Review Essay: Challenging the State of Exception: New Ethnographies of International Migration and its Constraints

Challenging the State of Exception: New Ethnographies of International Migration and its Constraints

The topic of migration has been a subject of deep interest for cultural and political anthropologists in recent years, not only because it is such a salient feature of many people’s lives and a seemingly endless wellspring of contention in contemporary politics, but also because it provides an analytic starting point from which to interrogate core organizing principles of the current world system (Brettell 2017, Cohen 2011, Fassin 2011b, Horevitz 2009, Vertovec 2011). As Maurizio Albahari puts it, “In a world conceived as carved into nation-states, migration interrogates the naturalized overlap among state, territory, and sedentary citizenship, thus being the anomaly par excellence” (2015: 54). A few of the interrelated themes and questions that motivate the anthropology of migration are as follows:

  • Sovereignty: What is sovereignty, and how is it generated and enacted through the management of people’s movement across borders? (Hansen and Stepputat 2005, Shneiderman 2013)
  • Citizenship and belonging: What does it mean for people to belong somewhere, or to not belong somewhere, in both a legal sense and a social sense? (Ahmad 2017; Bestemann 2016; Clarke 2004; Coutin 2007, 2016; Rogozen-Soltar 2017)
  • Family: How does the study of marriages and other family relationships across international lines open up new possibilities for the anthropology of family and state formations? (Coe 2013; Cole 2014; Constable 2003, 2014; Freeman 2011; Mahdavi 2016)
  • Structural violence: What forms of structural violence result from the designation of forms of mobility as “legal” or “illegal” and the corresponding sorting of people into categories such as “deportable,” “undocumented,” and “refugee”? (De Genova and Peutz 2010, Ramsay 2017) How do ethics of care, hospitality, and humanitarianism intersect with state projects that result from these categorizations? (Fassin 2011a, Ticktin 2011)

In Sara Friedman’s ethnographic account of migration from China to Taiwan, Exceptional States: Chinese Immigrants and Taiwanese Sovereignty (2015), Maurizio Albahari’s study of migration across the Mediterranean into Europe in Crimes of Peace: Mediterranean Migrations at the World’s Deadliest Border (2015), and two studies of movement across the U.S.-Mexico border in Deborah Boehm’s Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation (2016) and Jason De Leόn’s The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (2015), these four authors have made important contributions to these ongoing conversations. A common theme running through all four of the books is that of constraint: that is, none of the people whose experiences are documented in these books enjoy the privileged ideal of global citizenship, free to come and go as they will. Inasmuch as their citizenships could be considered flexible (Ong 1999), they are only flexible to the extent that people find themselves obliged to shape their lives, and their trajectories of migration, around and through dense networks of constraints: not only legal and bureaucratic constraints, but also social, economic, geographic, and gendered.

In Exceptional States, Sara Friedman focuses on citizens of mainland China who migrate to Taiwan for the purpose of marriage. These cases of marriage migration are far from rare; in fact, Chinese spouses of Taiwanese citizens are the largest group of permanent immigrants in Taiwan (Friedman 2015: 3), and such mixed marriages comprised approximately nine percent of all marriages in Taiwan by 2013 (ibid.: 7-8). The experiences of these migrants, who are primarily women, highlight the anomalous nature of the relationship between Taiwan and China, as they are not quite foreigners, but not quite natives. As such, their migration is subjected to strict oversight by Taiwanese bureaucrats, who are responsible for asserting Taiwan’s de facto sovereignty through the creation and maintenance of what Friedman calls “sovereignty effects” (ibid.:14-18). The sites for the creation of these sovereignty effects include the identity and travel documents that migrants must obtain and maintain, such as entry permits, travel passes, and residency booklets (Chapter 1; for other ethnographic accounts of how identification documents enable and constrain mobility, see Abarca and Coutin 2018, Gordillo 2006, Jeganathan 2004, Yeh 2017, and Yngvesson and Coutin 2006). Some of these documents resemble visas and passports, but they crucially are not visas and passports: they “manage border crossings by keeping the status of that border intentionally ambiguous” (ibid.: 29). Bureaucrats are also charged with interviewing would-be marriage migrants and their spouses to determine if the marriages are authentic, thus again asserting effective Taiwanese sovereignty by imposing gendered norms of conduct and state-sanctioned notions of what “real” marriage ought to look like (Chapter 2).

