Né qui, né altrove - Migration, Detention, Deserti

Né qui, né altrove - Migration, Detention, Desertion:

A Dialogue between Sandro Mezzadra & Brett Neilson

University of Bologna :: University of Western Sydney

1. Sandro Mezzadra teaches the History of Contemporary Political
Thought at the University of Bologna. He is an active figure in the
alternative globalisation movement in Italy, and has been particularly
involved in bringing the question of migration to the centre of
political struggle in that movement. Sandro is the author of works
such as Diritto di fuga: Migrazioni, cittadinanza, globalizzazione
(2001) and (with Fabio Raimondi) Oltre Genova, oltre New York: Tesi
sul movimento globale (2001). He is also a member of the editorial
collective of DeriveApprodi magazine, one of the chief venues in Italy
for the critical analysis of contemporary capitalism. We met in
Bologna one foggy January afternoon to discuss the global movement,
migration, and border control in Europe and Australia.

2. (Neilson) In your talk in the seminar 'Diritto a migrare, diritto
d'asilio' at the European Social Forum you emphasized that the
question of migration had become a central concern for the global
movement in Italy. While the issue of migration had not been a primary
concern at the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, it had
emerged as a fundamental question in the lead-up to the Firenze
meetings, particularly in the wake of the G8 protests in Genova. Can
you describe how migration became a central issue for the global
movement, giving some detail about concurrent developments in border
control at the European level?

3. (Mezzadra) First it is necessary to ask what shape the global
movement has taken since the first explosion in Seattle in late 1999.
Clearly the central platform of the movement has been the struggle
against neoliberal capitalism, and in particular against the large
agencies of transnational governance such as the World Bank and the
World Trade Organization. I don't want to deny the analytical
importance of the concept of neoliberalism, which serves to emphasize
some of the central transformations that capitalism has undergone in
the past two decades. Moreover, the 'mobilizing power' of the concept
cannot be denied, since it has played a central role in that process
of 'naming the enemy' that is strategic in the constitution of a
social movement. Nevertheless, the critique of neoliberalism, as
exemplified in publications like Le Monde Diplomatique (very
influential within the movement itself), has tended to depict those
who suffer the effects of globalisation in the global south as mere
victims, denying them a position as protagonists or active social
subjects in contemporary processes of global transformation. From this
perspective, migration becomes just one in a long line of catastrophes
occasioned by neoliberalism. And globalisation becomes a process that
passes over the heads of people, something that is inevitable and thus
immune to criticism from anything but a nostalgic point of view.

4. In the first two World Social Forums held at Porto Alegre, this
critique of neoliberalism took centre stage. One of the consequences
was that there were no workshops devoted specifically to migration and
almost all discussion of migration was filtered through the dominant
discourse of global economic devastation. But then something important
happened to alter this. At the protests against the G8 summit in
Genova in July 2001, there was a large rally organized by migrants.
Although there had been migrant protests in Italy since the early
1990s, this was the first encounter between the global movement and
grassroots migrant organizations. The rally was a big success and it
resulted in a more or less permanent mobilization against the
Bossi-Fini laws (conditioning migrant presence in Italy on the
possession of a work contract), which were eventually introduced by
the centre right government in summer 2002. Characteristic of this
struggle was a high degree of migrant involvement. On 19 January 2002,
there was another huge self-organized migrant protest in Rome, between
100,000 and 150,000 people, undoubtedly the largest migrant action in
Europe since the sans papiers demonstrations in Paris in 1996. And as
preparations began for the European Social Forum, the question of
migration assumed a central position in our discussions and plans.

5. In planning the workshops on migration at the European Social
Forum, we insisted that it is necessary not only to build a critique
of the Europe of Maastrict (that is, of the 'neoliberal' principles
which in 1991-1992 were established by the Maastricht Treaty as
foundations of the economic Europe) but also to build a critique of
the Europe of Schengen (that is, of the new 'border regime' whose
institution was promoted in 1985 by the Schengen Agreement on the free
circulation of European citizens and then fulfilled in the 1990s). In
other words, we argued that to conduct a struggle against the terms of
European citizenship (as such a thing takes shape) it is also
necessary to question the borders that define that citizenship. And we
approached this very much as a matter of principle. Looking at Europe
through the lens of migration yields very different results than
looking at Europe through the lens of some different concept or
practice--e.g., neoliberalism. Throughout the 1990s, one of the
characteristics of migration politics at the European Union level was
a growing harmonization of nation-state policies and technologies of
border control. But this has not rendered the borders of the EU equal
to those of the modern nation-state. The question of European borders
(and the confines of European citizenship) is extremely complex.

6. (Neilson) Something of this complexity becomes evident in the
article by Enrica Rigo entitled 'Lo spazio commune di "libertà,
sicurezza e giustizia"' (2002) published in the latest issue of
DeriveApprodi. Rigo describes how agreements for expulsion between EU
nations and so-called 'safe third countries' are in turn supplemented
by agreements between these 'safe third countries' and nations further
afield from the powerful Western European states. For example, a
migrant who enters Germany through Poland can be expelled to Poland,
which in turn has signed agreements with the Ukraine, Slovakia,
Romania, and Bulgaria. This creates what Rigo calls 'flows of
expulsion,' which are partly determined by the subjective decisions of
migrants expelled from the EU.

