Methodological accounts often deliberately omit the role that luck plays in getting access to challenging research sites. Indeed, it sounds unprofessional and feels unsatisfying to attribute luck to our work. ‘I hope to get lucky’ will not go down well with most supervisors or as part of any grant proposal. We should, however, consider that luck literally stands for the probability that certain events might take place under certain circumstances. Reflecting on our luck can therefore help us to expound important features that structure the probability of getting access. In my case, getting access to the Spanish state deportation regime could never be anticipated or secured simply in line with the importance of my project or my academic credentials. Obtaining formal approval from the Spanish authorities proved to be impossible, but I eventually achieved access in a messy way that involved many informal interactions and much uncertainty. Accounting for my months‐long attempts, I show how luck sensitised me to officials’ ample discretionary power and pervasive sense of impunity in producing an image of ‘the state’ as unpredictable and opaque. This image induced the strong sensation that my fieldwork crucially depended on the whims of particular officials.
Conceptualising an anthropological research engagement*
Each year the Dutch authorities categorize scores of people as being “out of procedure” (uitgeprocedeerd). These are mostly “failed asylum seekers” who have exhausted all legal appeals in search of regularizing their status in the Netherlands. Out-of-procedure subjects, or OOPSs, have no formal rights and receive no state provision. They must leave the country voluntarily within one month or risk deportation. Many OOPSs who spent weeks or even months in Dutch detention centers are eventually released onto the streets, as the authorities cannot manage to deport them. This article interrogates the production and treatment of OOPSs as nonexistent human beings who are no longer considered by the state as “aliens” but merely as illegalized bodies. This intriguing case of the state deserting certain people within its sovereign territory is realized through a process of derecording OOPSs and formally pretending that they are not part of the governed population.
The Draconian Governance of Illegalized Migrants in Western States
This article proposes the term Departheid to capture the systemic oppression and spatial management of illegalized migrants in Western liberal states. As a concept, Departheid aims to move beyond the instrumentality of illegalizing migration in order to comprehend the tenacity with which oppressive measures are implemented even in the face of accumulating evidence for their futility in managing migration flows and the harm they cause to millions of people. The article highlights continuities between present oppressive migration regimes and past colonial configurations for controlling the mobility of what Hannah Arendt has called “subject races.” By drawing on similarities with Apartheid as a governing ideology based on racialization, segregation, and deportation, I argue that Departheid, too, is animated by a sense of moral superiority that is rooted in a fantasy of White supremacy.
Nonrecording states between legibility and looking away
Barak Kalir and Willem van Schendel
In this theme section we explore why and when states knowingly refrain from recording people and their activities. States are not simply in pursuit of enhanced “legibility”; at times they also need to be able to “look away.” In explaining strategies of nonrecording, our focus is on how subjects negotiate with state recording agencies, how nonrecording relieves state agents from the burden of accountability, how the discretionary power of individual state agents affects (non)recording in unanticipated ways, and how states may project an illusion of vigorous recording internationally while actually engaging in deliberate nonrecording. Presenting case studies from China, Greece, the Netherlands, India, and Romania, we show that strategies of nonrecording are flexible, selective, and aimed at certain populations—and that both citizens and noncitizens can be singled out for nonrecording or derecording. In analyzing this state-produced social oblivion, divergences between national and local levels are of crucial significance.
Barak Kalir, Christin Achermann, and Damian Rosset
Contributors to this special issue realised that reflecting on experiences of getting access (or not) can tell us something important about the institutions we aimed to study and, more broadly, about the migration control field. Put differently, attempts at approaching and approximating state actors within a charged field exposed us to some of its most fundamental organising principles. We have, therefore, set ourselves the task in this issue of SA/AS to ask and answer the following question: What do attempts at studying migration control tell us about the state? Our exercise is, thus, squarely set as an attempt to intervene in a burgeoning debate around the ways in which the ‘anthropology of the state’ can develop. Both the issues at stake – the management of undesired others – and the field in which we conduct our studies, migration control administrations, are indeed changing to become acutely central to the governing of our societies. By gathering findings from different research projects across Europe, this special issue offers a comparative perspective on some of the most salient features of the migration control field from the eyes of ethnographic researchers in search of access.