For the Chinese marriage migrants who do succeed in gaining entry into Taiwan, the struggle for cultural and legal citizenship is only just beginning. As they await the opportunity to apply for citizenship, they are not permitted to work for several years, and their status may be jeopardized if their family situation changes. As an example, Friedman shares the story of a young woman whose Taiwanese husband died by suicide before she was eligible to apply for citizenship; without a Taiwanese spouse or a Taiwanese citizen-child, she was only eligible to remain in Taiwan as a legal resident, in a sort of suspended status (Chapter 4). In their married lives, these women also frequently struggle to cope with gender roles that are less egalitarian than what they expect or wish for (Chapter 5). If they do finally succeed in obtaining Taiwanese citizenship, they are legally obligated to give up their household registration in mainland China, which effectively denationalizes them (for an in-depth analysis of the role that the household registration, or hukou, system plays in shaping both internal and international migration in southeast China, see Chu 2010: 59-99). This either-or legal approach to citizenship is in tension with the way that people experience their cross-strait lives, which often involve familial and economic ties on both sides. It also imposes the risk of that Chinese migrants might wind up without a secure sense of belonging anywhere if their paperwork goes awry: as one woman put it, “If I don’t obtain a national ID, then I’m neither a mainland person nor a Taiwanese. I’m not from anywhere, and that’s exhausting” (188).

While the “exceptional states” of Friedman’s title points to the particular nature of the relationship between China and Taiwan, it also intentionally echoes the title of Giorgio Agamben’s book State of Exception (2005). Agamben’s work considers the extension of state power, and the corresponding diminishment of individual constitutional rights, in situations of crisis or emergency. Though the situation between Taiwan and China has more or less settled into a standoff over seven decades, Friedman’s work provides a sensitive and insightful account of how this long-standing “state of exception” continues to disrupt and restrict people’s lives. Her concept of “sovereignty effects” will be a useful theoretical tool in many contexts around the world where sovereignty is partial or contested, such as the French Caribbean (Bonilla 2015), native North America (Simpson 2014, Sturm 2017) and Palestine (Bishara 2017); as I discuss later in this essay, it can also be applied productively to thinking about the U.S.-Mexico border.

Maurizio Albahari’s Crimes of Peace critiques the ways the concept of “emergency” is routinely invoked by Italian authorities to describe the boat migrations across the Mediterranean which have resulted in hundreds and even thousands of deaths every year since the early 1990s: “Emergencies do not last two decades: The political priorities, active policies, and structured negligence that perpetuate them as such do” (Albahari 2015: 203). Albahari provides a framework in which the deaths which are characterized as accidents resulting from unrelated incidents can be understood as the predictable outcomes of a “military-humanitarian nexus” (ibid.: 12) that ultimately values the maintenance of borders over the preservation of human life: in other words, as crimes of peace.

When migrants from dozens of countries step into boats to attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, what happens to them? In some cases, they reach the shores of Italy and find themselves confined in migrants’ centers, where the Catholic Church and other humanitarian actors, in the name of charity and hospitality, keep them in administrative detention on the state’s behalf (Chapter 1). In some cases, their boats may be intercepted by Italian ships and “pushed back” toward other shores (ibid.: 64-69), although this is rare, since naval blockades are both technically difficult to enforce and subject to political censure as acts of war. In some cases, their boats may begin to take on water. Shipwrecks are slow, and those aboard a boat in distress are often able to make contact with others nearby, at which point the question of responsibility for assisting the distressed is tossed back and forth between government and international agencies: “The main challenge of maritime migration is often not invisibility in a deserted stretch of sea, but a problem of decision making, of coordination, and of political will to accept people in the rescuers’ country’s ‘safe port’” (ibid.: 176). In one case of shipwreck on October 3, 2013, the approximately 366 people who drowned before being rescued were declared honorary Italian citizens in the wake of the “tragic accident”; the 155 people who were rescued from the shipwreck, who all declared Eritrean nationality, were prosecuted for the “crime” of illegal immigration (ibid.: 171-172).

