Political Subjects at the Border: Rethinking Democracy from the Perspective of Migration

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Helge SCHWIERTZ, University of Osnabrück, Germany
Debates about the crisis of representation and post-democracy are calling for attempts to develop new concepts of democracy. Furthermore, the national form of democratic regimes does increasingly not correspond with transnational forms of the social in the context of globalization and the diversification of local communities in the Global North. This paper argues to rethink concepts of democracy from the perspective of migration, and therefore from the structural margins and borders of contemporary societies. It develops a post-migratory theory of democracy that draws on the political interventions of non-citizens by articulating theoretical approaches of radical democracy with empirical research on the political organizing of migratory youth.

Theoretically, this paper refers to approaches of radical democracy by Jacques Rancière, Etienne Balibar, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. According to these approaches, democracy is not identified with the national institutions of representative democracy. Democracy is understood as an always-contested process, in which democratization should be understood as an infinite challenge. This allows for a theoretical reflection, which conceives those fighting for equality and freedom as political subjects regardless of their citizenship status. Thereby, the perspectives, demands, and desires expressed in migratory struggles prove to be decisive for the actualization of democracy. Empirically, the paper draws upon research on the organizing of migratory youth with precarious legal status in the US and Germany. Building on document analyses, participant observations and qualitative interviews, it perceives their fight against deportations and for a right to stay as practices of democracy.

By combining approaches of radical democracy as an analytical prism with the perspectives of migratory youth, this paper aims to contribute to current debates about democracy, political participation and social justice. Whereas illegalized migrants are excluded from national citizenship, their struggles actualize the radical meaning of citizenship and democracy and are therefore instructive for its reconceptualization.