An Anthology of Migration and Social Transformation

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016 343
A. Amelina et al. (eds.), An Anthology of Migration and Social Transformation,
IMISCOE Research Series, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-23666-7_22
Chapter 22
The ‘European’ Question: Migration, Race,
and Post-Coloniality in ‘Europe’
Nicholas De Genova
22.1 Introducing … the ‘European’ Question
What is ‘Europe’?
Who is a ‘European’?
Social transformation in Europe today revolves around these constitutive but
ever unasked questions, which I enfold together as the ‘European’ Question. The
pioneering African American intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois famously articulated the
‘ever unasked question’ routinely posed implicitly to Black Americans: ‘How does
it feel to be a problem?’ (Du Bois [ 1903 ] 1982: 43). This dilemma undeniably persists for all those people racialized as not-white, in the United States and Europe
alike. However, this question’s pertinence for the presumptively ‘true’ or ‘real’
Europeans has also become increasingly apparent: each national identity has become
problematic in new ways. In this regard, the long-standing German obsession with
self-interrogation in the extended aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust – whether sincere, cynical, or evasive – is simply the exception that proves the rule. This is due in
no negligible measure to the extent to which these presumptively self-evident and
fundamental ‘national’ identities have been destabilized in unprecedented and
unforeseen ways by the mere presence and lived practices of migrants and their
progeny. Moreover, ‘European’-ness, that rather broader and more encompassing
fi gure, is once again a kind of elusive master signifi er, perennially plagued with
ambiguities and uncertainties even as its salience seems ever more pronounced.
N. De Genova (*)
Department of Geography , King’s College London , London , UK
e-mail: [email protected]
Today all of Europe has become obsessed with its identity. But … What is ‘Europe’?
And … Who is a ‘European’ ? 1
Social movement s during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were commonly
pressed to address various political problems in terms, for example, of ‘the Jewish
question’ (or, in the United States, ‘the Negro question’), ‘the national question’,
and ‘the woman question’; thus, they approached these questions from the largely
unexamined vantage point of relative privilege and power . In these opening years of
the twenty-fi rst century we can justifi ably say that these famous ‘questions’ have
been succeeded in Europe by the Migration Question. Today, however, in the
extended aftermath of the end of the Cold War and especially now, amid the shocks
of the global crisis of capitalism , what I will call ‘the “European” question’ has
become a problem of a new signifi cance and magnitude—above all in Europe itself.
The European question, therefore, can serve as a crucial index for vital historiographic and ethnographic research into the contemporary post-colonial dynamics of
social transformation , in a manner that identifi es and underscores the centrality of
migration and racialization processes.
If ‘Europe’ presents itself increasingly as a question (or indeed as a problem) for
Europeans, moreover, this is no less true in Europe’s increasingly amorphous externalized border zones, and beyond. There is no stable space of ‘Europe’ towards
which the fi gure of ‘migration’ can be understood to move, as from an imagined
periphery towards a presumably fi xed centre. Indeed, the racialized ramifi cations
within the space of ‘Europe’ of such increasingly blurred (‘external’) boundaries
have prompted Étienne Balibar ( 2009 ) to suggest that Europe has indeed become
one big borderland. Furthermore, as Sandro Mezzadra argues, invoking the work of
Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘movements and struggles of migration in Europe […] are
displacing and de-centering Europe on the level of everyday life. They are provincializing it’ (Mezzadra 2010 ; see also Chap. 17, in this volume).
22.2 The Spectre of Disintegration
The fi gure of ‘migration’ itself consequently signals a murkier series of preoccupations about the migrants themselves (De Genova 2010 ). The Migration Question
thus gets transposed into the Migrant Question, and it is indeed around this ‘problem’ that much of the academic research on migration has itself been fundamentally
constituted. The very categories of thought that commonly frame discourses of
Nahum Chandler poses practically the same questions: ‘Who counts, can be given an account, or
can be given, as European? Who, or what, then, (is) Europe?’ (Chandler 2013 : 51), in the context
of asking another question that is nonetheless quite pertinent to the manner in which I am framing
the central inquiry pursued in this essay. He asks: ‘What if a certain “Europe” might come to imagine that one W.E.B. Du Bois—Negro, African, Afro-Caribbean, African American, Black,
American, European American, White, European, etc.—is one of its most distinguished practitioners of thought from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?’ (Chandler 2013 : 50).