7. (Mezzadra) This is an interesting example of the complexity of
European borders. Unlike the institutional version of Europe (created
through agreements such as those made in Schengen and Dublin), the
Europe of migratory flows is a global political space, a space
characterized by movements that continually decentralize or
provincialize Europe, to use an expression that has become popular in
postcolonial studies. Migratory movements throw into question the
possibility of identifying an inside and outside to Europe, which was
essentially the purpose of the Schengen and Dublin agreements. As Rigo
shows, there is no simple distinction between Europe's inside and
outside. Rather it is a matter of degrees: Poland is less external to
the EU than the Ukraine. In this sense, the borders of the EU are much
more flexible than those of the classical nation-state, and this
flexibility is directly proportional to that of migratory movements

8. What is involved is really a double movement. First, there are
migratory flows that render the borders of Europe porous, making it
possible to see how much of Asia there is in Europe, how much of
Africa - how much of the world. Second, there are regulatory movements
that seek to govern these flows, to contain them within structures of
administration. And this means exporting technologies of border
control outside the official borders of the EU. For example, the
border between Germany and Poland is to date an external EU border,
which has been continually forced by migrants. But rather than seeking
simply to reinforce this border, the German authorities have involved
Poland in its management. Having been identified as a 'safe third
country,' Poland must accept all refugees and migrants expelled from
Germany that entered through its territory. But Poland has in turn
concluded a series of similar agreements, for example with the
Ukraine. As a result, there are now plans to construct detention
centres in the Ukraine on the German model, which already exist in
Poland. The point is that this path of expulsion--Germany, Poland,
Ukraine--follows in reverse the path established by the migrants
themselves. Many Asian and African migrants (Latin Americans less so)
enter Germany through the Ukraine. In a certain sense, the migrants
are in control, since their movements establish this geographical
route, relegating the exclusionary measures to the status of a mere

9. (Neilson) In Australia too migratory movements have established a
new geography, leading to a certain ambivalence of space. The Border
Protection Act passed by the parliament in 2001 subtracts certain
territories from Australia as far as boat arrivals are concerned.
Consequently places like Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef become
non-places of a certain type, neither Australia nor not-Australia.
Also, following the Tampa incident of August 2001, the Australian
government began to pay foreign governments to establish detention
centres on their territories: places like the Pacific island of Nauru
or New Guinea's Manus Island. Administered by private security firms,
these offshore detention centres register a transformation of
sovereignty since, in a certain sense, what it is for sale in these
transactions is sovereignty itself. By contrast the relation between
the EU and say Poland or the Ukraine seems determined more by
political power than by market relations. Insofar as the decisions of
these nations are shaped by their ambitions to become part of the EU,
however, the question of the market must reemerge.

10. (Mezzadra) One can certainly say that due to these border
technologies a certain piece of German sovereignty is displaced into
Poland or the Ukraine. For both these countries, the decision to adopt
these technologies of border control is linked to their desire to
enter the EU. The groundwork for these agreements was laid in the
early 1990s, essentially through bureaucratic channels. But the
situation is again complex, since the Schengen agreements of 1985 were
really concluded between national police forces, and only later (and
gradually) signed into European law. In this sense, 'bureaucratic
channels' have been built which are partially outside of the control
sphere of the main institutions of the EU. It is also important to
understand the details of the 'safe third country' concept. This came
into force in 1997, in the frame defined by the Dublin Convention,
which laid down criteria for the determination of states competent to
examine an asylum application. Under this principle, a number of
states contiguous to the EU have been identified as 'safe third
countries,' meaning that if a migrant passes through one of these
territories on their way to the EU, they can now be returned to that
country, since theoretically they could have lodged an asylum
application there. The concept applies not only to Poland but also to
a number of other states whose 'democratic' nature is at least
questionable. In the case of Germany, Poland, and the Ukraine,
however, one can see very clearly how the system functions. Germany is
a wealthy EU state that exports its border technologies to Poland, a
candidate state for EU entry. In turn, Poland exports these
technologies to the Ukraine, a state very much on the backlist for EU
integration. This pattern is directly related to differences in
political power, and economic power too (since the price of labour in
Poland is about three times less than in Germany, and about ten times
less in the Ukraine).

11. (Neilson) As you indicated earlier, this question of border
control raises important questions about the nature of political space
in globalisation. You talk of the 'third safe country' principle
establishing degrees of externality, but due to the porosity of
borders, this externality never really shades into a pure outside. At
the same time, you speak freely of an 'elsewhere.' Certainly you were
active in organizing the large demonstration of 30 November 2002
against the centro di permanenza temporanea (detention centre) on
Corso Brunelleschi in Torino. This protest was conducted under the
slogan 'Né qui, né altrove' (Neither here, nor elsewhere). Can you
explain the significance of this slogan, which obviously simplifies a
great deal of thought (and practice) but also undoubtedly crystallizes
something important?

12. (Mezzadra) The 30 November protest in Torino was probably the
largest political action ever held against the detention system in
Europe. By using the slogan 'Né qui, né altrove,' we wanted first to
emphasize that we were taking action against a particular detention
centre in a particular place. This was important since as far as the
Italian government is concerned the centre in Torino functions
particularly well. We also wanted to acknowledge the specificity of
the situation in Torino, which is extremely sensitive at the moment
due to the crisis at Fiat: the massive insecurity of the workforce,
the ongoing actions of the unions, the bailing out of the company by
GM, and so on. Certainly this kind of perpetual capitalist
restructuring (and the accompanying precariousness of labour) is by
now generalized, but its effects are particularly acute in old
corporate-industrial cities like Torino. We wanted to recognize this,
and in so doing, to point to the connections between such labour
market reorganization and the role of detention centres in restricting
and controlling labour mobility. In other words, we were asserting
that the appearance of the detention centre on Corso Brunelleschi and
the crisis at Fiat are mutually implicated at a deep structural level.

