Writing the Self, Writing as Care

by Lucy Thomas

Like many others, I am sitting at a table that, a few months ago, was our kitchen table, but that I now understand as my desk. Clearing away others’ books, cups of water, bike locks and assorted personal effects, I settle into the chronically uncomfortable white plastic Ikea chair, trying to concentrate while housemates enjoy a long Bank Holiday weekend. I write from lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis, a time that has warped and exploded our understandings of ethics, community, solidarity, and care.

In the face of so much death, struggle, and grief, there are many things to write on. Writing about writing might not be the first thing that comes to mind; nor might the connection between writing and care. But I want to use this space to think through how writing differently and writing otherwise can be an act of care within wider contexts of violence.

Much academic writing is eerily impersonal: individuality is exorcised in pursuit of the fiction of objectivity. Scholarship in the academy is so often divorced from the researchers’ personal circumstances; presented as a smoothed-out, clean academic production with a highly sanitised sense of the ways in which one’s thinking, knowing and being develops over years of intensive study. Stripping academic scholarship of a sense of self can be seen as an act of purification, mimicking the natural sciences’ predilection for a controlled and decontaminated workplace, unpolluted by external disorder.

We can understand this impulse for purification in academic writing as deeply implicated in coloniality. By coloniality, I refer to a matrix of power, one intimately connected to the political realities of formal and direct systems of colonialism, but exceeding them. Coloniality operates as a cosmology; a dynamic that structures our understandings of the what, the why, and the how of the universe. It is an analytic of power that exists in the present—we do not talk of a ‘legacy’ of coloniality, but rather, of coloniality of power in the present. Coloniality has many expressions: a field of knowledge, economic expansion and exploitation, cultural subjugation and elimination, the imposition of raciality, and so on.

One such expression of coloniality is a commitment to scientific ways of knowing. The European Renaissance, blossoming in fourteenth-century Italy within a context of crisis for the Roman Catholic Church, saw intelligentsia and philosophers of the day emphasise reason and humanism. The so-called Age of Reason, a time of ‘Enlightenment’ and unshackling from the supposedly old, pre-modern, barbaric, and backward ways, and of triumph for science, empiricism, and rationalism, characterised Europe from the seventeenth century onward. At the same time, Western European conquistadores set sail for the ostensible ‘New World,’ conquering, colonising, terrorising, and murdering swathes of Indigenous and Native peoples. Anthropology was established as the tool for extracting and making articulable knowledges and lands of these ‘new’ people for reporting back to the metropole. Between ten and twelve million African people were brutally captured, bought, sold, and disposed of as commodities in the Transatlantic slave trade.

The intellectual transformation in Europe and its colonialism of Africa, America, and Asia, are fused together. Far from simply occurring at the same time, one configured the other. The belief that one can ostensibly stand outside of politics, dispassionately and unethically observing, measuring, studying, is predicated upon acts of epistemological, physical, and ecological extractivism. In other words, scientific ways of knowing flow from European coloniser, self-defined as the standard-bearer of humanity, as they encounter the Other; a knowable object, existing independently of the knowing subject. This knowable object—be it people or land—can be mined for knowledge, labour, and resources, then disposed of: an encounter based on what can be extracted. This expression of coloniality continues, fairly undisturbed, for over five hundred years, into today’s established standards of academic writing. We are compelled to write as if we can step outside of our own skins, and into the subjectivity of a ‘researcher,’ encountering and extracting data from the world around us objectively and impersonally.

What if we began by acknowledging the falsity of our encounter with the Other and the world? By recovering ourselves in the act and the process of writing? By experimenting with academic writing as acutely personal? As an act of resistance, of liberation, of solidarity, of care?

Narrative works are presentations of the imbrication between the writer and how they move through the world: collisions between and blends of intellectual challenges and experiences of selfhood. They emphasise the unstructured, imaginative and fantastical ways that we encounter and experience the world; inviting us to know ourselves and the universe in a distinctly anti-scientific and a distinctly authentic way. Embracing these ways of being, knowing, and writing the world can teach us so much more about the human—and political—experience than sterilised scientificity. These alternative ways of knowing and writing acknowledge the simple fact that we exist in symbiosis with the political, colonial, modern, violent world: one in which we cannot stand outside of and observe dispassionately, unethically or neutrally.

Ways of writing that move away from the scientific, then, are anti-colonial. They resist the colonial violence of objectivity and extractivism; instead foregrounding our embeddedness in the world around us. In recovering the self, one who cannot escape coloniality, through writing respects and acknowledges the deeply relational nature of reality: we exist in, and in relation to, this world, not outside of it. It privileges the authentic, unsanitised experience of being subjects of and in colonialism, modernity, politics, and violence.

Many Black, Black feminist/female, and Indigenous scholars and scholars of colour have written on the ways in which this colonial world privileges whiteness, and, in doing so, destroys Blackness. As Ruha Benjamin puts it, “Vampirically, white vitality feeds on black demise … [for example] the extraction of (re)productive slave labor to build the nation’s wealth […] in these ways and many more, white life and black death are inextricable.” For those peoples dehumanised and placed in constant proximity to death in the context of this colonial world, recovering the self is an act of care.

Writing in Feminist Review, Azeezat Johnson begins her response to the COVID-19 pandemic in October 2017, upon learning that her cancer had returned. Fear of illness, cancer and COVID-19, meant “finding a way to love my body and life whilst still fearing (and in some ways, mourning) a death that always feels right around the next corner.” Johnson writes that “our bodies are objectified by the state as a problem worth a quantifiable amount of care.” Such care privileges whiteness: one need only think of enslaved Africans “thrown, jumped, dumped overboard in Middle Passage,” condemned to the depths of the Atlantic (Sharpe 2016, 19), or that per capita COVID-19 deaths among Black Caribbean Britons are three times that of white people, to grasp what is at stake when we speak of an ethics and a politics of care.