N. De Genova
migration, including scholarly discourses, tend to present migrant mobility as a
defi nite sort of ‘problem’ that implicitly threatens the presumed normative good of
‘ social cohesion ’ and commands various formulae for enhancing the processes for
the ‘inclusion’ of migrant ‘outsiders’, or perhaps for compelling those ‘foreigners’
to fi gure out how to appropriately ‘integrate’ themselves. In short, the dominant
discourses of migration reveal a persistent anxiety about the inexorable forces of
post-colonial social transformation . No doubt these same analytical (but deeply normative and politicized) categories have by now begun to be subjected to a fair measure of critical, deconstructivist energy. But… What is ‘Europe’? Who is a
‘European’? These are questions that have been left insuffi ciently deconstructed.
They are questions that concern us in profound and indeed intimate ways.
In the wake of decolonization on a global scale , coupled now with many decades
of transnational , intercontinental, post-colonial migrations that are the harvest of
empire, Europe today, much like Germans confronting the Nazi past, is forced to
contemplate the legacies of its historical crimes. Whether in good conscience or bad
faith , whether honestly, cynically, or with clumsy dissimulation, furthermore, these
acts of post-colonial contemplation are never separable from palpably practical
deliberations and decisions over policy questions that intractably take the nativist
form: ‘What should we do with them ?’ (De Genova 2005 : 56–94). Thus, as a sort of
response to the hegemonic entrenchment of the Migration Question, we must critically formulate the ‘European’ Question from the vantage point of the cross-border
mobility of migrants and the enduring coloniality that contemporary borders imply.
Much as the migration question in Europe is always already an at least implicitly
racial question, the European question requires us to examine ‘European’-ness
itself as a racial problem—a problem of post-colonial whiteness (see also Chap. 19,
in this volume). As Salman Rushdie once sardonically affi rmed, with regard to the
British context in the aftermath of the 1981 ‘race riots’, in a rather forthright reply
to Du Bois’ ever- unasked question:
You talk about the Race Problem, the Immigration Problem, all sorts of problems. If you are
liberal, you say that black people have problems. If you aren’t, you say they are the problem. But the members of the new colony have only one real problem, and that problem is
white people. […] racism , of course, is not our problem. It’s yours. We simply suffer from
the effects of your problem (Rushdie [1982] 1991 : 138).
How, then, may we begin to examine anew the problem of European identity and
the contradictory and competing productions of a European space as racial formations and racial projects? This question, I contend, is the ever unasked question
always posed implicitly whenever the topic or theme of ‘migration’ is addressed in
the contemporary European context.
22 The ‘European’ Question: Migration, Race, and Post-Coloniality in ‘Europe’
22.3 ‘Neo’-Nationalisms?
Whereas ‘the national question’ was posed historically, particularly in Europe,
as one concerning the emancipation and self-determination of subordinated
national ‘minorities’, today the problems of ‘national identity ’, ‘national culture’,
‘national values’, and of course also ‘national sovereignty’ present themselves
primarily as majoritarian projects, articulated fi rst and foremost in relation to
migration, if not plainly against migrants. If the European question tends to
manifest itself as a resurgence of nationalisms, how may we begin to analyse these
contemporary expressions of ostensibly national identity and prerogative across
Europe as distinctly post-colonial racial projects? From the standpoint of migration
and what we might call ‘the new Europeans’ of colour, what is the specifi city of, for
instance, the Greek problem, or the British problem? The fascistic paramilitary
operations of Golden Dawn in Greece and the comparatively feckless thuggishness
of the English Defence League are clearly distinct socio-political phenomena, but
how substantially different are these manifestations of the new European nativist
politics of national identity from the standpoint of those whom they target as the
objects of their contempt and animosity? From the standpoint, in other words, of
those whom they seek to terrorize, how different are they, really?
Racist far- right parties in Europe tend to articulate their reactionary antiimmigrant populism not only in terms of a pluralistic and differentialist incompatibility between their putative ‘ national culture’ and the ‘foreignness’ of migrants but
also in the idiom of the purportedly legitimate politics of citizenship , which promotes the national priority of ‘natives’ under the overt rubric not of racial supremacism but rather of the presumptive birthright entitlements of ‘the nation’ or ‘the
people’. Nevertheless, the emphatically ‘national’ gesture is transparently and
unapologetically equated with a belligerent politics of hostility to migrants. That is
to say, whether explicitly racist or not, these ‘neo’-nationalisms are overtly and
unabashedly exclusionary. Hence, the generic fi gures of ‘immigration’ and the diffuse politics of ‘foreignness’ suffi ce to reanimate race in terms that commonly, and
perhaps increasingly, are articulated as nation: in terms of the ‘national’ identity of
the ‘natives’ (De Genova 2005 , 2013 : 56–94). The national question has thus reasserted itself in Europe today in the form of a variety of profoundly racialized projects from which there is of course no immunity for the native-born European
children and grandchildren of the migrants, who commonly remain permanently
inscribed as being ‘of migrant background’ or indefi nitely categorized (in some
instances, offi cially, juridically) as (non-citizen) ‘foreigners’.
