Which Europe?

Migrants’ uneven geographies and counter-mapping at the limits of representation

Martina Tazzioli

Abstract Looking at three snapshots of migrant struggles in Europe, this paper deals with the limits and the challenges of representing migration. Starting from that, it investigates the theoretical and political challenges of mapping migration – both as a cartographic practice and as a form of narrative. The article mobilizes a counter-mapping analytics which looks at the European space through the spatial transformations generated by migration movements.

Mapping the effects of the crisis in Europe, charting the new composition of urban spaces and tracing the cartography of new social movements: one of the most widespread analytical gestures today consists in mobilizing visual metaphors and devices related to the field of mapping and cartography.1 The “cartographic anxiety” (Gregory 1994) of making everything visible and representable which is constitutive of mapping, seems to currently percolate the production of knowledge in the domain of social, political and human sciences. The visualization of political and spatial transformations on a map and the attempt to provide a spatial diagram that deploys and orients phenomena and subjects in space, confront us with a politics of visibility that encounters theoretical limits and political implications when addressing practices of (unauthorized) migration. Against this background, this paper comes to grips with the theoretical and political conundrums of mapping migration – both as a cartographic practice and as a form of narrative; it mobilizes a counter-mapping analytics which works at the very limits of representation, taking into account Europe as a space troubled by the presence and the spatial claims of migrants who have arrived in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. In the case of unauthorized migration, both visibility (visual representation) and political representation form a battlefield: the invisibility of migrants’ presence is at times produced by mechanisms of capture and at times it is strategically played out by migrants themselves. Representation is at the same time what is claimed by many migrant struggles, and what is dodged by them.

These are the three migrant struggles that I take into account in this paper: A political collective based in Hamburg characterized by a common place of crossing (Lampedusa); a group of Syrians who, for about one month, remained blocked in Calais and staged a protest to then, after waiting for an extended time, scatter across Europe; a large-scale two-day protest in Lampedusa of Eritreans who, aware of the Dublin III regulation, resisted to give their fingerprints, but after their successful claim were taken to the mainland where their traces were lost. These snapshots refer to migrant struggles and are taken here to illustrate the spatial upheavals generated by migration movements; in turn, they also allow exposing the limits of representation and the ways these were unsettled by migrants. Through these snapshots I turn the attention to the production of temporary spaces that are the outcome of practices of migration highlighting the production of spatial overturns, which challenge representability and rights as the main axes of the political domain (Papadopoulos/Stephenson/Tsianos 2008). If we follow the moments and the spaces in which migrants become recordable to discursive practices, we come to remap the European space, pushing the mapping gesture itself to the limits of representation: something escapes the cartographic order, and the elusiveness or irregularity of migrants’ presence defies the temporal narrative of geopolitical maps.

The aim is to take on migrants’ uneven geographies to see which map of Europe comes out. This entails undertaking a twofold analytical gesture. It means highlighting the untenability of the geopolitical map of Europe at present, starting from the consideration that “the old Westphalian map is misleading and no longer provides us with the necessary orientation” (Kratochwil 2011). This ‘spatial incongruence’ emerges in a glaring way if we bring attention to migrants’ practices and, together, to the spatial impacts of EU migration policies. In both cases something inevitably falls out of the map, and it is precisely this outside, or better its limits, that this paper engages with.

The uneven geographies of migrant spaces

A focus on the migration battlefield provides an important vantage point for showing and grasping the crisis of representational politics and, jointly, of Western cartographic reason in accounting for movements and spatial upheavals that cannot be fully grasped through the couplet of visual-political representation. The ‘non-legibility’ of spaces and the disconnection between maps and established spatial fixes on the one hand, and the spatial disruptions generated by movements on the other, is in fact an ongoing tendency that has been remarked by many authors (Cosgrove 2008; Mezzadra/Neilson 2013). Indeed, the main argument of this paper is that strategies of migration and the spatial turbulences they generate, are one of the most visible markers of such a crisis and, at the same time, foster it. In order to unpack this point, I structure the narrative of this paper around the critical relation between migration and representation, focusing on migrant struggles that highlight the limits of cartographic rationality and of the politics of representation. The paper develops along two lines of argument. Firstly, it deals with migration policies addressing the current uneven geopolitical map of Europe and shows that the European geopolitical map is itself misleading. Secondly, the article moves on focusing on migrant struggles to explore the temporal-spatial narrative of the cartographic-political gaze, analysing how migrants trouble the ‘citizen epistemology’ and the related order of representation. This paper intends to dialogue with radical geography literature on the one hand, and with the stream of the autonomy of migration literature on the other.