In entreating us to craft “an ethics of care that centres those who are continuously forgotten once disaster strikes,” Johnson reflects on the process of personal writing as care. “Staying silent, staying immobile” on her struggle means “erasing the experiences of those that are further marginalised [which] does nothing but divide us from one another.” The crucial connection is the one between the personal and the planetary: caring for/writing the self in the context of fighting for justice and for liberation for oppressed peoples. Audre Lorde, the Black feminist poet, wrote that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” In our colonial world, where the marginalised “were never meant to survive,” caring for oneself and one another where the state refuses to, or where state care is violent, is an act of resistance.

Writing otherwise, then, is liberatory; it stands in resistance and in solidarity; it cares. Christina Sharpe, in her stunning opening chapter of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, introduces her project with a gut-wrenching account of some of her family members’ deaths. Reflecting on the deaths at the hands of police, at the hands of another young man, at the hands of cancer, Sharpe “includes the personal here ‘to tell a story capable of engaging and countering the violence of abstraction.’” In confronting the deeply personal nature of colonial violence and slavery, and its afterlives, Sharpe calls on us to think of care “as a problem for thinking of and for Black non/being in the world,” and in doing so, think of care “laterally … in a different relation than that of the violence of the state.”

In recovering the self through writing, Sharpe and Johnson perform an act of care; they “tend to the living and the dying.” For those forced on the edge of being in this colonial world, writing for and of oneself and writing for and of one another’s lives, struggles, and deaths, is a form of liberation and resistance; an “act of political warfare.”


Lucy Thomas is a PhD candidate in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London as part of the ESRC-funded LISS Doctoral Training Partnership. She holds an MA in International Conflict Studies from King’s College London, and an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics, both with Distinction. She is currently a Research Associate with the Policy Institute at King’s.

This blog post excerpts ideas and phrases from an unpublished doctoral thesis; please do not reproduce or cite without the author’s permission.



Ahmed, Sara (2014) ‘Selfcare as Warfare,’ Feminist Killjoys blog. Accessed: https://feministkilljoys.com/2014/08/25/selfcare-as-warfare/

Benjamin, R. (2018) ‘Black AfterLives Matter: Cultivating Kinfulness as Reproductive Justice,’ Boston Review blog. Accessed: https://bostonreview.net/race/ruha-benjamin-black-afterlives-matter

Kušić, K. & Záhora, J. eds. (2020) Fieldwork as Failure: Living and Knowing in the Field of International Relations, E-IR Publishing. Accessed: https://www.e-ir.info/publication/fieldwork-as-failure-living-and-knowing-in-the-field-of-international-relations/

Johnson, A. (2020) ‘Covid-19 and Cancer: Following Audre Lorde,’ Feminist Review blog. Accessed: https://femrev.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/covid-19-and-cancer-following-audre-lorde/

Platt, L. & Warwick, R. (2020) ‘Are some ethnic groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others?,’ briefing note, Institute for Fiscal Studies. Accessed: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/14827

Rutazibwa, O. (2020) ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: Coloniality, Capitalism and Race/ism as Far as the Eye Can See,’ Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 48(2), pp. 221-24

Sharpe, C. (2016) In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke University Press)

Smith, L.T. (2012) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, 2nd ed (Zed Books)

Tilley, L. (2017) ‘Resisting Piratic Method by Doing Research Otherwise,’ Sociology, 51(1), pp. 27-42

Walsh, C. E. & Mignolo, W. (2018) On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis (Duke University Press)


Solidarity in Military Courts: Crimean Tatars in Global History, Politics and Practices

By Alvina Hoffmann

What kinds of transnational or global strategies can local activists mobilise for themselves to generate international attention and solidarity? This is a central question for many Crimean activists as they face criminalisation and incarceration of Crimean Tatar men in Crimea since its annexation by Russia on 18 March 2014. Based on the ongoing military court trials of Crimean Tatar men and how as a response women have emerged as central activist voices, I propose to explore three different but closely linked global struggles in which Crimean Tatars are implicated: the global history of indigenous peoples’ rights which was already mobilised by Crimean Tatar political leaders long before the annexation of Crimea; the global politics of extremism legislation as part of counter-terrorism efforts which has been employed arbitrarily and overly harshly to criminalise and defame activists; and a reading of the on-going trials of Crimean Tatars as part of global practices of incarceration.

© Alina Smutko

Mass Arrests Transforming the Social Fabric of Crimean Tatar Communities

Since Russia annexed Crimea over six years ago, the social fabric of the local Crimean Tatar communities has been profoundly changed. To this date, over 60 Crimean Tatar men have been arrested in 10 groups in various cities around Crimea, the latest of which was in March 2020 (see here for a graphic and list with pictures of arrested men, including additional individual cases). All these men have either already received or are anticipating very long and harsh prison sentences – 10, 15, or 20 years in a penal colony in mainland Russia – on the basis of terrorism charges, created through an overly harsh and arbitrary application of Russian extremism legislation. The men are said to belong to the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir which is deemed a terrorist organisation in Russia but legal in Ukraine of which Crimea was an autonomous region before its annexation. With so many
imprisoned men, fathers, husbands, and brothers, Crimean Tatar mothers are turned into single mothers and left to raise their numerous children by themselves. However, activist Mumine Saliyeva – whose husband is also facing terrorism charges – created a project entitled ‘Crimean Childhood’, supporting mothers like herself and now nearly 200 children growing up without their fathers (see here for an interview with her). What stood out when interviewing local activists is the great number of primarily female activists who have been taking centre stage in Crimea’s activist and dissident circles.