In spite of their ostensibly nationalist militant particularisms, each of these nativist movements from one country to the next is remarkably similar to all the others.
Perhaps most revealingly, then, among the various nationally identifi ed offshoots of
the English Defence League there has subsequently also arisen the European
Defence League. Likewise, the rapid emergence in late 2014 of a neo-Nazi/nationalist anti-immigrant movement in Germany, defi ned specifi cally by its antiMuslim racism , has very tellingly designated itself to be a movement of ‘Patriotic
N. De Genova
Europeans ’. Thus, we must be alert to the emergence of new forms of expressly
‘European’ conviviality, particularly as these may articulate aversion or antagonism
to (non-European) migrants.
22.4 Rumours of War, Premonitions of Death
One rather dramatic manifestation of these new formations of ‘European’ identity is
evidenced by the ideological framework that motivated Anders Breivik’s bloodbath
in Norway, in which a far- right nationalist project of racial whiteness, castigating
‘ multiculturalism ’ and principally targeting white Norwegians in a fury of racial
‘sanitation’, explicitly upheld its specifi cally anti- Muslim racism by emphatically
affi rming a renewed devotion to an image of pan-European community , albeit one
associated with the pre-modern notion of Christendom. In these ways, and despite
its apparent recourse to a kind of neo-medievalism, the historical specifi city of the
present crisis is clearly distinguished also by its enunciation within the now routinized ideological rubric of the so-called Global War on Terror, protracted warfare and
neo-colonial military occupations in predominantly Muslim countries, and the dramatic escalation of securitization generally. It is indisputable that Muslim migrants
in particular have borne an inordinate burden of suspicion and hostility in Europe
during recent years (see also Chap. 18, in this volume).
Regardless of ‘antiterrorist’ pretexts and pretences, however, these security state
measures fi gure migration in general as a principal target (De Genova 2007 ). Indeed,
the apparently more generic derision toward ‘foreigners’ often tends to do the work
of one variety of specifi cally anti- Muslim racism . However, it is also the case that
the very category ‘Muslim’ tends to be confl ated with a whole racialized class
constellation. Hence, Houria Bouteldja, spokesperson for the Parti des Indigènes de
la République in France, unpacks the contemporary ‘Muslim question’ in Europe:
I would even say that ‘ Muslim ’ also denotes ‘resident of a poor neighbourhood’. It is sometimes a euphemism for ‘banlieue’. Its meaning is pejorative […]. In France, Islam is above
all a religion of the poor and of immigrants […]. The white European identity that dominated the world for 500 years is in decline. The voices—often hysterical—raised in the
media against Islam fundamentally express a fear of this decline […]. Whites are losing
their historical centrality […] and they see all these non-whites, wrongly identifi ed with
Islam, as a threat to their identity (Bouteldja 2012a ).
Thus, it becomes ever more evident that the European question, particularly in
the form of a question regarding the crisis of European prestige and prosperity,
entails a persistent confl ation of migration, race, and ‘ Muslim ’ identity as relatively
fl oating signifi ers for the intrinsically contradictory mediation of the contemporary,
protracted post-colonial agony.
It is noteworthy here that the ideological short circuit that affi liates ‘the Muslim ’
with migration (and hence, ‘foreign’-ness) is in no sense coincidental. As Gil
Anidjar argues persuasively, ‘the Jewish question’ and ‘the Muslim question’ were
always co-constituted, but notably were construed to signal fi gures of alterity that
22 The ‘European’ Question: Migration, Race, and Post-Coloniality in ‘Europe’
were presumed to be respectively ‘internal’ and ‘external’ to Europe, the former as
a ‘theological’ enemy, the latter as a ‘political’ one (Anidjar 2012 : 22–23). In effect,
we can add that the ‘internal’ menace was fi gured as a corrosive one, whereas the
‘external’ threat was always perceived to be an invasive one. Inasmuch as the racialized fi gure of ‘the Muslim’ has most recently been hyperbolically affi liated with the
anomic aggression and fanatical violence of ‘foreigners’ (whether internal or external),
furthermore, David Theo Goldberg contends that this monstrous menace has come
to stand for death itself: ‘the fear of violent death, the paranoia of Europe’s cultural
demise […] the fear of the death of Europe itself’ (Goldberg 2006 : 346).