In one of his most striking examples of the Kafkaesque nature of migrants’ experiences with state authorities, Albahari recounts the story of a group of Bulgarians who, despite their contention that they were traveling as tourists, were detained in a holding center in Otranto on the basis of nothing other than the authorities’ hunch that they might be intending to overstay their official welcome (Chapter 4). While these people were traveling by land, and thus do not fit the general pattern of sea-crossing migrants whose experiences are the focus of the book, their detention is nevertheless an illustration of the exercise of arbitrary state power over migration. It also points to the ways in which ‘Europe’ as a political project seems increasingly fragile; the ethnically Turkish Bulgarians were European, but apparently not quite European enough for the Italian authorities. Originally told that they would be held only for a day or two until their identities could be verified, the Bulgarians were eventually detained for over a month. One of the center’s employees explained – or rather, excused – the lengthy delay to Albahari by saying, “These kinds of procedures develop nearly automatically, and once they start there is a whole machinery that has to conclude its cycle, despite the actual situation of the people involved” (ibid.: 121). In the end, the group was let go without any official explanation for their month of detention, as state authorities could not be bothered to provide documentation for their actions and decisions. Turning around one of the most common labels used to criminalize people’s mobility, Albahari concludes that in this case, “the police were undocumented” (132).

Albahari’s incisive analysis of large-scale political developments that have shaped Mediterranean migrations since the 1990s, from the formation of the European Union to the Arab Spring uprisings, is complemented by his close attention to small-scale details of particular people, places, and events. Despite his critique of the way the concept of “emergency” is used to deny state responsibility for lives lost in the Mediterranean, Albahari nevertheless has a keen sense of the stakes that these questions of borders and sovereignty hold for people’s real lives: as he puts it, “sometimes I wish I could write these pages on a gigantic transparent sheet, which I would then hold vertically while you see the immediate, urgent reality through it” (ibid.: 25). In terms of the sheer scope of human suffering described, and the complexity of the web of actors who are implicated in the responsibility for that suffering, Albahari’s book was a grueling read for me, although certainly worthwhile. His interest in aesthetics, as conveyed through his discussions of paintings by Magritte and Michelangelo and of public art projects that memorialize those who have died in the process of Mediterranean migration (Chapter 6), provides a welcome respite and even allows the book to end on a note of measured hope that “we could demand something else, daily” (ibid.: 202). If we understand violence as resulting from human-made structures, rather than from mere “accident,” then perhaps those structures can be remade or even unmade.

Jason De Leόn’s The Land of Open Graves (2015) provides another substantial example of structural violence disguised as natural violence. In this case, the environment is the Sonoran Desert on the U.S.-Mexico border, rather than the Mediterranean Sea. De Leόn’s goal is to expose the U.S.’s border policy of “prevention through deterrence” (PTD) as a deliberate strategy that intentionally funnels migrants into dangerous situations and, in many cases, leaves them to die. Just as Albahari argues that the continued deaths of thousands of people in the Mediterranean over the course of decades cannot be explained as the results of “emergency,” so De Leόn demonstrates the hollowness of the claim that the migrants who die en route to the U.S. are “victims of the desert” (De Leόn 2015: 29). Instead, he posits that the agency that is responsible for these deaths is distributed throughout a complex “hybrid collectif” (ibid.: 39-40) that includes not only human actants such as border patrol agents and bureaucrats, but also non-human actants such as vultures, insects, rocky terrains, and the heat of the sun.