The trials take place in a military court in Rostov-on-Don, like all terrorism-related charges in Russia. Rostov-on-Don is around 700 km away from Crimea in the Russian oblast of Rostov, which the activists and affected wives who graciously found time to talk to me all highlighted as an impediment for on-site support and mobilisation. Nonetheless, this is an obstacle which won’t stop them from travelling there by bus, embarking on long journeys to show solidarity and be present for their community. Trials in Rostov are open to public audiences but closed in Crimea where they are treated as state secrets, showing how
different, often arbitrary rules apply in Crimea compared to mainland Russia. However, as one of the leading activist voices Lutfiye Zudiyeva notes, it is much easier to mobilise a great number of people in front of the courts in Crimea than Rostov. Nonetheless, still 90 to 100 Crimean Tatars travel to Rostov whenever trials take place there.

In light of this, Lutfiye Zudiyeva recalled a fascinating story. During one hearing, many Crimean Tatar supporters had travelled to Rostov but were not allowed into the small court rooms. Being left outside on the corridor, they noted that in the neighbouring court room, men from Ingushetia, a Russian oblast in the Caucasus, were tried on the same charges with close to no audience. Being moved by a shared Muslim religious identity, the Crimean Tatars sat down in the audience and supported the Ingushetian men on trial. According to the activist, this left a deep impression with the Ingushetian community, noting that other people can build on this example of solidarity and self-organisation.

© Alina Smutko

Local Activism and Global Patterns: Making Connections

In the remainder of this post, I want to generalise from this account and identify three different and interlinked global processes through which the Crimean Tatar struggles can be understood. The first is the global history of Indigenous peoples’ struggling for their rights. The Crimean Tatars have long before the annexation pursued this strategy in relation to the Ukrainian state. Crimean Tatars identify themselves as Crimea’s Indigenous people and share common memories of the first annexation of Crimea by Russia in 1783. Previously, Crimea was ruled by Crimean Tatar rulers who established the Crimean Khanate from 1475 onwards  which was under Ottoman tutelage (see hereand here for more in-depth historical studies). Another central and dramatic event was the deportation of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia under Stalin in 1944, for their ‘ostensible collaboration with German and Romanian forces during’ World War II (see Greta Uehling). The most recent annexation, then, becomes part of this broader history and memory passed on to generations. Their Muslim religious identity, customs and language are shared practices and allow people to self-identify as Crimean Tatar.

© Alina Smutko

The Crimean Tatars were given a special political representative organ, the Mejlis, by the Ukrainian state, but no special rights were enshrined in the constitution. When the UN passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, Ukraine abstained from signing it despite encouragements from the Crimean Tatars. Finally, a few months after the annexation in 2014, the Ukrainian state signed the Declaration and is leveraging the Crimean Tatar’s minority and Indigenous rights in international courts, for example in the most recent ICJ ruling in which Ukraine refers to Crimean Tatars as the Indigenous people of Crimea.

Second, the legal machine that continues to criminalise and incarcerate Crimean Tatars, and other vocal dissent voices, is part of a broader global practice that states mobilise in their counter-terrorism policies. A 2020 report by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, analyses widespread uses of anti-extremism policies, in particular in contexts which lack a human rights-based approach to these questions. T These policies are problematic as they lack a precise legal definition of extremism, potentially leading to mass violations of human rights in many contexts. The report traces how ‘violent extremism’ entered into international policy agendas on counter-terrorism in the mid-2000s, underlining governmental approaches to combat terrorism by using hard military power as well as other ‘soft power’ approaches. At the UN level, the language of extremism entered in 2010 in a Security Council resolution. In a field visit to Kazakhstan, Special Rapporteur Ní Aoláin encountered similar questions of extremism legislation used, and potentially abused, to counter terrorism. Crimean Tatars, then, become part of a broader global politics of extremism legislation used to criminalise, defame and incarcerate activists and other local dissidents.

Finally, inspired by Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s ground-breaking work on the massive expansion of the prison system and incarceration rates in California since 1982 despite a falling criminality rate, I want to conclude this post by reflecting on the group arrests of Crimean Tatars in light of global practices of incarceration. The choice of incarceration itself as a means to ‘punish’ dissidents is not surprising given the context. But relative numbers reveal just how wide-ranging the practice of incarceration as a solution to social problems is in Russia. While noting a downward trend in its prison population, falling by 45% since 2000, in 2018 Russia recorded a prison population of 402 per 100,000 people, the fifth most of any state after Rwanda (464), Thailand (526), El Salvador (604) and the United States (655). Many factors need to be considered when analysing incarceration practices and the vast system that upholds this machine. This ranges from lengths of sentences, lengthy pre-trial detention in which people are held over long periods of time – some Crimean Tatars for example are held over several years before their official court hearings begin – and the legal system itself and by whom it is enforced. As a few interviewees noted, many judges and other civil servants retained their posts in Crimea even after the annexation and now need to deal with, enforce and interpret a completely new legal system they were not trained in. Crime legislation has profound effects through the ways in which it governs, classifies and divides society. Finally, geography itself matters, as already pointed out above in interviews with activists. Once sentenced, the prisons could be similarly far away from Crimea, on the margins of society, putting serious constraints on visits and continuous social integration of criminalised groups.

Questions of solidarity and care for communities are of vital importance to the Crimean Tatars, as shown by their grassroots mobilisation and activism. They allow us to see connections and links with other struggles which would remain obscured in geopolitical or foreign policy accounts in which Crimea is merely an object of great power interest.

© Alina Smutko

Alvina Hoffmann is a PhD candidate in International Relations in the department of War Studies, King’s College London, funded by LISS DTP. Her research examines rights claims from the perspective of those who claim to speak with authority on behalf of social groups or a cause. She is a research assistant for the ERC funded project Security Flows and previously worked at Millennium: Journal of International Studies as the review article editor, social media officer and member of the editorial board.