22.5 In Living Colour
It is not suffi cient to direct our critical scrutiny only towards the violent outbursts
and fascistic movements that have been steadily advancing and normalizing a more
broadly anti-immigrant agenda. We must also interrogate the methodological and
normative nationalist complacencies of liberal and many left-wing political frameworks, including some varieties of would-be ‘critical’ migration studies, as well as
many anti- racist movements that leave the nationalist presuppositions of an assimilationist politics of ‘ integration ’ unexamined (see also Chaps. 17 and 19, in this
volume). This is particularly important when so many of the offi cial ideologies of
the European nation state s themselves avow a kind of putatively anti-racist universalism that, however paradoxically, is systematically mobilized to accuse migrants
of parochialism and ‘fundamentalism’.
While we may be particularly attentive to new or revised racial formations that
are specifi cally refracted through (Christian) religious identities , as with Breivik,
we must also be alert to others that aggressively promote a Eurocentric variety of
secularism which equates a specifi cally European or ‘Western’ civilization with universalism. In these latter articulations ‘European’ values are juxtaposed with ‘foreign’ ones; universalism becomes one more militant particularism; and the demand
for compulsory ‘ integration ’ becomes a ruse that polices, penalizes, and disciplines
migrants’ alleged ‘foreignness’. This ideological hypocrisy is denounced in the
founding statement of the French Movement of the Indigenous of the Republic that
culminated in the creation of the Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR):
Ideologues recycle the theme of ‘clash of civilisations’ in the local language of the confl ict
between the ‘Republic’ and ‘communitarianism’ […]. Under a term of ‘fundamentalism’
never defi ned, the populations of African, Maghrebian or Muslim origin are now identifi ed
as the fi fth column of a new barbarism that threatens the West and its ‘values’ (MIR 2005 ).
In short, for those racialized as ‘ Muslim ’, secularism gets converted into ‘a
weapon against us’ (Bouteldja 2012b ). Ultimately, then, such assertions of pronouncedly European ‘universalism’ affi rm the opposite: a pluralistic and relativistic
conception of fundamental ‘cultural’ incompatibility (and, by implication, the
impossibility of migrant ‘ assimilation ’). In the aftermath of decolonization such
projects may now be less confi dent about their global ‘civilizing missions’, but they
N. De Genova
have revitalized their supremacist pretensions and their self-satisfi ed assertiveness
about a differentialist politics of national /‘European’ prerogative and migrant
The post-coloniality of Europe today can productively be considered in light of
the profound radicality of the PIR. The PIR have not been reticent about the urgency
of their own commitment to begin asking and answering the European question.
Composed predominantly of ‘native’-born citizens of France—‘second-generation’
and ‘third-generation’ youth of colour—the PIR proclaim themselves to be indigènes
(a term of specifi cally French colonial provenance referring to colonial subjects or
colonized ‘natives’). Because they have been compelled to ‘live the experience of
colonial racism ’ within France, as its ostensible citizens, they provocatively
announce themselves to be the indigènes —i.e. the colonized natives—of the
Republic. Indeed, they thereby repudiate the treacherous egalitarian promise of
citizenship itself, repudiate their (post-)colonial racial subjugation, and call for ‘the
decolonization of the Republic’ (MIR 2005 ). Their principal slogan, ‘ Le PIR est
avenir! ’ (‘The PIR is the future!’), is a remarkable double entendre which affi rmatively announces the political coming of age of French-born youth of colour, and
makes a bold claim upon their own post-colonial entitlement to defi ne the future of
France. More directly, however, the slogan simultaneously asserts its more customary idiomatic sense: ‘ Le pir est avenir ’ means ‘The worst is yet to come!’. Thus,
playfully destabilizing all of the encrusted conceits of the dominant ideology of
French republicanism, and also forcefully interrogating the racial complacencies of
the French (white) left, the PIR unapologetically rejoice in their own insurgent and
incorrigible audacity. Here are the new ‘Europeans’ indeed!
22.6 Remembering European Civilization
Whether the European question manifests itself as a resurgence of nationalist particularism or as one of universalistic secularism, we must begin to analyse these
contemporary discourses and practices as distinctly post-colonial racial projects.