13. To see this connection, however, one has to think beyond the
purely local circumstances in Torino, to understand the interaction of
capitalist restructuring and labour mobility at the global level. Thus
the importance of opening the protest to the global dimension, of
taking a stance against all such places that strip people of their
rights: the detention centres in Poland or in Australia, for instance,
as much as the one on Corso Brunelleschi. This is also necessary to
avoid some of the ambivalences that have characterized the struggle
against detention centres. Often one hears criticisms that suggest a
particular centre ought to be closed because the conditions there are
inhumane, as if centres were conditions are better would be perfectly
justified. Or one finds protests against detention centres from people
who would prefer not to have so-called clandestini (illegals) in their
neighbourhood. By using the slogan 'Né qui, né altrove,' we were
indicating that the protest was a matter of principle, a stance
against the system of detention as such and not just against one
particular centre.

14. (Neilson) One certainly finds similar ambivalences in the struggle
against detention centres in Australia. For instance, one prominent
platform involves the fact that children are held in detention
centres. Thus a common slogan is "Kids don't belong in detention
centres" (as if such places are fine for adults). Another popular
slogan is "Refugees welcome here," which effectively takes the same
stance as the government with respect to asylum seekers, but just
reverses the response (yes you are welcome, rather than no you are
not). This slogan assumes that Australian citizens have the right to
welcome or exclude, and to this extent it does not recognize what you
have called the diritto di fuga (the right to escape, the right of the
migrant to control his/her own mobility). A similar ambiguity is found
in the argument that the detention system degrades Australia in the
eyes of the world (a point often made in the wake of UN reports about
the inhumane conditions in the Australian camps, most prominently the
one at Woomera). Here the stance is more narcissistic, as if the
detention policy should be stopped to maintain some imagined vision of
Australia as a benevolent and humane place. Groups such as
'Australians against racism,' which place prominent advertisements
against detention centres in newspapers, tend to affirm this logic. I
would suggest that the phrase 'Australians against racism' is somewhat
oxymoronic, given that the nation was built up on the seizure of
Indigenous lands, indentured coolie labour, the historical exclusion
of Asians - to oppose racism, it seems to me, one first needs to
question the constituted power of the Australian state and its
correlate forms of identity and subjectivity. At the same time, it is
vitally important that such actions are organized at the national
level. Your slogan 'Né qui, né altrove' registers the importance of
local and/or national mobilizations, but it also signals the necessity
to open such struggles to the global dimension.

15. This raises another issue about the function of detention centres
in maintaining and re-asserting national sovereignty in an era of
increased migratory movements. As you noted earlier, these places
strip people of their rights. In the Italian campaign against
detention centres the word Lager is very prominent. In Australia, the
references have more generally been to the penal colonies established
by the English (the slogan 'We are all boat people' suggests a
homology between convict transportees and present-day asylum seekers)
as well as the various camps, missions, and ?homes? in which
Indigenous people were interned (and separated from their families)
during the prolonged colonial genocide. Nonetheless, the thought of
one Italian thinker, who privileges the example of the Lager, has been
instructive for thinkers in Australia who have sought to understand
the political structure of the camp. I am referring Giorgio Agamben's
(1998, 2000) essays on 'bare life.' Agamben's influence is evident,
for instance, in Suvendrini Perera?s (2002) essay 'What is a camp' -
(published in the first issue of borderlands). It seems to me that
this concept of 'bare life' is not very present in your thought and
writing. Indeed, there are key thinkers in the Italian tradition of
operaismo or autonomous Marxism who have polemicized quite strongly
against Agamben?s understanding and use of this concept. I am thinking
of Luciano Ferrari Bravo in Dal fordismo alla globalizzazione (2001)
or the essay by Antonio Negri in Il desiderio del mostro (2001). Is
the concept of 'bare life' useful or not for understanding the
political structure of the camp?

16. (Mezzadra) Let's begin with the question about the use of the term
Lager, since this is something that we discussed very seriously within
the Italian movement. Clearly it is necessary to be very careful about
the use of this term in the context of the struggle against detention
centres. The danger is that one might be seen to confuse current forms
of global control with the forms of rule that dominated under European
fascism in the early 20th-century. It is thus necessary to affirm that
the term Lager is not simply reducible to the camps that existed under
European fascism or indeed under Nazism. In fact, the Lager has
colonial origins in places such as Cuba and South Africa ? or indeed,
as you point out, in Australia, which in a certain sense was one
enormous Lager. So in using this term, we first want to point to the
persistence of colonialism and colonial power relations within
contemporary models of government and metropolitan societies. Next, it
is necessary to recognize that even the Nazi Lager cannot be
immediately equated with the extermination camps at Auschwitz or
Treblinka. Beginning in 1933, the Lager were administrative camps
established throughout Germany for the internment of political
opponents and of the so-called Asozialen (people like gypsies, the
mentally ill, or homosexuals) - and not immediately or only the Jews
who would eventually be exterminated. So in identifying contemporary
detention centres as Lager, we are not equating them with
extermination camps (which clearly they are not). This is extremely
important, since such an identification would seriously banalize the
Nazi genocide. And I think it is also interesting to note that an
important book, Autobiografie negate. Immigrati nei Lager del
presente, about the detention camps as Lager has been written in Italy
by Federica Sossi (2002), a philosopher and activist who has been and
is seriously engaged in confronting the heritage of the shoah.