Special thanks to Alina Smutko for her beautiful photographs from Crimea, Lutfiye Zudiyeva from Crimean Solidarity and Mumine Saliyeva from Crimean Childhood, two brave, generous and tireless activist voices, and Alyona Savchuk who generously connected me to local voices. Thanks also to Kerry Goettlich, Andy Li and Alireza Shams-Lahijani for great comments.


Crimean Solidarity (2020) ‘Political prisoners – cases’, accessed 21 May 2020 at: https://crimean-solidarity.org/ru/polit-prisoners-cases?fbclid=IwAR1_4ghHIDCvrfDbt1xYR1DnaGgxMtDeLzaekYNwwZ1q2c804TGYHoQV2bU

Alona Savchuk (2018) ‘How Russia’s security services target Crimean Tatars as “Islamic terrorists”’ Open Democracy, 19 June, accessed 21 May 2020 at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/how-russias-security-services-target-crimean-tatars-as-islamic-terrorists/

RFE/RL (2020) ‘Abductions, Torture, ‘Hybrid Deportation’: Crimean Tatar Activist Describes Six Years Under Russian Rule’ RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 17 March, accessed 21 May 2020 at https://www.rferl.org/a/abductions-torture-hybrid-deportation-crimean-tatar-activist-describes-six-years-under-russian-rule/30493504.html

Alan W. Fisher (1978) The Crimean Tatars. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press

Hakan Kırımlı (1996) National Movements & National Identity Among the Crimean Tatars (1905-1916). Leiden, New York & Köln: Brill.

Greta Lynn Uehling (2004) Beyond Memory: The Crimean Tatars‘ Deportation and Return. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

UN General Assembly (2007) United Nations Declaration on the Rights of INdigenous Peoples: resolution/adopted by the General Assembly, 2 October 2007, A/RES/61/295, accessed 21 May 2020 at https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf

Application of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (Ukraine v. Russian Federation) (2019) I.C.J., accessed 21 May 2020 at https://www.icj-cij.org/files/case-related/166/166-20191108-JUD-01-00-EN.pdf

HRC report on the human rights impact of policies and practices aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism – Fionnuala Ní Aoláin – (2020) accessed 21 May 2020 at: https://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/43/46

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Jenna M. Loyd, Matt Mitchelson, and Andrew Burridge (2012) Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons, Borders, and Global Crisis. Athens & London: The University of Georgia Press.


Bringing the Personal (Back) In

By Hannah Goozee

This reflexive blog post considers what happens if we, as researchers, listen to our emotions. Drawing on six months of research in South Africa, I reflect on two emotional moments I experienced and consider what they reveal about my role and responsibility as a researcher.

“And so it begins. I land in Johannesburg in twenty minutes time, and I am terrified. I have no idea what I’m doing, except stepping into an abyss. Underqualified and underprepared. What right do I have to be here; to do this research?” (Personal journal, 1st February 2019)

The very first entry in my journal is both surprising and unsurprising. It is surprising given that I had spent the previous 16 months reading and fine-tuning my methodology, undergoing a rigorous ethics process and internal exam. Arriving in South Africa, on paper I had a clear and well-defined research methodology, developed from studying various methodological texts. This included scholarship on ethics, reflexivity and ethnography, and sensitive research in conflict-affected settings (e.g. Wood 2006; Vrasti 2008; Iphofen 2009; Rancatore 2010; Fujii 2012). I planned to undertake qualitative research with an interpretivist lens, forming relationships with local gatekeepers in order to carry out semi-structured interviews and focus groups with local residents. Supplemented by archival and institutional research, this would provide me with sufficient data to answer my research question.  I had a plan. But my first journal entry is also, as any researcher knows all too well, very unsurprising. At first, I thought that my ability to undertake research in South Africa relied on preparation and skill. Quickly, however, it became clear that such a methodology relied far more on me as a feeling individual than the literature had prepared me for. It not only took time for me to feel comfortable in my surroundings, it took endless courage to make cold-call after cold-call, reaching out to potential gatekeepers and organising interviews. Often, I did not have that courage. It was in this early contradiction between my careful methodological plan and felt experience that I became aware of the central role that emotions play in research.

Whilst there is now a variety of literature on emotion in International Relations (IR) – from anthropological-inspired accounts (e.g. Brigg and Bleiker 2010; Dauphinee 2010; Löwenheim 2010; Inayatullah 2011; Hamati-Ataya 2013; Beattie 2019) to theoretical readings of emotion and international politics (e.g. Crawford 2000; Ross 2006; Fierke 2013; Bleiker and Hutchison 2014; Mercer 2014; Hutchison 2017; Pin-Fat 2019) – I was not sure what to do with mine. In her feminist analysis, Megan MacKenzie reflects that whilst the growing research on emotion in IR considers the appropriate methods with which to study emotion, “the question avoided by this concern relates to the epistemological bias within IR, which values rational, objective research and assumes that ‘distance’ between the researcher and the research subject is essential” (Sylvester et al. 2011, 681). With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that in South Africa, my emotions were an insight into this distance.  Anxiety, fear, and discomfort demonstrated that despite my intellectual and personal commitments, this epistemological bias remains an insidious force within the academy and within me.