Indeed, the supranational confi guration of a new ‘Europe’ and its concomitant
‘European’ identity , which has been underway now for many years (particularly
since the end of the Cold War ), can only be apprehensible in terms of a historically
prior, comparably supranational formation of European ‘ community ’, one that was
predicated historically on Europe’s colonial relation to the globe, and similarly constituted on the material and practical basis of a global regime of white supremacy
(Du Bois 1910 , 1915 , 1917 , [1920] 1971 ). Here, after all, lest we forget, we are
speaking precisely of Europe .
What is this place called ‘Europe’? How did the European nation state s come
about historically? What was the material basis of European wealth and aggrandizement? This of course was an uneven history in which not all European nation states
were equal; the variety of particular national histories is surely not a monolith.
Indeed, an essential feature of European history has always been the subjugation of
some Europeans by others (see also Chap. 6, in this volume). Nonetheless, the foundation of specifi cally European prestige and prosperity for hundreds of years was
22 The ‘European’ Question: Migration, Race, and Post-Coloniality in ‘Europe’
precisely colonial empire. Across Europe’s long and sordid colonial history the
overwhelming majority of Europe’s labouring classes did not live in Europe but
rather inhabited the vast expanse of colonized lands in Africa, Asia, and the Americas
(Du Bois 1915 , 1917 , [1920] 1971 ; Orwell 1939 ).
The crisis of that earlier (pre- Cold War ) supranational European ‘ community ’ of
colonial powers was set in motion by the era of decolonization, which was itself a
fundamental condition of possibility for the particular dynamics of bipolar fracture
that prevailed during the Cold War. Here, then, it is instructive to recall that the
twentieth century had been inaugurated by W.E.B. Du Bois’ famous proclamation
of ‘the problem of the color line’ as the defi ning and decisive global fault line of the
century (DuBois 1900b : para. 2, para. 19; see also Du Bois [1903] 1982 : 3; Chandler
2006 , 2013 ). What is considerably less well known, however, is that Du Bois also
insisted elsewhere that ‘the civilization of the twentieth century is European’
([ 1900a ] 2013: para. 7; emphasis added). 2
Hence, one could productively extrapolate that the problem of European ‘civilization’ was precisely ‘the problem of the
colour line’ or, even further, that a defi ning dynamic of European ‘civilization’ as
such was that same notorious and nefarious ‘colour line’. In the largely unknown
early essay in which he makes this latter proposition, titled ‘The Spirit of Modern
Europe’, Du Bois furthermore affi rms that the modern achievements of Europe
must be apprehensible as having an effectively global confi guration, referring provocatively to ‘that European civilization of which we all today form a part’ ([ 1900a ]
2013: para. 42). Notably, Du Bois returns to this gesture four decades later, on the
fi rst page of the fi rst chapter of his autobiographical text Dusk of Dawn: An Essay
Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept , in which he refers quite frankly to
‘the world-wide domination of white Europe’ as ‘this European civilization [in the
folds of which] I was born and shall die, imprisoned, conditioned, depressed, exalted
and inspired. Integrally a part of it and yet, much more signifi cant, one of its rejected
parts’ ([1940] 1968 : 3). In the intervening years, moreover, Du Bois had come to
more forcefully underscore how European power and prestige fi gured centrally in
the ordering of a modern, twentieth-century world premised upon what he memorably called ‘the divine right of white people to steal’ (Du Bois [1920] 1971 : 48).
Confronted with the ‘new imperialism’ that had culminated in the ghastly bloodbath
of the First World War, Du Bois soberly declared: ‘We darker men say: This is not
Europe gone mad; this is not aberration nor insanity; this is Europe’ (Du Bois [1920]
1971 : 40; emphasis in original; see also Du Bois 1917 ).
Perhaps paradoxically, as the twentieth century ended, our current century has
been prominently distinguished by the fervent invention and fortifi cation of a new
border around a newly reunited Europe, a bordering that may be understood to be
nothing less than yet another redrawing of the global ‘colour line’. Perhaps still
more paradoxically, European border policing has been increasingly externalized,
so that supposed would-be migrants are often apprehended and subjected to detention and deportation (and sometimes multiple serial detentions and deportations)
Here, notably, one of the explicit polemical aims of Du Bois’ essay is to compel a recognition
among his U.S.-based audience ‘that after all America is not the centre of modern civilization’
([1900a] 2014: para. 27).