In order to deliberately contaminate the sanitized language of PTD, De Leόn forces his readers to confront the physical reality of crossing through the Sonoran Desert. In unflinching detail, he describes the dangers of hiking for days – blisters, dehydration, disorientation, attacks by humans and animals – along with the sights and smells of bodily decay when people succumb to exposure and are consumed by the desert. Building on Achille Mbembe’s (2003) concept of necropolitics, or “killing in the name of sovereignty” (De Leόn 66-67), De Leόn proposes that the deaths of these migrants should be understood as necroviolence, which is “violence performed and produced through the specific treatment of corpses that is perceived to be offensive, sacrilegious, or inhumane by the perpetrator, the victim (and his or her cultural group) or both” (ibid.: 69). The final third of the book provides an example of an alternative to necroviolence (necrocompassion, perhaps?) in the story of a woman named Maricela, whose body is discovered in the desert by De Leόn and some of his students. He is eventually able to arrange for her body to be returned to her family in Cuenca, Ecuador. The story of Maricela’s life and death, intermingled with the stories of her family members who have migrated, who have attempted to migrate, and who have remained in Cuenca, is a powerful testimony that demonstrates ethnography’s potential to challenge a regime that regards undocumented migrants as mere bodies and the physical remnants of their crossing as “trash” (ibid.: 201).

De Leόn’s integration of methods from across the subfields of anthropology allows him to build his argument in a vivid and compelling way. Trained as an archaeologist, he is attuned to the analysis of material culture, such as the objects that migrants carry with them into the desert to increase their chances of survival (Chapter 6). His analysis of the process of bodily decomposition in desert conditions draws on biological anthropology and forensic techniques (Chapter 3). Linguistic anthropology makes an appearance in his discussion of how male border-crossers often incorporate chingaderas (verbal play marked by double entendre and profanity) into their narratives of border-crossing as a way of talking about experiences that may be too painful and difficult to put into words otherwise (Chapter 4). When I taught an Introduction to Anthropology course in summer 2017, this integration of methods was one of the main reasons why I chose to assign the book in full. I wanted my students to grasp the holistic nature of the discipline by seeing a range of examples of what anthropology can look like in practice. In general, we anthropologists are often better at talking about the holistic nature of our discipline than we are at actually working with one another across methodological lines; in this sense, De Leόn’s project offers a model for rethinking the holism of anthropology and considering “how it can be deployed in politically hostile terrain” (ibid.: 14).

Another reason why I assigned De Leόn’s book to my students was that he writes in a very forthright way about the ethical considerations and choices that shaped his research. He explains, for instance, that he does not feel that it is appropriate to actually attempt an unauthorized border crossing with his interlocutors, both because he does not want to endanger them further and because he does not want to center his own experience of crossing, which would necessarily be different from those of undocumented migrants by virtue of the fact that he is a U.S. citizen (ibid.: 11-14). He writes about his decision to purchase and kill several pigs in order to better understand the decomposition of human bodies in the desert (ibid.: 62-65) and about his decision to include dozens of photographs of people in the book, including photographs of Maricela’s body as he found it in the desert (ibid.: 18-19, 210). In our classroom, De Leόn’s frank discussions of these choices opened up a space for important conversations on the ethics of anthropological engagement, particularly in contexts of suffering.

Deborah Boehm’s Deported (2016) focuses on the movement of undocumented migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border through the lens of deportation. Like De Leόn, Boehm demonstrates that for many people, undocumented migration is not a simple unidirectional movement but rather an iterative sequence of going and coming. Her analysis of the impact of the U.S.’s increasingly harsh deportation policies in the 2000s is centered on the effects of deportation on families: “The state’s removal of some is experienced within families by all, as the dis/order of the state reaches into kin networks and strains and reconfigures family relations” (Boehm 2016: 2-3). Structuring her book around the life experiences of several families with whom she spent time during her fieldwork, often on both sides of the border, she highlights the pervasive sense of instability and unpredictability that characterizes life in the U.S. both for those who fall into the “deportable” category and for their family members.

Boehm is attentive to the ways the current deportation regime contributes to an increasing pattern of north-south movement that challenges ideas of what it means to go and what it means to be left behind: “those ‘left behind’ are increasingly living in el norte rather than ‘at home’ in Mexico” (ibid.: 87). This reversal of directionality is reflected in the way that her interlocutors often mix up the terms “here” and “there,” speaking about the U.S. as “here” even when they are in Mexico (ibid.: 125). The gendered dynamics of migration and deportation are also important here. Since men are more likely to be deported than women, many women are finding themselves “left behind” in the US with their children when their partners are deported, whereas in earlier decades the pattern of women and children being “left behind” in Mexico was more typical (ibid.: 83-86).

