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Accepted Paper:

The spectacle of solidarity? The ambivalent aesthetics of citizens performing solidarity with illegalized migrants in European ‘spaces of transit’  
Robin Vandevoordt (Ghent University)

Paper short abstract:

Across the world, citizens have tried to publicly perform solidarity with illegalized migrants. In this presentation I explore how such performances generate an ambivalent aesthetics of suffering and conviviality.

Paper long abstract:

Through the concept of the ‘border spectacle’, several anthropologists have shown how nation-states perform their sovereign power over who has legitimate access to their territories (Cantat 2020; De Genova 2013). At the same time, relatively scant attention has been given to its conceptual counterpart: consciously ostensible acts of helping those trying to cross these borders. Across the world, grassroots initiatives offering both humanitarian and political support to migrants have tried to embody and spread an image of solidarity towards the broader public. In this presentation I argue that such performances of solidarity do not so much mystify and legitimise structural power asymmetries through a ‘spectacle’ of suffering, but rather generate an ambivalent aesthetics of suffering and conviviality.

On the one hand, grassroots initiatives try to embody a form of civil disobedience vis-à-vis hostile migration policies. They try to make to make these policies’ inhumane consequences visible, and show that a critical mass of ‘ordinary’ citizens are willing and able to organise alternatives. On the other hand, by emphasising their willingness to help, these initiatives constantly risk sliding into a neo-colonial storyline casting themselves as moral heroes in a scene of suffering. While some of these initiatives are highly critical of this postcolonial imagery, the lure of embodying solidarity continues to draw them into an ambivalent politics of performance. In this presentation I draw on ethnographic work with Belgian grassroots initiatives to show how they struggle with and respond to their role as actors helping migrants, set in a stage of hostility.

Panel P121b
(Re) Thinking Transformations through Solidarity: Limits & Potentials
  Session 1 Friday 29 July, 2022, -