“Today feels like a turning point, and it terrifies me. All I want to do is lay in the dark. A strange silence has settled, in the house or in me. I’m not sure which.” (Personal journal, 21stFebruary 2019)

Thinking back to my time in South Africa, I still experience a surge of anxiety; a tide turns in my stomach. My journals, four in total, confirm that much of my time there was marked by anxiety. The first month I spent in Johannesburg consisted largely of futile attempts to track down archival materials and make contact with gatekeeper organisations. Finally, after repeated calls and emails, on 21st February 2019, I made contact, and a meeting was set. I record in my journal: “And then she calls, we will meet next week and a weight has been lifted. But I am pacing, I’m nearly crying – after setting one meeting. Maybe I’m not made for this” (Personal journal, 21st February 2019). Fear and anxiety scream out from the lined page. What is telling from this extract is that I automatically interpreted the emotions I felt as a personal fault. Whilst recent scholarship has documented the central role that fear and anxiety play in fieldwork (Davies and Spencer 2010; Kušić and Záhora 2020), at the time I believed that my emotional response to a seemingly simple task meant that I was fundamentally incompatible with research. I had internalised the division between emotion and reason that feminist researchers have long identified; a strategy keeping women and the feminine out of political spheres (Tronto 1993; Åhäll 2018).  In doing so, I overlooked what my anxiety was saying – precisely what MacKenzie identified – the epistemological bias and expectation within IR to produce of rational, detached, and masculinized research. Intellectually I was committed to reflexive, embodied research, but in practice how I responded to my emotions in South Africa exposed the insidious nature of this epistemology.

So, what did I do with this fear and anxiety? In short, I ignored it. When it came to undertaking interviews, I disconnected from my emotions, seeking to carry out my tasks guided by the professional ethics and rigour that I had internalised – carefully referring to my information sheet and consent form. The epistemological framework had succeeded in dividing my personal, my body, and the political which I was studying (Åhäll 2018). Reflecting now, it appears that I was also committed to my research plan at the expense of my emotions because I knew that this data was my original contribution; that gathering this personal information from gatekeepers and local citizens would give me the advantage when it came to publication, to experience, and ultimately to my career. As Kušić and Záhora note, “the imperative to turn our fieldwork into ‘successful’ publications again points to systemic issues of the academic industrial complex” (2020, 10). Even in my sensitive, ethical, and reflexive research agenda, the masculine neoliberal academy prevailed. Ignoring my emotions meant that I did not see this, and that I missed the warning signs. The pressure and economy of the neoliberal academy meant that I pursued a research agenda despite knowing, had I stopped to listen to my emotions, that I risked carrying out research that would lead to abandonment, betrayal and exploitation (Stacey 1988). Indeed, that I would perpetuate the colonial extraction of knowledge – and once back in the UK, be unable to fully engage with the people that I had benefitted from. My emotions were signposts of what I was overlooking in order to meet the expectations of a neoliberal academy – questions of ethics, community, and care. With hindsight, fear and discomfort revealed to me that

“no matter how welcome, even enjoyable the fieldworker’s presence may appear to ‘natives’, fieldwork represents an intrusion and intervention into a system of relationships, a system of relationships that the researcher is far freer than the researched to leave. The inequality and potential treacherousness of this relationship seems inescapable” (Stacey 1988, 23)

My experience in South Africa revealed the hugely emotional task of fostering an ethical and responsible research relationship, beyond intrusion and exploitation. Ignoring my fear and discomfort, seeking to evade and restrict them, I failed to do so.

This was a failure; but not a failure to run from. Rather, as Laura Sjoberg has taught us, it is an opportunity to re-evaluate systems and values (2019). Why I failed to engage with my emotions raises important questions regarding the normative expectations, boundaries, and limitations of our discipline; questions that we all must continue to explore.

Hannah Goozee is an ESRC-funded PhD candidate in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. Her doctoral research explores the politics of trauma in post-conflict environments, with a specific focus on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission



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Iphofen, Ron. 2009. Ethical Decision Making in Social Research a Practical Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. http://kcl.eblib.com/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=515020.

Kušić, Katerina, and Jakub Záhora. 2020. Fieldwork as Failure: Living and Knowing in the Field of International Relations. E-International Relations. https://www.e-ir.info/publication/fieldwork-as-failure-living-and-knowing-in-the-field-of-international-relations/.

Löwenheim, Oded. 2010. “The ‘I’ in IR: An Autoethnographic Account.” Review of International Studies 36 (4): 1023–1045. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0260210510000562.

Mercer, Jonathan. 2014. “Feeling like a State: Social Emotion and Identity” 6 (3): 515–535. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1752971914000244.

Pin-Fat, Véronique. 2019. “‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ Ethics, Emotions, and Encounter in International Relations.” Review of International Studies 45 (2): 181–200. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0260210518000426.

Rancatore, Jason P. 2010. “It Is Strange: A Reply to Vrasti.” Millennium – Journal of International Studies 39 (1): 65–77. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305829810370938.

Ross, Andrew A. G. 2006. “Coming in from the Cold: Constructivism and Emotions.” European Journal of International Relations 12 (2): 197–222. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354066106064507.

Sjoberg, Laura. 2019. “Failure and Critique in Critical Security Studies.” Security Dialogue 50 (1): 77–94. https://doi.org/10.1177/0967010618783393.

Stacey, Judith. 1988. “Can There Be a Feminist Ethnography?” Women’s Studies International Forum11 (1): 21–27. https://doi.org/10.1016/0277-5395(88)90004-0.

Sylvester, Christine, Sandra Marshall, Megan H. Mackenzie, Shirin Saeidi, Heather M. Turcotte, Swati Parashar, and Laura Sjoberg. 2011. “Emotion and the Feminist IR Researcher.” International Studies Review 13 (4): 687–708.

Tronto, Joan C. 1993. Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. New York ; London: Routledge.

Vrasti, Wanda. 2008. “The Strange Case of Ethnography and International Relations.” Millennium – Journal of International Studies 37 (2): 279–301. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305829808097641.

Wood, Elisabeth. 2006. “The Ethical Challenges of Field Research in Conflict Zones.” Qualitative Sociology 29 (3): 373–386. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-006-9027-8.


