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Borderlands. Towards an Anthropology of the Cosmopolitan Condition

  • ID: 3734506
  • Book
  • July 2016
  • Region: Global
  • 208 Pages
  • John Wiley and Sons Ltd
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The images of migrants and refugees arriving in precarious boats on the shores of southern Europe, and of the makeshift camps that have sprung up in Lesbos, Lampedusa, Calais and elsewhere, have become familiar sights on television screens around the world. But what do we know about the border places – these liminal zones between countries and continents – that have become the focus of so much attention and anxiety today, and what do we know about the individuals who occupy these places?

In this timely book, anthropologist Michel Agier addresses these questions and examines the character of the borderlands that emerge on the margins of nation–states. Drawing on his ethnographic fieldwork, he shows that borders, far from disappearing, have acquired a new kind of centrality in our societies, becoming reference points for the growing numbers of people who do not find a place in the countries they wish to reach. They have become the site for a new kind of subject, the border dweller, who is both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, enclosed on the one hand and excluded on the other, and who is obliged to learn, under harsh conditions, the ways of the world and of other people. In this respect, the lives of migrants, even in the uncertainties or dangers of the borderlands, tell us something about the condition in which everyone is increasingly living today, a ‘cosmopolitan condition’ in which the experience of the unfamiliar is more common and the relation between self and other is in constant renewal.
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Introduction: The Migrant, the Border and the World
Blocked at the border
Indifference and solidarities
Borders and walls
Borderlands and their inhabitants: a banal cosmopolitism
Part I: Decentring the World
Chapter 1. The Elementary Forms of the Border
The border as centre of reflection
Temporal, social and spatial dimensions of the border ritual
Community and locality: the border as social fact
The sacred space in Salvador de Bahia
The symbolic construction of the border
An anthropology of/in the border
Founding, naming, limiting
Borderlands as uncertain places: Tocqueville at Saginaw
Interval time: carnivals and deceleration
Everything that the border is the place of
Borders and identity
Border situations and liminality
Chapter 2. The World as ‘Problem’
War at the borders
Is the world a problem? Cosmopolitical reality and realpolitik
Economic globalization and the weakening of nation–states
Landscapes, routes and networks: the shape of the world
Violence at the border: the outside of the nation
The ‘border police’, or what remains of nation–states
The fiction of ‘national indigeneity’ and its naturalization
Expulsions trace the boundary of national identity
Humanitarian spaces as partial delocalization of sovereignty
Walls of war
Colonial war, war on migrants
Questions about the ‘desire for walls’
Chapter 3. Border Dwellers and Borderlands: Studies of banal cosmopolitism
The border dwellers: figures and places of relative foreignness
Wandering as adventure and the border encampment
Becoming a pariah and living in a camp
Four ‘métèques’, and the squat as border
The foreigner in his labyrinth, or the tiers–instruit
Being–in–the–world on the border: a new cosmopolitan condition
An ordinary cosmopolitism
Part Two: The Decentred Subject
Chapter 4. Questions of Method: Decentring Reconsidered Today
A critical moment: the contemporary turn in anthropology
The end of the ‘Great Divide’
From ethnic group to ethnic identities
Identity–based essentialisms and ontologies
Decentring reconceived
Beyond cultural decentring
The construction of epistemological decentring
Political decentring. The question of the other–as–subject
A contemporary and situational anthropology
WYSIWYG: what you see is what there is
The contribution of situational anthropology
Chapter 5. Civilization, Culture, Race: Three Explorations in Identity
Civilization as hyper–border: mirrors of Africa
The 1950s: ‘One civilization accused by another!’
1980s and 1990s: deconstructions, reinventions
A global and diffuse African presence
The migration of spirits: mobilities and identity–based cultures
The devil, the priest and black culture (Colombian Pacific)
The Tunda as urban monster (Charco Azul, Cali)
Borders and temporalities of identity–based cultures
Race and racism: how can one be black?
Republic and racial thought in France
Brazil: from ‘racial democracy’ to ‘multicultural nation’
Citizenship without identity
Escaping the identity trap
Chapter 6. Logics and Politics of the Subject
An anthropology of the subject
From person to individual: ethnology and sociology
From subjectification to subjects: anthropology and philosophy
The subject in situation: an ethnographic proposal
The decentred subject: three situational analyses
The ritual subject, or the subject as duplication of self and world
The aesthetic subject, or the care of self and the subject as author
The political subject, or the subject as a demand for citizenship
Moments and politics of the other–subject
Conclusion: Towards an Anthropology of the Cosmopolitan Condition
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Borderlands, Michel Agier epitomizes what makes his standing unique in contemporary research: nothing less than the creation of a whole disciplinary field, empirical and theoretical, of urgent importance for our tragic present, the general anthropology of the displaced human in its multiple figures and locations, reversing traditional assessments of mobility and settlement, identity and strangeness, borders and neighbourhoods. He provides the missing link between the cosmopolitisms of yesterday and those we need for tomorrow.’

Étienne Balibar, Université de Paris X – Nanterre
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