N. De Genova
before they have even crossed the territorial border of any European state, designated to be ‘illegal migrants’ violating the borders of ‘Europe’—without ever having set foot in ‘Europe’. The European Union has been exceptionally innovative in
this regard, enlisting states not only in North Africa but also in sub-Saharan Africa
and beyond its eastern and southeastern borders, as ‘junior partners’ deputized to do
the work of policing the effectively virtual European border (see also Chaps. 7 and 9,
in this volume).
Today, in the extended aftermath of decolonization for the hundreds of millions
of people who formerly were largely confi ned to the mass prison labour camps that
were Europe’s colonies, Europe is now confronted with migrants and refugees from
those same countries. The escalation and dramatic expansion of migrant mobility in
the late twentieth century, therefore, must be apprehensible as the historical successor to the mass global immobilization of labour in Europe’s colonies during the
preceding era. Consequently, a profound and enduringly poignant expression of the
migrant struggle in Europe has long been the declaration: ‘We are here because
you were there.’ Hence, in the face of this inevitable harvest of empire, the mobility
of the vast majority of people from formerly colonized countries—indeed the
vast majority of humanity—is now pre-emptively illegalized (see also Chap. 10, in
this volume).
22.7 Space of Mobilities
The creation of a formalized European space of mobility, whereby EU citizens and
residents may cross national borders without passport checks, has been confi gured,
in fact, as largely reserved ‘for Europeans only’ (see also Chaps. 7 and 9, in this
Here it is instructive to recall the ‘ guest work er ’ migration regime that prevailed
in much of Western Europe between the calamitous destruction of the Second World
War and the more recent era in which migrant ‘illegality’ has proliferated (see also
Chap. 17, in this volume). When the guest worker regime came to an end a new
regime premised on asylum effectively foreclosed most other routes for legal migration, and required migrants to now refashion their mobility accordingly. Labour
migration thereby assumed the only permissible form: that of refugees fl eeing persecution and seeking asylum. Predictably, the inevitable result was an ever increasing and ever more aggressive outcry against the allegedly ‘fake’ or ‘bogus’ asylum
seekers. By the 1990s, then, the European asylum system had succeeded to produce
the material and practical conditions of possibility for a burgeoning infl ux of illegalized migrants.
To make this point more forcefully: judging it on the basis of its real effects, the
European asylum system is precisely not a system for granting asylum to refugees .
It routinely and regularly denies the great majority recognition as legitimate asylum
22 The ‘European’ Question: Migration, Race, and Post-Coloniality in ‘Europe’
seekers, and ordinarily grants ‘ refugee ’ status to less than 15 % of applicants. 3
It is
premised upon a comprehensive suspicion of people seeking asylum, and is
effectively designed to disqualify as many applicants as possible as allegedly
‘bogus’ asylum seekers. In terms of its real effects and of what it actually produces,
therefore, the European asylum system is a regime for the production of migrant
‘illegality’ (see De Genova 2002 , 2005 : 213–249).
Subsequently, we have seen only more and more detention for migrants and asylum seekers, with ever greater numbers subjected to plainly punitive recrimination
deriving strictly from their non-citizen status. 4
The dramatic expansion and routinization of deportation and migrant detention expose the enormous investment of
energy and resources to maintain a European order partitioned by increasingly militarized or securitized borders (see also Chaps. 9 and 10, in this volume). The regulation of borders is never merely a matter of exclusion, however. Detention camps
obviously serve as extraterritorial dumping grounds for human beings who are
deemed to be ‘undesirable’ and ‘out of place’, sanitizing the offi cial borders that are
supposed to verify a tidy sociopolitical order of ‘European’ sovereignty. However,
what is less apparent is that in many cases detention centres are not closed prisons
but rather provide a kind of solution for housing destitute and homeless migrants.
Furthermore, many, and even the majority, of the migrants and asylum seekers
detained in such camps are in fact not deported but eventually released. Thus, a key
aspect of these detention camps is to decelerate the momentum of migrant mobilities, operating effectively as disciplinary decompression chambers for migrants’
trajectories as the migrants commence their more or less protracted apprenticeships
as Europe’s ‘irregular’ labor force (De Genova 2002 : 429), beginning of course with
the severities and deprivations of the extended process of illegalized border crossing
itself, including various periods of being stranded in detention or elsewhere en route.
