Vulnerability is generally depicted as a condition of exposure to harm and pain in which the subject needs protection. This concept has gained particular social and political relevance when implicated in human rights interventions, which are involved in processes of advocacy, institutional certification, and measurement. But what happens when vulnerability conflates in the classificatory schemes that circulate within migration policies? Anthropological knowledge has answered this question by extensively showing the pitfalls of the humanitarian understanding of vulnerability, particularly when dealing with refugees. Yet, the changing constraints and uneven, precarious conditions of mobility framing refugees’ everyday lives in current regimes of emergency require further ethnographic investigations. This roundtable is part of a broader comparative project that started in 2020•PROTECT. The Right to International Protection (https://protectproject.w.uib.no/wp4/). We developed our study considering UN soft laws about migration, such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees. These texts transnationally establish that displacement entails vulnerability, demanding that national governments develop public policies that are more in line with human rights. Yet, far from simply prompting an apolitical humanitarian reason, the logic of the Global Compacts has been arousing explicit arguments about populism and political consensus. The line separating humanitarian and securitarian arrangements has become increasingly blurred, and new questions arise. Whose vulnerability is at stake across borderlands when the time of exception brought about by the COVID pandemic is more openly revealing the worry about the contamination of a nationalized body? Which notion of vulnerability are the NGOs involved in search and rescue operations at sea pursuing and summoning? How can we understand the institutional tendency of making the certification of vulnerability more ethically sensitive? When operators in reception centers talk about vulnerability to define their precariousness, what is revealed? Which shifts occur when institutions propose individual resilience as the privileged response to vulnerability? Ethnographing when and by which actors vulnerability is evoked and politicized necessitates considering that the interpretative work on vulnerability is deployed differently following symbolic worlds, historical phases, and right regimes. This firstly leads to focusing on the understandings that convey universalist apprehensions, even the anthropological ones. What are the moral implications and social consequences of giving epistemological and ethical justice to the differences in which people understand and politically use vulnerability? How can we highlight the domination of the borderspace by humanitarianism without naturalizing this power? Should we ask which other ethical and political projects are at work? Which considerations of global inequalities can be strengthened by inquiring into the particularisms of the social and political life of vulnerability? As anthropologists who are inquiring into asylum in different world border areas, we propose these epistemological questions to improve the thoroughgoing analysis of the consequences of associating the power to move and inhabit with the category of vulnerability. Inspired by the critiques of anthropological involvement in the business of the “refugee crises”, this roundtable proposes a discussion for sustaining the public commitment of anthropology within the field of international protection.
Next from AAA Annual Meeting 2021
Obeying God for the Nation: Religion, Citizenship and Struggles for Belonging
AAA Annual Meeting 2021
18 November 2021