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Accepted Paper:

The sea, the system and the unspoken: Europe’s mobility regime as a navigational continuum  


Joris Schapendonk (Radboud University)
Dawit Tesfay Haile (Radboud University)

Paper short abstract:

Using two ethnographies on Africans living in Europe, we discuss how migrants are confronted with different bureaucratic realities along their trajectories. We present EU’s mobility regime as a ‘navigational continuum’, requiring different tactics that create their own norms of good/bad mobility.

Paper long abstract:

“This system, agh, this system makes you feel lost. They ask you for this paper, that paper, you enter this process, but then they say the laws have changed. So after the sea, there comes another sea.”

The above appearance of another sea expresses the frustration of a Cameroonian man regarding the complex and dynamic rules and regulations of Europe’s mobility regime that differentiates and controls different types of ‘movers’ (Glick Schiller and Salazar 2013). Based on two interrelated ethnographic projects that deal with Africans living in Europe under different legal conditions, this paper presents how migrants are confronted with different bureaucratic realities along their migratory trajectories. In our analysis, we do not only pay attention to formal and written rules, but also to unwritten norms and rules that derive from ‘the system’ and subjectify individuals and groups of migrants. In particular, we present EU’s mobility regime as a ‘navigational continuum’ (Vigh 2006; Schapendonk 2020) whereby at some points in time African migrants do their best efforts to move out, escape, and circumvert the system, whereas in other places/times the same people work towards embeddness, inclusion and visibility. As we will show, these tactics create their own norms of good vs. bad im/mobility.

Panel Mob02a
Making mobility rules. [SIEF Working Group on Migration and Mobility]