22.8 The Illusion of Wholeness
In order to formulate the European question, fundamentally and ever increasingly
fashioned in opposition to the post-colonial spectre of a mob of mobile (non-white)
non-Europeans, I have been invoking a notion of Europe in the singular. The
European question nonetheless implies the need to defetishize all notions of
In 2012, in the extended aftermath of the events of the Arab Spring, and amid ongoing civil wars
in Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, and political and economic turmoil in Eritrea, in the enlarged
EU-27 fi rst-instance ‘ refugee ’ recognition was only 13.9 %, with an additional 10.4 % of applicants denied ‘refugee’ recognition but granted ‘subsidiary protection’, and another 2 % granted
authorization to stay for humanitarian reasons, in the fi rst instance. In other words, 73 % of all
asylum applications were rejected in the fi rst instance (see Eurostat 2013 ).
An EU-commissioned report on detention revealed in 2006 that there were then at least 130
detention centres in the 25 EU member states (EP 2007 ). At the time this was probably an underestimate; certainly by now the actual number is much higher, especially once we take into account
all of the work of interdiction that transpires beyond the continental territorial limits of Europe
itself on behalf of the European border enforcement regime.
N. De Genova
‘Europe’ as a reifi ed monolith. From the Balkans to Chechnya, the unstable and
anxious question about Europe’s boundaries has been repeatedly re-posed—from
within (see also Chaps. 7 and 9, in this volume). Glenda Garelli and Martina Tazzioli
have incisively cautioned against transposing the habits of methodological nationalism into an analogous, and comparably uncritical, methodological Europeanism
(Garelli and Tazzioli 2013 : 300; see also Chap. 5, in this volume). Furthermore, it is
important not to collapse the concept of ‘Europe’ into the EU in an uncritical refl ex
of methodological EU-ropeanism. The differential layering of relative inclusion
within the new (post– Cold War ) European project has been pronouncedly salient,
for instance, over the course of the gradual accession of various eastern European
states to the European Union (see also Chaps. 6 and 7, in this volume). Furthermore,
in spite of its campaign for admission to this European constellation, Turkey has
remained, at least for now, resolutely ‘beyond the pale’, and demarcates a decisive
frontier. Notably, in precisely this capacity of European frontier Turkey, along with
the countries along the southern coast of the Mediterranean, has become a decisive
‘holding area’, a zone of migrant ‘transit’ where, in a manner that is analogous to the
detention camps but now writ large, human mobility is critically decelerated or
temporarily suspended.
The diversity within the larger European constellation refers us to a profoundly
uneven history: the ways in which the colonial projects of some European nation
state s often began ‘at home’ with the subjugation of their European neighbors, or
with the ‘internal’ colonization of purportedly ‘backward’ provinces of their presumptive ‘ national ’ territories). The legacies of the Cold War , furthermore, have
ensured that many regions of ‘the East’ of Europe have been a crucial reserve of
migrant labour both within and across the borders of EU citizenship and mobility
(see also Chaps. 6 and 16, in this volume).
Hence, while ‘European’ may signify racial whiteness, in general, it seems probable that ‘European’-ness is also increasingly asserted and affi rmed to distinguish
the racialized difference between one category of ‘foreigners’ in European spaces
(such as ‘ Eastern Europe an’ migrants in the UK) and the complex fi eld of racialized
categories that pertain to those migrant ‘foreigners’ understood to be decidedly nonEuropean (‘Africans’, ‘Arabs’, ‘Asians’). These sorts of crude racial distinctions are
complicated further when they exist alongside ‘native’ Europeans who are not
racialized as white (such as the European-born children and grandchildren of
migrants from formerly colonized countries). Here one could similarly contemplate
the racialized indeterminacy or instability of such categories as ‘Bulgarian’ or
‘Romanian’ in Western Europe an contexts, where these ostensible ‘ national ’ labels
often euphemize Roma identities and become inextricably confl ated with ‘Gypsy’
racial alterity, and thereby further exacerbate the anti-Roma hostilities of ‘white’ (or
‘European’) Bulgarians, Romanians, and other ‘Eastern Europeans’. Thus, the slippages and re-entrenchments of the difference between Eastern European ‘whiteness’ and Eastern European Roma non-whiteness are a revealing fault line.
In this regard, it is crucial to sustain critical attention to the enduring legacies of
anti-Semitism and, especially, anti-Roma racism because these ‘internal’ fi gures of
European alterity continue to animate the revitalized projects of both ‘European’
identity and European ‘ national ’ identities as post-colonial racial formations. In the era
22 The ‘European’ Question: Migration, Race, and Post-Coloniality in ‘Europe’
of European integration , Roma communities in particular have been pronouncedly
Europeanized 5
: now, increasingly fi gured as ‘Europe’s largest ethnic minority ’
(see e.g. EC 2010 ), a monolithic ‘Roma’ construct serves to agglomerate and
homogenize diverse communities dispersed across multiple ‘national’ territories.
