Most of the debate about the European refugee crisis revolves around whether the responsibility of handling them belongs to European institutions or to individual nation states, and, if the latter, which among them: the first country of entry (as the Dublin regulations established) or some other country. In this brief intervention, I would like to suggest that this is a false dilemma: in terms of citizenship, the European Union is dependent on the nation states that comprise it and thus, as a whole, Europe, as a political organization, is still largely dependent on their underlying logic. But the states are incapable of handling the crisis precisely because they are the very source of it.
I will be using “migrant” and “refugee” interchangeably. As the summer approaches, and quick rubber-boat rides become easier to access, Europe will again witness an intensification of the economic migration from the North African coast, …
In 1943 Hannah Arendt published a short essay in the Jewish periodical “The Menorah Journal” entitled We Refugees. She described in it a widespread refusal among Jews who had escaped the Nazis to call themselves “refugees.” Having lost everything — their occupation, their language, their family — they were eager to adapt to their new country as quickly as possible and to become “normal” citizens. Arendt thought that this assimilation strategy was doomed to failure, because it ignored the fact that the European model of the nation state is structurally dependent upon the fabrication of stateless and displaced persons. Instead, Jews should remember what made them special precisely as refugees. Refugees, she wrote, are “the vanguard of their peoples,” since for them history was no longer “a sealed book.” They have already experienced and recognized what to others has only become obvious today, in the era of globalization: the violence, fragility, and historical obsolescence of a territorial understanding of citizenship. …
Video of Nando Sigona's Lecture
The Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility hosted a lecture by Nando Sigona entitled “The Camp as a Space of Political Membership,” with discussion from professor Michel Agier on February 17, 2015, in the Klein Conference Room at 66 W. 12th Street. Included is a video of that event.
We are used to thinking that human rights are rights that belong to every person because of their intrinsic value. But is this the only, or at least, the best way of thinking about human rights? In his recent book, Third Person, Roberto Esposito has radically challenged this view. According to him, the triumph of the category of “the person” that, since the end of World War II has accompanied the discourse on human rights, is not the source of its success, but rather of its failure. This is because, in his view, the notion of the person, which has, since the days of Roman law and even more pointedly in its Christian elaboration, indicated the transcendent value of a human being, is incapable of bridging the gap between humanity and the logic of citizenship, precisely because it is what creates such a gap.
By opposing the person, as something artificial and endowed with moral and political significance, to mere humanity in its naturalness, Roman law gave rise to a powerful “dispositif” (p. 9), that is, to a notion that has, throughout its various Western morphologies, always been able to produce very real and tangible effects.