The Ethics of Solidarity, Community and Care

By Leonie Ansems de Vries

I am very happy to introduce this short blog series on The Ethics of Solidarity, Community and Care, which is part of the International Relations and Ethics theme contribution to the School of Security Studies Virtual Research Conference on Global Shocks. In addition to the blog series, IR and Ethics theme members have contributed to a short video in which they reflect on what the ethics of solidarity, community and care means to them and how it features in their research. The video will be shown as part of an interactive panel discussion on the same theme.

Global shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic highlight the structural social, political, and economic inequalities that put some people more at risk than others, raising important ethical questions. Yet, we have also seen the emergence and renewal of communities of solidarity and care, locally as well as transnationally.

This blog series comprises three thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions on these broader themes of violence, inequality, solidarity, and care, by Hannah Goozee, Alvina Hoffmann and Lucy Thomas respectively. Indeed, one of the things that struck me when I first read the pieces is that all three approach the ethics of solidarity, community and care by addressing questions of violence and exploitation – political, economic, historical, social, personal, structural and epistemic. Moreover, all three pieces weave together the local with the global, the present with the historical, and the personal with the structural and the planetary.

This focus on personal experiences, local and global struggles and practices and structures of violence and exploitation might seem surprising for a set of reflections on community, solidarity, and care. In turn, the focus on these themes might be unusual for a Security Studies conference. Yet, grounded in critical and self-reflexive approaches, the three pieces show that these issues are closely connected; that questions of community, solidarity and care are highly contested and imbued with relations of power and structures of violence. Shifting away from the presumption of institutionalised units such as the state as the starting point for thinking about community and solidarity – as is so often the case in Security Studies and International Relations scholarship – they bring to the fore more marginalised voices and communities, as well as more personal reflections on knowledge production in academia. In addition, the contributions show the importance of taking seriously intersectional issues such as, but not limited to, gender, race, and class.

Rather than thinking about practices of solidarity and care within a realm that is pre-established, and/or implies a preconceived idea of who belongs, the focus is on struggles. This resonates with my own research, which seeks to dig deeper into practices and structures of power and violence whilst remaining attentive to the entanglements of struggles and practices of resistance and what these seek to contest (e.g. Ansems de Vries 2016; Ansems de Vries et al 2017). Communities of solidarity – and a sense of who I am/we are – come into being through struggle, rather than being pre-existent. Moreover, as Coleman and Rosenow (2016) note, an understanding of what the struggle is about emerges through struggle.

For me, the politics of struggle is not only a matter of looking for and listening to what has been silenced and a question of how we amplify the struggles of those who are marginalised; it is also about remaining reflexive of the impact of our interventions and positionalities (Ansems de Vries 2020a). Relatedly, an ethics of solidarity and care means being open to being cha(lle)nged in the process, and in ways that might be uncomfortable and/or unknown. This requires different ways of looking, and, importantly, of listening, as well as developing more affective approaches to knowing, as Goozee and Thomas also write in their contributions.

I will end with a brief overview of the three contributions. Firstly, in her piece, Bringing the personal (back) in (published Wednesday 3 June 2020), Hannah Goozee asks what happens if we, as researchers, listen to our emotions. In this very personal reflection of the felt experience of conducting ethnographic and archival research in South Africa, Goozee writes that research methods are not abstract but very much bound up with who she is as a feeling individual. Much of her time in South Africa was marked by fear and anxiety. She relates this personal reflections to broader epistemological biases in International Relations and the colonial extraction of knowledge. Rather than understanding her efforts to ignore her emotions during her research as a personal failure, she suggests, with reference to Laura Sjoberg (2019), that the realisation of the importance of emotions can also be seen as a political moment: it offers the opportunity to re-evaluate broader systems and values.

Alvina Hoffman’s contribution Solidarity in military courts: Crimean Tatars in global history, politics and practices (published on Thursday 4 June 2020) discusses the criminalisation of Crimean Tatar men after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, linking local and global struggles and practices. She does so by asking how local activists seek to gain international attention and solidarity and by connecting these local practices to three global struggles in which Crimean Tatars are implicated: the global history of indigenous peoples’ rights; the global politics of extremism legislation as part of counter-terrorism efforts; and global practices of incarceration. The question of gender is also raised, as women become actively involved in activism as men are incarcerated.

Finally, Lucy Thomas, in her piece Writing the self, writing as care (published on Friday 5 June 2020), reflects on how writing differently and writing otherwise can be an act of care and resistance within wider contexts of violence. Her contribution also addresses the epistemic bias according to which academic writing is regarded as detached from the self. She shows how this cleansing of academic writing is deeply implicated in coloniality. The Enlightenment, the intellectual transformation of Europe during which dominant conceptions of ‘objective’ scientific ways of knowing became established, is inextricably bound up with the colonisation of Africa, America and Asia and the extraction of data from ‘the Other’. She concludes that, for those marginalised in the colonial present, ‘writing for and of oneself and writing for and of one another’s lives, struggles, and deaths, is a form of liberation and resistance.’

Leonie Ansems de Vries is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Chair of the Migration Research Group at King’s College London.



Ansems de Vries, Leoine (2016) ‘Politics of (in)visibility: Governance-resistance and the constitution of refugee subjectivities in Malaysia’, Review of International Studies 42 (5):876–94.

Ansems de Vries, Leonie (2020a) ‘movement – becoming – violence: two’, Arts Cabinet, available at https://www.artscabinet.org/index/movement-becoming-violence-two

Ansems de Vries, Leonie (2020b) ‘movement – becoming – violence: three’, Arts Cabinet, available at https://www.artscabinet.org/index/movement-becoming-violence-three

Ansems de Vries, Leonie, Lara Coleman, Doerthe Rosenow, Martina Tazzioli, Rolando Vázquez (2017) ‘Collective Discussion: Fracturing Politics (Or, How to Avoid the Tacit Reproduction of Modern/Colonial Ontologies in Critical Thought)’, International Political Sociology 11 (1):90–108.