This minoritizing gesture enfolds the Roma within Europe but re-inscribes them as
a singular ‘ethnic’ alterity that is fi nally ‘European’ only inasmuch as it is racialized
as effectively non-European—the preeminent perennial (and, by implication, recalcitrant) exception. This is perhaps nowhere more fl agrantly evident than in the forcible evictions of Roma settlements and the de facto deportability of the Roma in
spite of their putative (EU) citizenship . As Liz Fekete notes, in the face of this newly
reanimated ‘pan-European racism’ against them the Roma can only encounter
‘Europe’ as something approximating ‘a huge open prison’ (Fekete 2014 : 68).
One could also consider the racialization of Muslim identities , such that ‘Bosnian’
or ‘Chechen’ come to demarcate racialized liminal fi gures, oddly located in the
unstable and uneasy borderlands of ‘Europe’ but simultaneously in the greater orbit
of Turkey and ‘Turks’ as a long-entrenched orientalized Other standing at perhaps
the most extreme and enduring border of ‘Europe’ (see also Chap. 18, in this
volume). 6
In this manner ‘European’ comes to encompass a variegated and contradictory continuum or nexus of racialized formations of whiteness that extend
towards a series of ‘off-white’ or ‘not-quite-white’ borderland identities. Indeed, it
is precisely this inescapable and vexing incoherence that always necessarily attends
to all racial meanings, categories, distinctions, and discriminations.
Thus, if ‘Europe’ may indeed be said to be a racial formation of post-colonial
whiteness, this certainly does not mean that all Europeans are equally ‘white’ or
‘white’ in the same ways. Like the racial formation of whiteness itself, the homogenizing character of a racial formation of ‘European’-ness or European whiteness is
precisely devoted to obfuscating and suturing what are otherwise very profound and
consequential differences and inequalities . As David Roediger explains, ‘It is not
merely that ‘whiteness’ is oppressive and false; it is that ‘whiteness’ is nothing but
oppressive and false […]. Whiteness describes not a culture but precisely […] the
empty and therefore terrifying attempt to build an identity based on what one isn’t
and on whom one can hold back’ (Roediger 1994 : 13; emphasis in original). As
with whiteness, then, so we may posit of ‘European’-ness: it has historically
acquired a spurious semblance of integrity or coherence solely on the basis of its
presumptive derision for and subjugation of all that is produced as non-European.
The constitutive contradictions and intrinsic antagonisms of ‘European’-ness are
precisely what the homogenizing racial formation of whiteness serves to superintend and recode.
I am indebted to Can Yildiz for bringing this particular feature of the contemporary conjuncture
of Roma racializationto my attention.
As an expression of its racial populism, Ataka (the ‘Attack’ Party) in Bulgaria has been known to
contend that Bulgaria is still under the control of ‘Turks’.
N. De Genova
22.9 ‘European’ Futures?
What, fi nally, is the future of Europe? Today, in the throes of economic crisis, the
fragility of the European Union in particular, and the volatility of Europe more generally, are plainly visible. The scapegoating of migrants and an ever more hostile
climate of immigration restriction have become standard features of the reactionary
politics of misery and expanding precarity. Everywhere migrants are nonetheless
central to the ongoing social and political re-defi nitions of European space (see also
Chap. 17, in this volume). How are migrants’ sociopolitical and spatial practices
actively creating a new Europe and consolidating an alternative European future, in
spite of escalating antagonism? Recalling the slogan of the PIR in France, is ‘the
worst’ ‘yet to come’? Is it even conceivable that the future will not belong to the
‘colonized natives’ of Europe, the inheritors of all the colonial subjects who have
brought forth the post-colonial migrations that have already permanently and radically altered the social fabric of European life? The European question is as much
about this struggle over the future as it is about accounting for the colonial past and
the post-colonial present. If we begin to formulate research in terms of these vital
questions—from the critical vantage point of those who are conventionally produced as ‘outsiders’ to Europe, in spite of their very substantive social locations
within Europe—we may indeed begin to initiate a critical deconstruction of these
sociopolitical processes as they are taking place in the present, in ongoing and unresolved struggles, the stakes of which implicate us all.
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