17. The Lager is an administrative space in which men and women who
have not committed any crime are denied their right to mobility. In
this sense, it is perfectly legitimate to identify present-day
detention centres as Lager. It is also valid to point out that such
spaces, which are associated with one of the blackest periods in
European history, have not disappeared from the contemporary political
scene. To the contrary, they have experienced a general diffusion
throughout the so-called West (and also in other parts of the world).
If one recalls Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951),
which is one of the most important sources for Agamben's notion of
'bare life,' it is significant that she recognizes the colonial
origins of the Lager and traces the first appearance of such places in
Europe to the concentration camps that appeared after the First World
War. These were not extermination camps but places for the internment
of men and women who, due to the changes to the map of Europe
following the war, had no clear national citizenship (the so-called
apatrides or Heimatlosen ). In this sense, it is also appropriate to
speak of contemporary detention centres as Lager, since they also
serve to restrict the movement of people with no clear juridical
connection to a particular nation-state or with the "wrong"

18. To move more directly to the question of 'bare life,' it is
important to say that Agamben's work provides a very powerful set of
concepts with which to understand the political structure of the camp.
Certainly, his arguments have proved fundamental for activists
involved in protesting the existence of detention centres in Italy: I
think especially of the description of the peculiar dialectic of
exclusion and inclusion which is put to work in the camps. A subject
who is not at all recognized by the legal order (the 'illegal alien')
is included in that order (through the 'inclusion' in the detention
center) just to be excluded from the space to which the legal order
itself applies! This is really a very important contribution to the
understanding of the logic of the camp. At the same time, I have the
impression that Agamben risks emphasizing too much the exceptional
character of the camp (this is an element of his work that derives
from Carl Schmitt). The problem is that the logic of domination that
functions in the camp is a logic that also operates in other social
spaces. This type of domination is really diffused throughout the
comprehensive structure of society. You mention some objections to
Agamben's concept of 'bare life' from exponents of Italian operaismo
such as Antonio Negri and Luciano Ferrari Bravo. But it is worth
considering what they have to say. Ferrari Bravo finds the concept of
'bare life' ambiguous because it excludes the question of labour from
the sphere of theoretical observation. Luciano asked himself if one
should not look, besides Auschwitz, also at Ellis Island to understand
the logic of the contemporary camps. Another exponent of operaismo,
Paolo Virno, points out polemically in his book Il ricordo del
presente (1999) that the best example of what Agamben means by 'bare
life' is labour power, labour power as defined by Marx as a form of
potentiality. It seems to me that this approach calls to attention the
fundamental relation between contemporary detention centres and the
comprehensive restructuring of the labour market under global

19. The detention centre is a kind of decompression chamber that
diffuses tensions accumulated on the labour market. These places
present the other face of capitalism's new flexibility: they are
concrete spaces of state oppression and a general metaphor of the
despotic tendency to control labour's mobility, which is a structural
character of 'historical capitalism,' as has been stressed by a number
of recent studies. It seems to me more important to speak of the camps
in this way rather than in terms of 'bare life.' This is the case even
if the concept of 'bare life' has brought to light something of the
fundamental logic by which these spaces function. Certainly, as
Agamben argues, the camp performs a violent act of stripping. But this
stripping should be understood in relation to the new forms of life
that are produced in global capitalism. If, as many have argued,
global capitalism gives rise to new forms of flexibility, then the
continuous movement of migrants shows the subjective face of this
flexibility. At the same time, migratory movements are clearly
exploited by global capitalism, and detention centres are crucial to
this system of exploitation. This is one of things that becomes clear
in the important book by Yann Moulier Boutang, De l'esclavage au
salariat (1998), which has just been translated into Italian. Taking a
wide historical view of the capitalist world system, Moulier Boutang
argues that forms of indentured and enslaved labour have always played
and continue to play a fundamental role in capitalist accumulation.
Far from being archaisms or transitory adjustments destined to be
wiped out by modernization, these labour regimes are constituent of
capitalist development and arise precisely from the attempt to control
or limit the worker's flight. In this perspective, the effort to
control the migrant's mobility becomes the motor of the capitalist
system and the contemporary detention centre appears as one in a long
line of administrative mechanisms that function to this end.

20. (Neilson) In Diritto di fuga, you emphasize the importance of
recent efforts to rethink the concept of citizenship for understanding
migration in the contemporary world. In Australia, the question of
citizenship was very present in our discussions during the 1990s,
particularly due to the efforts of the so-called 'cultural policy'
school, which deployed the Foucauldian concept of governmentality to
argue for the importance of collaboration between intellectuals and
state institutions. For some years during the 1990s, the theme of
citizenship was one identified by the Australian Research Council as a
priority area for government research funding. Citizenship studies
began to appear quite a mainstream form of intellectual and political
inquiry, even if many of the studies that came out emphasized the ways
in which citizenship is no longer exclusively attached to the

21. In the wake of the Tampa incident of August 2001, however, some
Australian thinkers began to tackle the questions of migration and
detention more through the concept of sovereignty than through that of
citizenship. I'm thinking of works like 'Sink the Tampa,' the
postscript to Anthony Burke?s book In Fear of Security (2001),
McKenzie Wark?s piece 'Globalisation from below: Migration,
sovereignty, communication' (2002), which was published on the
fibreculture email list, or the second issue of borderlands, 'On What
Grounds?' (2002) (for which I was part of the editorial collective).
The concept of sovereignty seemed important for three reasons: (i)
after the Tampa incident the Australian government began to pay to
establish detention centres on foreign territories; (ii) new
legislation of border control subtracted certain territories from
Australia as far as boat arrivals are concerned; and (iii) after the
failure of the official reconciliation process that lasted ten years,
Indigenous groups issued a new call for sovereignty through the
signing of a treaty. Certainly it is difficult to speak of sovereignty
without also speaking of citizenship (and vice versa), but these
differences also seem important. To what extent has the issue of
sovereignty (and its transformations under globalisation) been a
central issue for those involved in the struggle for migrant rights in

