migrancy, John Byrne

narrator John Byrne
term migrancy
published 8 October 2015, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Note: The description of the term “migrancy” written by John Byrne is a collective term proposed by the narrators of the Geopolitics seminar of the Glossary of Common Knowledge Mabel TapiaAnthony GardnerBoris BudenChema GonzálezDarij ZadnikarGalit EilatManray HsuMarianna HovhannisyanTzortzis RallisAnders KreugerBojana PiškurZdenka BadovinacJohn Byrne.


In 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall – symbolising most potently the collapse of the Former Eastern Bloc/Warsaw Pact alliance, and the alleged victory of capitalism over communism, epitomised most clearly by the publication of Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History?” – brought with it a triumphalist rhetoric surrounding freedom of movement, freedom of access, and the post-colonial collapse of the nation state.


In the same year, the birth of the World Wide Web brought with it a corresponding utopian imaginary – a digital future of free knowledge exchange, information flow, cultural nomadism and global community.


Within this framework people, much like memes of information or goods to be shipped, were expected to take on, or at least to accept, that the status of migrancy was a core value in the shift toward a new world order; one guaranteed by smooth transaction and the free flow of financial exchanges, and underpinned by precarity, flexibilisation, and cultural hybridity.


However, since the collapse of the global economy some twenty years later, the true contradictions that underlaid these halcyon ideologies of a corporatised global → family have increasingly been brought into view. The real historical legacies of borders, territory, ownership, sovereignty and financial exploitation, often stretching back to the colonialist expansion of the Industrial Revolution and beyond, have brought unbearable pressures to bear upon the untenable realities of contemporary inequality and privilege.


From the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the fallout of 9/11 (as both the progenitor of the American-led “war on terror” and the political evangelism surrounding of the US/UK led invasion of Iraq), through to the short-lived hope of the “Arab Spring” and its subsequent collapse into the most recent “crisis” engulfing the “Middle East”, the growing legacy of the former West’s demise looms large.


During this period, the seemingly exponential growth of the EU, as it sought to gobble up large parts of the former Warsaw Pact, and its accompanying federal rhetoric of free trade and free movement, epitomised by the Schengen Agreement, has papered over the cracks of growing fiscal and judicial centralisation within key member states (most notably Germany and France). The financial conditions of Italy, Spain, and especially Greece have underscored a contradictory rhetoric of cultural liberalism, freedom of access and opportunity, accompanied by severe financial constraints and the control of member states through the Eurozone trading bloc.


As we have seen over the last few years, primarily through the lens of a spectacularising media frenzy, the ideology of free movement and access, underpinned by a tacit belief in the abstract inheritance of Enlightenment democracy, has been accompanied by the real imposition of border control, migration quotas and an alarming popular shift toward the political right (at least insofar as issues of migration are concerned). In September 2015, these contradictions began to reach a head as makeshift physical fencing and aggressive defensive postures began to be adopted by EU member states confronted with the physical influx of refugees across roads, bridges, rivers, and railway lines.


Within this milieu, the role, function, ideological position and real legal (or illegal) status of migrancy has again come under closer scrutiny and multiple reuse. Far from a simple noun to denote the positive neoliberal condition of human movement, or a verb to identify the action of this desired movement, migrancy has become, once again, a contradictory symbol of our status, → fragility, precarity and provisionality under the present conditions of globalised capital. At the same time, migrancy has become a political issue to be dealt with, a status of responsibility, and a marker through which the ability of “wealthy nations” to cope with the related fiscal challenges can be marked as an ethical and moral imperative. Likewise, migrancy has simultaneously become an embodiment of the Other, a symbol of those who cannot cope: a mass, or tide, that threatens to engulf an established order and a comfortable way of life; a pariah come to take what is rightfully ours and, perhaps most depressingly of all, a phenomenon in need of fiscal calibration and organisation – after all, how is it we can truly measure the difference between people as either freeloading financial burdens or truly displaced refugees? And, if we do, what are the means by which we can even begin to imagine such a distinction in the first place? Above all, what does this move toward a more complex and difficult relationship with migrancy tell us about our new status within the shifting reorientation of → post-post-communism?


Cues for discussion:

Key to Map of Geopolitical Anomalies