Session Summary


Yumna Siddiqi, Middlebury College

“Borders and Anxieties of Empire”

In its contemporary form, empire obsessively figures the terrorist and the migrant as threats, revealing its own political anxieties. In their book Empire, Hardt and Negri have argued for the need to think about empire in the late twentieth century as characterized by deterritorialized forms of sovereignty. As territorial and resource wars continue in the present era of empire, this emphasis on deterritorialization seems off the mark; instead it is more useful to think of “Empire” as a way of naming how power and sovereignty are re-territorialized in an age after formal decolonizaton. The operation of the border is crucial to this reterritorialization. This paper focuses on the border as a location, institution, and practice where contemporary anxieties of empire are concentrated. Focusing on recent theorizations of the border by Mezzadra and Nielsen, Achille Mbembe, Edward Casey and others, the paper explores how the border operates and is figured in some of the Refugee Tales, a collaborative and ongoing project that has yielded three volumes edited by Derek Herd and Anna Pincus, comprising stories told to writers by detainees and those touched by the detention regime in the UK.

Molly Slavin, Georgia Institute of Technology

“’Crime on the Border’: Locating imperial anxiety in narratives of crime”

This paper argues that contemporary imperial nations, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel, register imperial anxiety via cultural rhetorics of crime, and that this particular anxiety is reflective of a fear about loss of power. This paper holds that we can locate contemporary empire by looking at how these nations talk about crime, specifically crimes that take place along borders or in liminal spaces, as these are the locations where imperial hegemony is most directly threatened. By considering texts like Don Winslow’s novels about the United States/Mexico border and the anthology This is Not a Border: Reportage & Reflection from the Palestine Festival of Literature, as well as political rhetoric like Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration speech and British politicians’ treatment of the North of Ireland and Brexit, “Crime on the Border” contends that contemporary Empire’s anxieties, tensions, and apprehensions may be located in narratives of crime.

Maryam S. Griffin, University of Washington, Bothell

“Imperial Anxieties of Colorblindness and Uneven Mobilities: The case of Trump’s Muslim ban”

This paper considers the Trump administration’s “travel ban” and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it as revealing a crisis in the U.S.’s global racial regime. Trump’s travel ban (aka the “Muslim ban”) features intertwined imperial anxieties about the failures of formal colorblindness and the unsustainability of uneven mobility. This paper argues that, first, the travel ban marks a fruitful moment to expose the dynamics of a racial regime heretofore falsely masquerading as race neutrality. Second, the travel ban exposes the unsustainability of a racialized mobility regime that brokers the “desirable” movement of the globally privileged at the expense of the “undesirable” movement of the globally dispossessed. As the connected anxieties about colorblindness and uneven mobility erupt, this paper uses an examination of the Muslim ban to ask: what changes, superficial or substantive, might befall the racial politics of empire as a new hegemonic compromise arises?

Want to watch the full session recording? Click here.