22. (Mezzadra) I would say that in Italy things happened the other way
around. The concept of sovereignty has always been central within
Italian political discourse and theory, while that of citizenship has
played a marginal role. One way to resigster this is to consult the
well-known Dizionario di politica (1983), edited by Noberto Bobbio,
Nicola Matteucci and Gianfranco Pasquino, which has no entry for
citizenship. Not until the early 1990s did people like Giovanna
Zincone (1992) and Danilo Zolo (1994) began to write seriously about
citizenship, and the debate in Italy has always been closely connected
with that surrounding immigration. In Diritto di fuga and in some
other writings (2002), I tried to offer a radical rereading of T.H.
Marshall's (1949) classical text on citizenship and social class. This
meant identifying two faces of citizenship: the first being
citizenship in the formal institutional sense, and the second
associated with social practices, that is with a combination of
political and practical forces that challenge the formal institutions
of citizenship. In this second sense, the question of citizenship
raises that of subjectivity. And while I obviously value the
Foucauldian criticism of the concept of citizenship, pointing out that
this subjectivity is constructed by a number of disciplinary
practices, I also stress that there is an autonomous space of
subjective action that can force significant institutional
transformations. For me, speaking of citizenship is above all a way of
moving the question of subjectivity into political theory. And
thinking about citizenship in this second sense is a way of focusing
the debate specifically on migrants, that is, on people who are not
recognized as formal citizens within a particular political space.
Migratory movements are themselves a practice of citizenship that,
over the past ten years, has placed more and more pressure on the
borders of formal citizenship. Understood in this way, citizenship is
a concept that allows one to ask how these pressures bear upon
classical political concepts such as sovereignty. So speaking of
citizenship in no way means to stop speaking about sovereignty. Above
all, citizenship is a concept that allows us to put the subjective
demands of migrants at the centre of political discussion.

23. At the same time, the concept of citizenship extends beyond this
very direct reference to migratory movements. One big theoretical
challenge is to individuate the nexus that connects the specific
demands for citizenship expressed through migratory movements to other
social practices that don't necessary involve the demand for formal
citizenship. I have tried to identify (in a very embryonic way) what
is common to subjective social practices of migration and demands for
citizenship expressed within the so-called West over the past few
decades, particularly in the feminist and workers' movements. The
concept of diritto di fuga allows this nexus to come into view. I'm
not trying to suggest some sort of leveling homology between migrant
struggles and those of feminists and workers. To the contrary, the
connection is absolutely formal and not immediately communicable. But
there is a link as regards labour mobility. Again this relates to Yann
Moulier Boutang's argument in De l'esclavage au salariat, which
identifies the subjective practice of labour mobility as the
connecting thread in the history of capitalism. In Italy, beginning in
the 1970s, there has been an intense discussion of the worker's escape
from the factory, the refusal of work in quite a banal and concrete
sense. You can see the relevance of this movement of worker's escape
from the factory discipline in the determination of the very
strategies of managerial control and enterprise organization in the
recent book Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme by Luc Boltanski and Éve
Chiapello (1999). They show how 'flexibility', before becoming a
keyword of corporate ideology, was recognized at the beginning of the
1970s as the chief problem of capitalist command, in the shape of
labour's mobility. Similarly feminism involves a refusal of domestic
work and the patriarchal family, a demand for control over subjective
decisions regarding labour mobility. The category of diritto di fuga
links these subjective practices of mobility to the migrant's demand
for citizenship, to the migrant's right to assert control over his/her
own movements.

24. (Neilson) You argue that this subjective practice of mobility
limits the possibility of understanding migration in supposedly
objective terms (the push-pull factors of the global economy,
demographic imbalances, and so on). One important aspect of this
argument involves a critique of multiculturalism, which in your view
reduces the singularity of the migrant's experience, casting him/her
as the representative of a culture, ethnicity, or community. As you
know, the discourses and practices of multiculturalism are quite
developed in Australia. Since the 1970s, multiculturalism has been an
official government policy, even if the institutions that administer
this policy have been among the worst hit by the dismantling of the
20th-century welfare state. Critics often point to a discontinuity
between this official policy of multiculturalism and the brutal
treatment of migrants in Australian detention centres (in which there
is no limited period of stay). Others have argued that there is a
continuity between this policy of detention (ethnic caging) and the
merely spectacular and consumerist ethos of official multiculturalism.
I am thinking in particular of the book White Nation (1998) by Ghassan
Hage, which you cite in Diritto di fuga. It seems to me you are
engaged in a similar project, trying to think of migration in terms
that move beyond multiculturalism. Can you say something about how
your emphasis on the subjective aspects of migration relates to
multiculturalism as understood in the Italian or European context?

25. (Mezzadra) First, let me talk about the subjectivity of migrants,
which is a question with both a theoretical and a political face. In
the theoretical sense, emphasizing the subjective aspect of migration
means moving away from mainstream discourses that altogether exclude
this dimension, talking only of push and pull, of demography, and so
forth. In Diritto di fuga, I pointed to the need to highlight this
subjective dimension to understand the decision to migrate, the
decision to leave unfavorable or undesirable conditions in a
particular place. This is an approach that dovetails with much of the
ethnographic work done with migrants in Italy for example by people
like Alessandro dal Lago (1999) and Ruba Salih (2003). There can be no
doubt that this ethnographic work has delivered a much richer and more
complex understanding of migration than found in mainstream
discourses. Above all, it places migration in the context of a life
story in which the subjective aspect becomes very clear. And this
allows a move away from stereotypical narratives by which the decision
to migrate involves a search for liberty or emancipation. Sometimes
this is the case, sometimes not. For instance, many Moroccan women
interviewed in Italy have indicated that they chose to migrate because
they could no longer stand to live in an extremely patriarchal
society. In this case, it's reasonable to talk about migration as a
mode of emancipation. But one also finds people who offer absolutely
banal reasons for migrating, not just economic problems but also
existential ones. One of the first interviews I ever read was with a
young Moroccan who decided to leave his studies in Casablanca to come
to Italy because his girlfriend had left him. These kind of subjective
motives are just as valid as those associated with economic problems
or more general social conditions. Finally, it's important to
recognize that in emphasizing the subjective aspect of migration, I?m
not trying to reinstate some mythical understanding of Cartesian
subjectivity. Rather I'm speaking of processes of subjectivization in
the Foucauldian sense, and while these may involve pain and poverty
they can also involve enjoyment.

