The Milieu as Border

This is Theresa May’s Hostile Environment: The notion of making access to basic services like health care, education, bank accounts, housing, driving lessons dependent on immigration status.

You can argue that this turns teachers, lecturers, driving instructors into border police, expanding the border into the country.

This is parallel to other, more natural environments (ie. the Mediterranean, the desert) are being made hostile and dangerous to migrants, used to enforce border lines. These areas might have some geophysical properties that make them natural borders, but this is amplified through specific policy. Similar policies are at work in the open environment. Immigration policy no longer about individual people, but the milieu. Maybe we can develop an understanding of both of these places at the same time.

The nature of borders

The idea that borders are determined by natural features is an old trope. See France expanding to the atlantic in the west, and the Rhine in the East. Of course this is criticised since the 19th century.

Churchill Semple: Influences of environmental ….

Designing Hostility

The Mediterranean is a useful thing to be turned into a weapon, because migrants deaths can be called natural disasters, effectively blamed on the sea. Border control is really a series of concentric circles that extends well beyond the country itself.

At sea, the process of crossing a border can be extended into multile days, the border line becomes a zone that is multiple miles wide. IN the mediterranean there all kinds of overlapping zones of control (rescue, interception). Things are chaotic.

These things aren’t accidents, but strategies that allow states to police the sea. It’s not the absence of law (the lawless sea) but the opposite: Man overlapping laws, control zones that generate violence at sea. These zones are re-drawn all the time.

Death by Rescue (2016).

Cutting back rescue operation is a deliberate effort to deter migrants. This is a form of indirect liquid violence not only at sea, but through the sea.

Sensing practices within and against the border

What makes the sea hostile is visibility. The sea is a technologically mediated space. Vessels and coasts have radars, commercial ships have tracking transponders, meteorological devices collect data about currents, wind etc. All of this sensing apparatus has come to play an important role in border policing.

Surveillance data in the mediterranean isn’t homogenous, rather patchy. There’s no way to image the whole sea in high enough resolution to track small migrant vessels. Instead, sensors are pointed at focal routes that are dictated by geography (straight lines, shortes routes etc.). But rather than reducing migration, this has led to migration routes splintering (which leads to migrant deaths).

Of course we see the exact same thing in the desert between the USA and Mexico. Massive concentration of border police in places where it is easy to cross (urban areas) forces migrants to cross through deserts, where they die. The US has formalised this into the Border Calculus.

FA is able to turn surveillance technology around to instead document the violence against migrants.

Left to die boat investigation

Combining satellite imagery with modelling of ocean currents.

[lily, ngo boat impounded by italy case video]

This is the disobedient gaze. Re-directing the gaze of the sensorium away from illegal migration back to the act of border policing.

Border Environmentality

Using the hostile environment policy as a lens to investigate the realtion of borders, technology and media. Environments are far more than a neutral background for human action. They’re shaped and shape human action and inaction in various ways. Kind of the opposite of this diagram from The measure of man by Henry Dreyfuss:


The central aim of ergonomics is to create an environment around the working subject.

The environment can’t be seen just as the site of border policing, but one of its modes of operation. May’s policy creates a kind of pervasive, distributed form of racialised form of violence against migrants - not unlike deaths in the mediterranean sea.

Also: apline passes are eing turned back into hostile environments (after being domesticated for the last centuries).

This analytical framework of hostile environments allows us to understand european cities and natural spaces together. Struggles around borders are becoming not just about the freedom of movement, but also the freedom to stay. Borders are a way of protecting relative, temporary stability of a few priviledged people against the permanent movement of most people.