Coleman, Lara Montesinos and Doerthe Rosenow (2016) ‘Security (Studies) and the Limits of Critique: Why We Should Think through Struggle’, Critical Studies on Security 4(2): 202-20.

Sjoberg, Laura (2019) ‘Failure and Critique in Critical Security Studies’, Security Dialogue 50 (1): 77–94.

Knowledge under attack: message of support for Fariba Adelkhah, Roland Marchal, and Kylie Moore-Gilbert

Dear Fariba, Roland and Kylie

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We wish to let you know that we held a meeting on the 17th February 2020 in Bush house King’s College London and that we have created a branch of the Support Committee in London for the three of you.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day we can’t stop thinking about you and your ordeal. At the meeting there were old friends of yours; academics who have read your books and articles; Doctoral and Master’s Students who are inspired by your examples of courage and lucidity about the situations you have described; previous detainees who have known what you are suffering now; were all gathered together to sign this postcard. We hope you will have an opportunity to read when you come home.

We, professors and scholars of King’s College London, Oxford, Birkbeck, Goldsmith, Cambridge and Queen Mary, are all asking for your immediate and unconditional release from prison.  Your detention is legally and ethically unjustifiable.  It poses a threat to all academics and to academic freedom in general. Iranian society values knowledge, it’s universities and academics, as do we. It is in that spirit that we are calling on the regime to implement your release with immediate effect. We will continue to mobilise both within our institutions and beyond in your support.


Signed by Vivienne Jabri, Mervyn Frost, Nick Michelsen, Didier Bigo, Susan Martin, Aggie Hirst, Pablo de Orellana, Claudia Aradau, Sarah Perret, Leonie Ansems de Vries, Emma Mc Cluskey, James McDougall, Ramon Sarro, Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, David Styan, Evelyn Ruppert, Christopher Clapham, Elspeth Guild, Engin Isin, Christine Cheng, Ziad Elmarsafy, Stacey Gutkowski, Alvina Hoffmann, Kerry Goettlich, Andrew Brown, and many other participants


UPDATE 5 March 2020

today Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal have been condemned to 9 months of imprisonment. Click here for more updates. We do not forget them.


UPDATE 17 March 2020

“Is research getting more dangerous? Roland Marchal’s plight suggests so” in African Arguments. click here for article


UPDATE 20 MAY 2020

Fariba Adelkhah sentenced to prison in Iran, listen here on BBC


UPDATE 8 June 2020

Message from Professor Alain Dieckhoff, Director of CERI Sciences-Po Paris: here.


A one-day workshop examining the rise of nationalist ideas and movements around the globe in recent years. Drawing together scholars addressing nationalist ideas, events and movements of the last two decades through a variety of interdisciplinary theoretical and analytical perspectives and methods, this workshop seeks to establish a forward-looking research agenda for the study of contemporary nationalisms, and to disseminate it though an edited volume (under contract).

Saturday 29th June 2018, KCL Research Centre in International Relations, King’s College London, UK. To submit to the workshop, please email an abstract and 5-line biography to reflectionsonnationalism2019@gmail.com by 15th May.

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A one-day interdisciplinary workshop exploring the crossover between IR and Art History, common concerns, and interdisciplinary advances with a view to establish a productive conceptual, methodological and analytical agenda for IR and Art Historical research. With the support of the BISA Poststructural Politics Working Group.


30th June 2018; Department of War Studies, King’s College London, UK

Event rationale:

The nexus between the study of International Relations (IR) and Art History is ripe with conceptual, analytical, and empirical opportunities for critical understanding. Art History has long counted on and developed methods and concepts for the study of specific aesthetic functions, including conflict and identity. Likewise, areas of IR scholarship have addressed in various forms the relevance, function and power of the aesthetic, and has long sought to account for the role of such expression in politics. The ‘Aesthetic Turn’ literature has sought to make this crossover productive. However, scholarship between these fields suffers from a lack of aggregation, particularly examination of clear conceptual links and reflection on analytical objectives shared and contested by both disciplines, and the tensions therein. Though valuable contributions have been made, its analytical promise needs to be revisited. How do IR and Art Historical analyses differ and what are the conceptual and methodological reasons for this? Where can they meet? What might such an interdisciplinary crossover look like in the specifics of each discipline and concrete research and analytical goals?

This one-day workshop seeks to open an interdisciplinary space for new dialogue between IR scholars and Art Historians working on issues of art and conflict. The core objective is to understand and map what constitutes the shared space between art and IR, its tensions, and the concepts and methods necessary for its interdisciplinary engagement and analytical research productivity. The event will bring together key scholars that have experience of this interdisciplinary space and a range of IR and art practitioners.  We are grateful to the BISA Postructuralist Politics Working Group for the grant that made this event possible.


Submissions will be sought that relate to

  • Theory, methods, and analytical strategies in both IR and Art History
  • aesthetics and ethics
  • knowledge, power, categorisations and aesthetics
  • images and the dilemma of ‘high art’
  • sites of art and conflict
  • conflict over visibility/invisibility
  • nexus of transnational art world, institutions and its localities
  • aesthetic analysis and its development
  • gendered aesthetics
  • hierarchy and power in aesthetic analysis
  • locating the politics of art as theory and methodology
  • examining aesthetic language
  • postcoloniality in aesthetics and decolonising aesthetics
  • making art international
  • practices and institutional as well as individual power
  • agency between art and IR
  • the body and art in IR and/or conflict


Selected papers presented at the workshop to be developed and submitted as a special issue to Review of International Studies. This special issue is to be edited by Vivienne Jabri (KCL), Laurie Benson (SOAS) and Pablo de Orellana (KCL).