26. Moving to more political questions, it's necessary to recognize
that much of the work done in the name of solidarity with migrants in
Italy has treated them as victims, as people in need of assistance,
care, or protection. Doubtless this work has been inspired by noble
motives, but it also has a certain ambiguity. By exploring the
subjective aspect of migration, one is able to move beyond this
paternalistic vision and to see migrants as the central protagonists
of current processes of global transformation. As regards
multiculturalism, it is safe to say that there has not been much
practical experience of multicultural politics in Europe. Here the
discourse of multiculturalism was imported from North America, and the
public debate has always been narrowly linked to migration. As in
Australia and North America, the debate has largely been driven by a
certain white fundamentalism that sees multiculturalism has something
to be fought. In Italy, we have figures like Giacomo Biffi (2000), the
Roman Catholic cardinal in Bologna, who argues that all migrants
should be Christians, or Giovanni Sartori (2002), who has reached a
similar position in lay terms, claiming that certain migrants
(especially those coming from Muslim countries) threaten the European
Enlightenment tradition. With a debate that functions at this level,
many people have reflexively taken a position for multiculturalism,
particularly those who identify with the institutional or even the
grassroots left.

27. But even in this left-wing context, there are ambiguities
surrounding the politics of multiculturalism. For instance, if you
imagine a group of activists who are working with migrants to organize
a festival, there will surely be somebody who asserts that each of the
cultures involved ought to have a space to express itself. Not only
are different cultures shunted into different spaces, but also culture
and ethnicity are collapsed. If you asked the person who comes out
with this position to identify her/his own ethnicity or culture,
she/he would likely feel confused or threatened. The basic lesson of
whiteness studies (that whiteness is a marked identity and not a
neutral or universal position) has not really penetrated the European
left, and ethnic particularity still tends to be identified in
contrast to the white European citizen. Moreover, there is a growing
tendency in Europe to oppose issues of cultural recognition to those
of economic or social well-being. Axel Honneth (1996) is only the most
intelligent proponent of this argument. Such a tendency is
particularly worrying in a period in which the welfare state is under
attack. Marco Martiniello (1997) tells a very instructive story. In
Frankfurt they opened an office of multicultural affairs. Other public
agencies in the city offices began to send migrants to that office,
although the problems they had were quite banal and absolutely
'material' (work, housing, and so forth); the authorities seemed to be
working from the presupposition that migrants are confronted first of
all (if not only) with 'cultural' problems. This shows something of
the limits of multicultural politics when it comes to the real life
subjective experiences of migrants in Europe. As in other parts of the
world, multiculturalism has become overwhelmingly associated with the
politics of identity. Clearly the question of identity is important
but, under the hegemony of multiculturalism, all the diverse aspects
and problems of migration are reduced to that of identity. And in
Europe identity is largely understood as a question of cultural
belonging, as something contained by official geographical borders, as
given rather than constructed. Perhaps this is why that strain of
postcolonial studies that emphasizes the idea of hybridity, which is
by now relatively mainstream in the English-speaking world, is still
seen as quite cutting-edge in Italy.

28. (Neilson) I noticed that in the lead-up to the 30 November
demonstration against the detention centre in Torino, there was a
screening of a video documenting the Woomera breakout of Easter 2002.
Almost all the activists I have spoken with in Italy know about this
event, which in Australia has been the most prominent act of civil
disobedience in the struggle against detention centres. In Italy, of
course, the group known as the disobbedienti has played a very
important part in the global movement. Could you say something about
the role of civil disobedience in the struggle against the Lager and
within the movement more generally? It would be interesting to hear
your thoughts on the way acts of disobedience have been cast as crimes
and linked to the terrorism threat. What is the significance of this
in the context of the 'permanent global war,' the collapse of police
and military powers, discipline and security, etc.?

29. (Mezzadra) I would say that disobedience, which involves the
spectacularization of politics and the production of exemplary
actions, has been extremely important in the phase of maturation and
growth of the global movement. It has certainly been crucial for
creating the impression of an emergence from marginality, for winning
a space on the evening news, for occupying sound-bytes. This kind of
action is absolutely valid in a social context that tends ever more
toward symbolization and spectacularization and, for this reason, it
must not be demonized. A problem emerges, however, when such
spectacularization becomes an end in itself, when it begins to
colonize the entirety of political expression. In such circumstances,
disobedience ceases to be one part in a combination of political
actions, losing its connection to a program of political change. To
descend for a moment into the practical politics of the movement, it
is significant that at the European Social Forum the disobbedienti
absented themselves from the fort, the main area in which the seminars
and discussions were taking place. Within the fort, there was a
genuine diffusion of disobedient practices as well as serious
discussions about how the movement should proceed. But in this
alternative space, the disobbedienti had nothing to do. In this
context, there is a danger that disobedience becomes nothing so much
as a kind of self-promotion. Something like a logo, one could say.