An important argument of Boehm’s book is that the regime of deportation undermines U.S. citizenship through the “undocumented deportation” (ibid.: 107) of many children who were born in the U.S. These children, although U.S. citizens, may be obliged to leave the country with parents who are deported and to “return” to places that they have never known and where they feel profoundly out of place (Chapter 5); significantly, this pattern of de facto deportation of US citizen children runs contrary to popular rightwing discourses about so-called “anchor babies.” These children’s sense of home and belonging, formal citizenship, and place of residence are misaligned, producing effects that are painful and disorienting. For these displaced U.S. citizen children, as for others affected by deportation, their experiential sense of social citizenship may be more “neither/nor” than “both/and.” Boehm proposes that their contradictory experiences of “simultaneous cosmopolitanism and forced transnational movement” should be understood as a process of “decosmopolitanization” (ibid.: 114). While Boehm’s discussion of the DACA program and the possibility of a federal DREAM Act is relatively brief (ibid.: 142-144), her book will be useful to political and legal anthropologists doing research on those initiatives because of her focus on the effects of deportation on children and youth.

In Albahari’s and De Leόn’s work, states can attempt to shrug off responsibility for perpetrating violence against migrants by chalking their deaths up to “accident” and harsh environmental conditions. In Boehm’s book, however, the responsibility of the state is undeniable: nobody is deported by accident. However, the experiences of being arrested, detained, and deported can often feel accidental or arbitrary to those who are involved. For example, people may find themselves subject to deportation even when they are following, or attempting to follow the law (ibid.: 12-14), or may find their entire lives uprooted over trifling infractions of the law. One of the stories that Boehm tells over the course of the book is that of Jaime, a teenager who had migrated from Mexico to the U.S. as a toddler with his family. When Jaime and some of his U.S. citizen friends were stopped by police for having open containers of alcohol, Jaime’s friends were quickly released but he abruptly found himself detained in jail for four months before being deported “back” to a “home” in Mexico that he does not remember (ibid.: 38-40). In Jaime’s case, as in many of the cases of the migrants who are deported en masse through the judicial mechanism known as Operation Streamline (ibid.: 26-28; see also De Leόn 107-114), agents of the state are deliberately orchestrating the alienation of people whose lives are deeply rooted in the U.S., whom Boehm calls “de facto citizens” (2016: 30). These enactments of violence are intended to produce and maintain the illusion that the U.S. retains control over its border with Mexico, whereas in reality the flow of migration depends far more on social and economic factors than on border enforcement policies and practices (De Leόn 2015: 101). In this sense, the deportation regime exists primarily for the purpose of creating Friedman’s “sovereignty effects.”

To conclude, I will briefly revisit the themes that I introduced in the beginning of the essay and outline some of the ways these books contribute to the conversations around these themes.

Sovereignty: As I have mentioned, I consider Friedman’s concept of “sovereignty effects” to be a useful tool that may be productively applied in a wide range of contexts, including but not limited to those pertaining to migration. Albahari also offers an illuminating example of complex interactions between multiple and nested sovereignties by examining Italy’s role as a gatekeeper of migration for the entire European Union. Both De Leόn and Boehm point to the ways U.S. border control policies do not actually fully succeed in controlling the movements of migrants, but do function to maintain the illusion of U.S. sovereignty through enactments of violence and chaos.

Citizenship and belonging: Friedman’s analysis of the long and uncertain path toward Taiwanese citizenship for Chinese marriage migrants demonstrates the interplay between legal and social meanings of citizenship. Obtaining the right paperwork to meet bureaucratic criteria is necessary, but not sufficient; these women must also find ways to belong within the marital and family relationships that ground their claim to citizenship. Boehm’s contention that “deportation actually undermines citizenship in its many forms” (2016: 18), as when U.S. citizen children are forced to leave the U.S. with deported parents, can spur us to consider how legal citizenship can be effectively revoked in ways which extend beyond formal legal and juridical procedures.

