Date of Award

Fall 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science - International Relations


Peter Nyers


Marshall Beier



Committee Member

William Coleman


This dissertation investigates how the politics of asylum are implicated in our understandings of political agency for non-citizens. Using qualitative methods of interviews and participant observation, I centre migrant narratives in my analysis and begin from the migrant experience to investigate the development and practices of a global regime of management and control over migration, asking how migrants both participate in and challenge the shaping of this regime.

The sites examined are refugee camps in Western Tanzania, the border zone between Spain and Morocco, and the detention regime of Australia. In each case a border space is created where the sovereign politics of migration operate to control migrants, and to manage their capacity for political agency and mobility through discourses and practices of exclusion. In each case, the regime is situated within a global system of securitized migration oriented explicitly against irregular migration. In each case the migrant narratives from within the border space reflect active participation in shaping the border politics in direct challenge to dominant narratives of control.

I argue that the dichotomy of voluntary/forced migration that has characterized the refugee and migration regime since 1945 is being replaced by a more rigid dichotomy of regular/irregular migration. The implications of this shift are found in more advanced and securitized border regimes and practices.

My conclusions directly challenge the characterization of the border space as a space that is not only exceptional, but exclusionary, abject and without the possibility for politics. Rather, I argue that an understanding of politics as momentary and everyday, and of politics as contestation reveals a radical political agency that re-imagines the global non-citizen as a transgressive and powerful figure. Further, I argue that this re-imagining of global non-citizens reveals possibilities for a politics that dramatically changes contemporary state-centred understandings of border regimes.

McMaster University Library