30. At the same time, this remains an open discussion, since even
people like me who criticize the disobbedienti find it difficult to
identify forms of political action that would be as exemplary as
theirs but at the same time contribute to a deep structural change.
This is a big problem that relates to the motivations of people
involved in the movement. There is important difference between
actions that speak the language of ethics and actions that speak the
language of politics, although recognizing this difference does not
mean to devaluate the language of ethics. Perhaps the importance of
'ethical' motivations, which are not to be confused with 'moralism,'
within the composition of the movement tells us something very
important--and at the same time absolutely material--about it: it
could be interpreted as the subversive side of a mode of production
which tends to value the very subjectivity of the workers, and so on ?
Nevertheless it implies a couple of problems. The big dilemma facing
the movement is how to harness and move beyond the utopian feeling
that has been created during the unexpectedly large demonstrations.
For while it is true that the movement has experienced amazing growth,
one is left to ask in between the protest marches that attract
hundreds of thousands of people on the base of these very general
(ethical?) motivations: 'Where is everyone, what are they doing?' The
challenge is to find concrete points of application for the movement.
One possibility is within the universities, since despite the recent
reforms, there is a new generation of student activists in Italy and
real possibilities for the university to emerge as a laboratory for
experimenting with new political discourses and practices. There have
also been some interesting experiments with connections between the
movement and institutions, especially at the municipal level. For
instance, in Cosenza, the mayor is very open to the movement and
interesting things are happening as a result. I think it is important,
however, to keep this experimentation with institutions at a distance
from the project of winning constituted political power at the level
of the nation-state.

31. To move to the question of repression, I would say that in the
context of 11 September and the 'permanent global war' the movement
does face a different situation. However, this is not a situation of
generalized indiscriminate repression. For example, we might have this
conversation a hundred times without being arrested, but on the one
hundred and first occasion we might be arrested for reasons that
appear quite arbitrary and completely unrelated to anything we have
actually discussed. Certainly the risks of encountering such
repression are much greater for people involved in the movement than
in the past. We are operating in a situation in which there are
definitely less fundamental rights or guarantees. If there is a war in
Iraq, for instance, I'm really not sure what opportunities there will
be for taking radical positions against the military action, although
there might be more of a chance in Europe than in the United States.
Anyway, the development of a powerful anti-war movement in the US is
of course a key question for the "global" movement in the next months.

32. (Neilson) I'd say there will be more opportunities for opposition
in Europe, even if by now there is a certain momentum behind the
anti-war movement in the US. Certainly in Europe you can find
mainstream political parties against the war, and this is not the case
in the US or even in Australia (where opposition is often predicated
on the position of the UN Security Council, as if a Security Council
resolution in support of an attack would make this a just war). But
how can we understand this new climate of risk and repression? Should
we understand it as a moment of regression or reaction?

33. (Mezzadra) In general I try to avoid using the term reaction. I
don't think there have really been moments of reaction in modern
history, at least since the Napoleonic wars - What we are dealing with
is more a question of reorganization than reaction or regression. I
know that Antonio Negri (2002) has referred to the current situation
as a backlash. But this seems to me a position that emerges from one
of the weaker aspects of the book he has written with Michael Hardt.
There can be no doubt that Empire (2000) is a very important text that
has opened new spaces for political thought and action, building a
kind of bridge between discussions that took place in Italy during the
1990s and radical thought and practice in other parts of the world,
not just in English speaking countries but also in places like Turkey
and Korea. In my opinion, however, Hardt and Negri's argument risks
buying into a progressive, almost linear, model of historical change.
I'm referring to that element of the book that argues that Empire
makes a definite preferable advance over classical nation-state
imperialism, the line of argument that refers back to Woodrow Wilson?s
project of instituting a world government of peace. One drawback of
this approach is that it makes it seem that the Empire that Hardt and
Negri describe as emerging in the Clinton years is the only Empire
possible. For me, the theoretical model they themselves describe
(particularly in the seminal chapter entitled 'Mixed Constitution') is
much more complex and complicated than this. It is a model that can
incorporate conflict and aggression.

34. Rather than speaking of backlash or reaction, I think it makes
more sense to understand the present situation as one in which various
elements of this mixed constitution are undergoing a process of
redefinition and reorganization. The current conflicts are internal to
Empire and they do not attest a simple movement back into the period
of economic and military nationalism. What we are seeing is a series
of displacements and adjustments within a new form of
constitutionalism that is itself a field of tensions and can pass
through different phases of equilibrium and disequilibrium. This idea
of mixed constitutionalism seems to me one of the strongest aspects of
Hardt and Negri's book and one that works in counterpoint to the more
metadiscursive narrative that sees counter-Empire emerging only to the
extent that Empire succeeds the older system of nation-states in an
entirely linear way. There is a danger of falling into a certain
Hegelianism here, and the only way to get out of it is to begin
talking about backlash or reaction. Certainly it is important to
recognize that the book's utopianism is one of its most appealing
aspects and, as I said before, its opening of new political vistas has
been altogether positive. But it seems to me that the more progressive
aspects of Hardt and Negri's argument are at odds with some of the
other theoretical excurses they make, in particular the engagement
with postcolonial theory. This is why I favor a moratorium on the use
of words like regression and reaction.

35. (Neilson) Can I ask your opinion on the argument according to
which Europe is the weak link within this new global constitution of
Empire. This seems to me a central theme in the volume Europa Politica
edited by Heidrun Friese, Antonio Negri, and Peter Wagner (2002) to
which you contributed a piece (with Alessandro dal Lago). It is true
that in Europe there exists an already existing system of
supranational administration that suggests the possibility of
constructing new modes of government beyond the nation-state system.
This is true even if, as we discussed earlier, Europe is involved in
designing ever more complex and repressive forms of border control.
There are some thinkers in Italy who argue for the possibility of
working for change through the existing institutions of the EU, for
example, through projects such as the Charter of Nice (the effort to
institute a European bill of rights). Others are much more skeptical.
Others again contend that the time is ripe, after the electoral
failures in France and Italy (and the positions of the German and UK
centre left governments on issues such as the war and migration), to
begin the work of reforming the institutional left at the European
level. How do you judge these arguments? Is there a danger that seeing
Europe as the weak link in Empire obstructs the project of
constructing alliances and channels of political communication with
social movements outside of Europe?