Event format:

Convenors: Dr Pablo de Orellana, King’s College London, pablo.de.orellana@kcl.ac.uk, Co-Chair of the KCL Research Centre in International Relations; Dr Laurie Benson, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, lb60@soas.ac.uk; Prof Vivienne Jabri, King’s College London

Funding: There is some limited funding available to contribute towards travel expenses, priority will be given to postgraduate students and early career scholars. Please note that BISA will only reimburse the travel expenses of BISA members. Please detail your funding needs in your submission.

Submissions: All submissions to attend the workshop either presenting a paper or for attendance to be emailed to warforpresence2018@gmail.com by 1st March 2018. Abstracts for papers (200 words max) due 1st March 2018 (midnight) — Applications for attendance due 1st March 2018 (midnight) — Papers due 10th June 2018 (midnight)

New Directions in Critical Security Studies Workshop organised by Dr Claudia Aradau and Dr Lucile Maertens 18 November 2016 – London

Critical Security Studies (CSS) have been a major development in the analysis of security since the 1990s. This workshop intends to foster discussions to identify key areas and directions for future CSS. It proposes to bring together doctoral students and academics working on new theoretical directions and empirical interrogations of (in)security to both question and prompt new developments in critical approaches to security.

We invite contributions that address conceptual, methodological and empirical perspectives from different disciplinary perspectives. We aim to reflect on emerging themes – such as digitization of security and surveillance, political ecology and security, gender and (in)securities, borders and mobility, etc. – and key conceptual and political question about the relation between security and politics, security and justice, security and critique. We also invite participants to discuss ways of doing research and of questioning security actors and practices.

The aim of this one-day workshop is to develop a network on critical security studies at KCL and build links and intellectual conversations around critical approaches to (in)security across disciplines and boundaries.


Call for abstracts

Send us a brief outline of your research highlighting major conceptual, methodological and/or empirical questions you address (200 to 250 words) by 15 October 2016.





The Production of Knowledge in/of Migration Studies

Dace Dzenovska (COMPAS, Oxford), Bridget Anderson (COMPAS, Oxford), Nicholas De Genova (Geography, KCL)

Tuesday 17 May 2016, 4pm, War Studies Meeting Room (K6.07)

Dace Dzenovska is an Associate Professor in the Anthropology of Migration at COMPAS and the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology (ISCA). Prior to this, she held a Marie Curie Fellowship at COMPAS and a three-year research and teaching position in social anthropology at the University of Latvia. She received a PhD in sociocultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. Dace has turned her doctoral dissertation on tolerance promotion and postsocialist democratization in Latvia into a book manuscript entitled Complicit Becoming: Tolerance Work and Europeanization After Socialism. Her second book project is on outmigration from Latvia and is entitled The Great Departure: Staying and Leaving as Tactics of Life After Post-Socialism.

Bridget Anderson is Professor of Migration and Citizenship and Research Director at COMPAS. She is the author of Us and Them? The Dangerous Politics of Immigration Controls (Oxford University Press, 2013) and Doing the Dirty Work? The Global Politics of Domestic Labour (Zed Books, 2000). She co-edited Who Needs Migrant Workers? Labour Shortages, Immigration and Public Policy with Martin Ruhs (Oxford University Press, 2010 and 2012) The Social, Political and Historical Contours of Deportation with Matthew Gibney and Emanuela Paoletti (Springer, 2013), and Migration and Care Labour: Theory, Policy and Politics with Isabel Shutes (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)

Nicholas De Genova <www.nicholasdegenova.net> is Reader in Urban Geography and Director of the Spatial Politics research group at King’s College London. He is the author of Working the Boundaries: Race, Space, and “Illegality” in Mexican Chicago (2005), co-author of Latino Crossings: Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and the Politics of Race and Citizenship (2003), editor of Racial Transformations: Latinos and Asians Remaking the United States (2006), and co-editor of The Deportation Regime: Sovereignty, Space, and the Freedom of Movement (2010). He is currently writing two new books — one on The Migrant Metropolis and another on The “European” Question: Migration, Race and Postcoloniality — and has also edited a new book on The Borders of “Europe”: Autonomy of Migration, Tactics of Bordering (forthcoming, Duke University Press).


This event is part of the Borders, Citizenship & Mobility workshop, co-organised by RCIR and the Department of Geography, King’s College London

Frontiers of Mobility: Migration and Control in an Age of Securitisation

Dr Ruben Andersson, London School of Economics 

Tuesday 15 March 2016, 3pm, War Studies Meeting Room (K6.07)

Amid the political panic over the migration or refugee ‘crisis’, the capability to control cross- border movement has emerged as a holy grail for anxious politicians in Europe and elsewhere – just at a time when the capability to regain such control looms large for well- connected refugees and migrants themselves. This paper sketches some initial thoughts on how to analyse and research this tense juncture, characterised by a growing mismatch between states’ vast resources to control movement and the equally unprecedented resources at migrants’ disposal, as well as by the increasing securitisation of mobility that attempts to ‘paper over’ this very mismatch. One way of approaching this juncture from an anthropological perspective, I suggest, is to build an ‘ecological’ approach that explores interactions in a ‘complex system’ of mobility control. Complex systems analysis may help bridge historical and empirical scales, reaching an ethnographically grounded account of today’s perennial ‘mobility crises’ that joins up the microphysics of mobility with meso/macro structures and longer historical shifts. In the same vein, an ecological perspective may also allow for analytically treating what are often seen as separate ‘mobility problematics’ within the same frame, from the heavily patrolled European borderlands to the control of air travel and the perennial refugee encampments outside the West.

Ruben Andersson is an anthropologist at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, London School of Economics and Political Science, and the author of Illegality, Inc.: Clandestine migration and the business of bordering Europe (University of California Press, 2014).

This event is part of the Borders, Citizenship & Mobility workshop, co-organised by RCIR and the Department of Geography, King’s College London