Date of Award

Fall 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science - International Relations


Peter Nyers



Committee Member

Marshall Beier, James Ingram


This dissertation examines the apparently conflicting dynamics of movement and control. It does so by taking a unique approach to exploring these dynamics of movement and control by de-centering the state as the assumed site of authority of such dynamics. While traditional IR approaches situate the state as the authority for controlling and facilitating movement across borders, this study – which focuses on the movement of refugees and asylum seekers – de-stabilizes that authority by considering the ways in which other actors and spaces influence and resist these dynamics. Specifically, I consider the ways in which cities and migrants themselves might shape the apparently ‘global’ or ‘state’ processes of determining who enters and belongs in a particular political community. By de-centering – but not dismissing – the authority of the state in these matters, it becomes evident that definitions of political community are not only highly ambiguous but also somewhat autonomous from the state. The city emerges as a fundamentally different sort of political space from the state. The city – though not separate from the state – exceeds the state and opens up different possibilities for belonging politically than those made possible by ‘seeing like a state’

These theoretical issues are contextualized in this study through the case study of the MV Sun Sea, a ship which arrived off the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada in August 2010 carrying 490 Sri Lankan asylum seekers. This case is explored from three angles – ‘seeing like a state’, ‘seeing like a city’, and ‘seeing like a refugee’ – in order to consider the dynamics of movement and control and the ways in which the autonomies of cities and migrants themselves reshape political space and subjectivities.

McMaster University Library