Family: Unsurprisingly, state provisions for recognizing family members for the purpose of granting residence are often ill-matched to migrants’ perceptions and experiences of family. For instance, some of Friedman’s Chinese interlocutors were forced to leave behind children from previous relationships in China when they migrated to Taiwan for the purpose of marriage; a Chinese woman may be granted residency by virtue of her marriage to a Taiwanese man, but cannot extend her status to include her Chinese child. (For a parallel example drawn from Nepali citizenship law, see Grossman-Thompson and Dennis 2017). Boehm documents multiple cases of “family deunification” (2016: 89) and points out that the narrow definition of “immediate family members” in the U.S. judicial system is one of the factors which constrains migrants’ opportunities for legal status and thus enables deportation.

Structural violence: Both Albahari and De Leόn do an admirable job of showing how states may attempt to shrug off responsibility for structural violence by blaming harsh environmental conditions or by using sanitizing language such as “prevention through deterrence.” Albahari also provides an example of how non-governmental agencies that seek to provide humanitarian care to migrants and refugees often become deeply implicated in the state’s work of detention and deportation. Boehm’s analysis of the term “deportable” challenges its implication of clear-cut legal categorization by showing the degree of chaos and instability that the “deportable” categorization entails, not only for those people who are labeled as such but also for their family and community members who must live with the possibility or the reality of their sudden disappearance (Boehm 2015:142-145).

Taken together, these four books make a strong argument that Agamben’s “state of exception” has become the rule when it comes to governing migration. As Veena Das and Deborah Poole put it, “states of exception, differences between membership and inclusion, or figures that reside both inside and outside the law, do not make their appearance as ghostly spectral presences from the past but rather as practices embedded in everyday life in the present” (2004: 13). Albahari, Boehm, De Leόn, and Friedman have given us robust evidence of the embedding of these practices of exception in everyday life, both for migrants themselves and for those who seek to exert control over migration.

All four books also contain multiple examples of moments when state actors depart from the Weberian ideal of supremely rational bureaucracy. I am thinking, for instance, of De Leόn’s comparison of the U.S. Border Patrol’s gleeful accumulation of high-tech weaponry and detection instruments, which nevertheless fail to stem the tide of migration, with Malinowski’s description of magical thinking in Argonauts of the Western Pacific (De Leόn 2015: 154-155), and of Friedman’s account of how Taiwanese bureaucrats’ careful explanations of the logics that govern their interviewing procedures are undermined by their own casual assertions that they can tell a sham marriage when they see one (2015: 61). These moments afford us important glimpses into the illegibilities and subjectivities that cannot be erased from the political and legal processes surrounding migration, and offer us a possible way forward in our analyses of the regulation of migration. I suggest that in order to better understand the workings of the states of exception which are now embedded in everyday logics and processes of governance, we should continue to train our focus on the exceptions of the state, where the inner contradictions of these logics and processes are revealed.

Dannah Dennis, NYU Shanghai

Reviewed in this Essay:

Boehm, Deborah. Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016.

De León, Jason. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. Oakland: University of California Press, 2015.

Friedman, Sara. Exceptional States: Chinese Immigrants and Taiwanese Sovereignty. Oakland: University of California Press, 2015.

Albahari, Maurizio. Crimes of Peace: Mediterranean Migrations at the World’s Deadliest Border. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.

Works Cited

Abarca, Gray Albert, and Susan Bibler Coutin. “Sovereign Intimacies: The Lives of Documents Within US State-Noncitizen Relationships.” American Ethnologist 45, no. 1 (2018): 7–19.

Agamben, Giorgio. State of Exception. Translated by Kevin Attell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Ahmad, Attiya. Everyday Conversions: Islam, Domestic Work, and South Asian Migrant Women in Kuwait. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.

Besteman, Catherine. Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Bishara, Amahl. “Sovereignty and Popular Sovereignty for Palestinians and Beyond.” Cultural Anthropology 32, no. 3 (2017): 349–58.

Bonilla, Yarimar. Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Brettell, Caroline. “Marriage and Migration.” Annual Review of Anthropology 46 (2017): 81–97.