36. (Mezzadra) Let me begin by talking about the relations between the
movement and the institutional left. This is clearly a problem that we
need to face. At the moment in Italy there is probably a better chance
than in the past to change the institutional left. Perhaps it is more
accurate to say that the situation has partially improved. Certainly
it is fair to say that the movement must begin to think of new ways to
relate to social and political institutions. This is necessary to
achieve concrete changes. One of the difficulties is that today there
exists a heterogeneous movement of unparalleled numbers and strength
in Italy, but we have been unable to change anything. For instance, we
struggled against the Bossi-Fini legislation, but now it is part of
Italian law. We need to draft a model that will allow us to reach
concrete goals. This is not a matter of reform. Rather it is a
question of thinking about new relations with institutions, of
thinking of institutions themselves in a different way.

37. Having said this, it is clear that the best chance for realizing a
new way of relating to institutions is at the European level. The
institutions of the EU are already quite well established (it is
difficult to imagine a "regression" back to the old nation-state
system). So when we begin to think about new relations with the
institutional left, we are not proposing some reform of the Italian
left, the French left ? or the German left. We are thinking about new
ways to connect to (and reorganize) the space of European governance.
In this respect, what I said earlier about migratory movements is
extremely important. Thinking of Europe in terms of migratory
movements allows us to imagine an entirely different version of Europe
than the one that is presently being constructed at the institutional
level. So the first task of the movement as it begins to experiment
with institutions is to keep open the criticism of the borders of EU
citizenship. In this regard, it is necessary to realize that European
constitutionalism implies a very different model of borders than that
characteristic of the nation-state. The material constitution of EU is
complex, flexible, and multi-level. It continually integrates and
reorganizes spaces and functions. And this definitely opens new
opportunities for social movements. At this level, there are
possibilities to use the contradictions that exist with the new
constitutionalism, to occupy gaps formed by these flexible operations
(even if only temporarily). To argue that this is the case simply
because the EU operates at a supranational level is to presuppose a
conflict between this new constitutionalism and nation-state
governance. While this may have been the case in the 1960s or 1970s,
the integration of Europe is now something that has been done. Clearly
this integration has often served to strengthen the mechanisms of
global capitalist command, but there are also spaces for alternatives.

38. (Neilson) Finally, can you say something about the new project you
are involved with at Derive Approdi? While you signal these new
possibilities for institutional connections at the European level, you
are also very much involved in seeking to create new opportunities for
communication, exchange, and dialogue between social movements at the
global level. What is the significance of and reasoning behind this
effort of global opening?

39. (Mezzadra) DeriveApprodi began in the early 1990s as one of the
main laboratories in Italy for the critical analysis of post-Fordism
and globalisation. It grew very much out of the operaismo tradition
and was strongly linked to a program of practical political action.
But when the global movement erupted in Italy with the Genova protests
of July 2001, it took an altogether different form to that which the
contributors to the magazine had fantasized during the 1990s. For this
reason, the editorial collective decided to launch a new series of the
magazine, which would investigate one of the most innovative aspects
of the new movement, that is precisely its global character. By doing
this we wanted both to step away from a platform based exclusively in
the criticism of neoliberalism and to distinguish our position from
that which sees the nation-state as the last bastion of defense
against global capitalism. While recognizing the continuing importance
of mobilizations at the local and national level, we affirmed that the
movement itself presents an alternative image of globalisation.
Indeed, building on some of Hardt and Negri's arguments in Empire, we
wanted to point to another form of globalisation, a globalisation of
struggles and resistance that did not simply begin in Seattle but has
a long history, including the history of anti-colonial struggles.

40. At the same time, we claimed that what took place in Seattle was a
kind of explosion that lead to the construction of a new global
imaginary. This was not an anti-globalisation movement, but one that
was itself truly global. And this was the case despite many of the
movement's limits and contradictions, particularly as regards its
tendency to present a paternalistic face toward struggles in the
global south. It seemed to us that this was the first time in the
history of anti-systemic movements that a movement had emerged that
took the unification of the planet not as an end but as a starting
point. For this reason, we planned a series of three issues to
investigate the condition of the movement at the global level,
beginning with an issue on European movements, moving on to another on
Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and finishing with one on North
American and Oceania. The idea is to create a new lexicon or imaginary
to begin the work of articulating struggles within, between, and
across different political spaces. To this extent, the DeriveApprodi
project is very much about the communicability of struggles. It
recognizes the necessity to operate at all levels, (municipal,
national, continental - planetary) without taking the politics of
geographical scale (or more precisely the jumping of scales) as an end
in itself. To this extent it differs from much of the work done in the
1990s that concentrated on global/local or 'glocal' connections,
moving away from a position that unproblematically equates the global
with the economic (or neoliberal) and the local with the cultural (or
with resistance). Rather, this is a project about the articulation of
struggles, about the construction of a new global imaginary that
operates on an altogether different plane than that of rational
Enlightenment dialogue or happy postcolonial hybridity. But the
project is still underway, so we will have to defer our discussion of
it to another time and place.

Sandro Mazzadra is ricercatore in the Department of Political Science
at the University of Bologna. His most recent book is Diritto di fuga:
Migrazioni, cittadinanza, globalizzazione (ombre corte, 2001). Email:

Brett Neilson is lecturer in the School of Humanities at the
University of Western Sydney, where he is also a member of the Centre
for Cultural Research. He is author of Free Trade in the Bermuda
Triangle - and Other Tales of Counterglobalization (Minnesota,
forthcoming 2003). Email: b.neilson@uws.edu.au


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