State self-destruction in refugee spaces: Informality at the margins, mutual aid, and anarchist places [slides]


This piece of exploratory comparative research was presented at the 2021 conference of the American Association of Geographers, as part of the ‘Refugees and the right to the city: perspectives from the Global South (Part II)’ panel organized by Diala Lteif.


Evidence from recent large-scale displacement situations suggests that state responses to forced displacement are increasingly politically motivated, rather than resulting from a humanitarian duty to protect. As the securitization and criminalization of migration become further entrenched in law and policy, the instrumentalization of refugees is quickly becoming a staple of political playbooks worldwide. Externally, refugees have become peons to foreign policy. Internally, they are placeholders made responsible for the ills of society, an agreeable accusation in emerging ethnonationalist landscapes. As a result, refugee rights, needs, and claims have been occluded. The state’s central role in creating conditions of uncertainty, marginalization, and informality, however, are leading to its own demise and self-destruction in refugee spaces. Effectively, frustrations and dwindling faith in host country governments are providing a substratum for the production of refugee livelihoods, relationships, and identities that coalesce around shared acrimony toward state institutions that have abandoned them. Based on extensive fieldwork in Turkey and Peru, this article shows how some refugee communities have adapted to difficult material and existential conditions by creating geographic spaces and places of meaning that are beyond the state. Where subjectivities and performances converge upon subversion, autonomy, and mutual aid, the ethnographic cases of refugee placemaking presented are ontologically explored through the prism of anarchist philosophy and praxis. The observations are evocative, asking us to reflect on how displacement and resulting reformulations of space and place intersect with notions of futurities that are beyond the state.


Presentation slides are available here.