Chu, Julie. Cosmologies of Credit: Transnational Mobility and the Politics of Destination in China. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Coe, Cati. The Scattered Family: Parenting, African Migrants, and Global Inequality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Cohen, Jeffrey. “Migration, Remittances, and Household Strategies.” Annual Review of Anthropology 40 (2011): 103–14.

Cole, Jennifer. “Working Mis/Understandings: The Tangled Relationship between Kinship, Franco-Malagasy Binational Marriages, and the French State.” Cultural Anthropology 29, no. 3 (2014): 527–51.

Constable, Nicole. Born Out of Place: Migrant Mothers and the Politics of International Labor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

———. Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography, and “Mail Order” Marriages. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Coutin, Susan Bibler. Exiled Home: Salvadoran Transnational Youth in the Aftermath of Violence. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

———. Nations of Emigrants: Shifting Boundaries of Citizenship in El Salvador and the United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007.

Das, Veena, and Deborah Poole, eds. Anthropology in the Margins of the State. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 2004.

Fassin, Didier. Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.

———. “Policing Borders, Producing Boundaries. The Governmentality of Immigration in Dark Times.” Annual Review of Anthropology 40 (2011): 213–26.

Freeman, Caren. Making and Faking Kinship: Marriage and Labor Migration between China and South Korea. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011.

Genova, Nicholas de, and Nathalie Peutz, eds. The Deportation Regime: Sovereignty, Space, and the Freedom of Movement. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Gordillo, Gaston. “The Crucible of Citizenship: ID-Paper Fetishism in the Argentinean Chaco.” American Ethnologist 33, no. 2 (2006): 162–76.

Grossman-Thompson, Barbara, and Dannah Dennis. “Citizenship in the Name of the Mother: Nationalism, Social Exclusion, and Gender in Contemporary Nepal.” Positions 25, no. 4 (2017): 795–820.

Hansen, Thomas Blom, and Finn Stepputat, eds. Sovereign Bodies: Citizens, Migrants, and States in the Postcolonial World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Horevitz, Elizabeth. “Understanding the Anthropology of Immigration and Migration.” Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment 19, no. 6 (2009): 745–58.

Jeganathan, Pradeep. “Checkpoint: Anthropology, Identity, and the State.” In Anthropology in the Margins, 67–80. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 2004.

Mahdavi, Pardis. Crossing the Gulf: Love and Family in Migrant Lives. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016.

Mbembe, Achille, and Libby Meintjes. “Necropolitics.” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (2003): 11–40.

Ong, Aihwa. Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.

Ramsay, Georgina. Impossible Refuge: The Control and Constraint of Refugee Futures. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Rogozen-Soltar, Mikaela. Spain Unmoored: Migration, Conversion, and the Politics of Islam. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.

Shneiderman, Sara. “Himalayan Border Citizens: Sovereignty and Mobility in the Nepal-Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China Border Zone.” Political Geography 35 (2013): 25–36.

Simpson, Audra. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.

Sturm, Circe. “Reflections on the Anthropology of Sovereignty and Settler Colonialism: Lessons from Native North America.” Cultural Anthropology 32, no. 3 (2017): 340–48.

Ticktin, Miriam. Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.

Vertovec, Steven. “The Cultural Politics of Nation and Migration.” Annual Review of Anthropology40 (2011): 241–56.

Yeh, Rihan. “Visas, Jokes, and Contraband: Citizenship and Sovereignty at the Mexico-U.S. Border.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no. 1 (2017): 154–82.

Yngvesson, Barbara, and Susan Bibler Coutin. “Backed by Papers: Undoing Persons, Histories, and Return.” American Ethnologist 33, no. 2 (2006): 177–90.

About Matthew Wolf-Meyer

Matthew Wolf-Meyer is an anthropologist and historian of science and medicine in the United States. He is author of The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine & Modern American Life (UMN Press, 2012), Theory for the World to Come: Speculative Fiction and Apocalyptic Anthropology (UMN Press, 2019), and Unraveling: Remaking Personhood in a Neurodiverse Age (UMN Press, 2020). He blogs at and

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