Geography at the University of Washington, Seattle. Before his appointment as lecturer at Sussex he held a three-year Marie Curie Outgoing International Fellowship, based at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was previously a Nuffield Foundation New Career Development Fellow at Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tétouan, Morocco. He completed his PhD, on the dynamics of the Euro-Algerian migration system, in 2002.