What I call here a counter-mapping approach to the cartographic order and imagination refers to an analytical move which engages with the limits of (political) representation at stake in the attempt to ‘map’ the spatial turbulence generated by migrants’ unexpected presence, or by their being ‘out of place’. ‘Counter-mapping’ designates an analytical posture which looks at the processes of re-bordering from the standpoint of migration movements, drawing attention to the spatial reshaping they engender. At the same time, it studies the mechanisms of governmentality focusing on the impacts they have on spaces and migrants’ lives. In this way, both the mechanisms of border enforcement and the emergence or the transformation of transnational spaces and zones of detention could be read in the light of the spatial disarray enacted by migrants: when migrants’ “incorrigible presence” (De Genova 2010) exceeds or unbalances the rhythms and number of selected mobility, the existing spatial mechanisms of government are forced to invent new strategies of capture. The reason for looking at migrations in order to address the issue of spatial and political representation lies in the complex game of visibility and invisibility at play in the ‘migration strugglefield’. By migration strugglefield I mean the contested field that materializes in spaces formed on the one hand by mechanisms of capture, monitoring and containment, and on the other hand by strategies of migration that exceed or escape the conditions of authorized mobility. Secondly, the notion of strugglefield conceives of governmentality as a conflicting space in which it is always possible to find leeway of resistances and points of fragility to invert, transform or break the existing configuration of power.

From such a standpoint, an attentive gaze should investigate which subjects and practices remain below the thresholds of visibility, and how migrants’ opacity suddenly changes when migrants need to be monitored or captured: the strategies of visibility and invisibility played both by mechanisms of control and by migrants themselves shape an unstable regime of (in)visibility, constantly destabilized by movements, events and new political assemblages. This is a regime that shifts, rearticulates and transforms itself according to the tempos of the uneven and elusive migrants’ geographies as well as of the frantic transformations of migration policies. However, the ‘counter’ move encapsulated in the notion of counter-mapping makes us raise questions related to the issue of representation: if the conditions and the price of visibility is something to be cautiously considered in the case of undocumented migrants, the cartographic gesture cannot be mobilized without circumspection.

Counter-mapping beyond representation?

The question of representation is at the core of any mapping gesture: migrants’ elusive geographies in part escape the script of representation because they try to pass unnoticed or because their presence is often fleeting and unpredictable. Something escapes or tries to escape the regime of representation and the translation into “coded surfaces” (Cosgrove 2008). For this reason, the ‘counter’ in counter-mapping does not intend to redouble the cartographic gaze inverting its rationale. More than tracing ‘another map’, a counter-mapping perspective tries to invent non-cartographic practices that point to the spaces in which the geopolitical map of Europe appears as an untenable illustrative device. Thus, migrants’ spatial turmoil and erratic temporality undermine the consistence of the linear and ever-present spatial narrative displayed in the geopolitical map of Europe.

In this way, the notion of ‘counter’ in counter-mapping has ultimately two meanings. On the one hand, counter-mapping refers to an analytical gaze that charts the effects of migration governmentality and the spatial disruptions generated by migrants. On the other hand, it challenges the very possibility of mapping those spatial upheavals, pushing the representative devices to their limits. Therefore, it does not consist in unveiling migrants’ strategies of resistance nor in remapping their routes: instead, counter-mapping tries to unearth the places and the moments of spatial disruption and spatial reshaping while simultaneously tracking down the ways in which the exclusionary access to spaces is challenged by migrants and then reconfigured by migration policies. In this way, counter-mapping suggests that spatial upheavals cannot be fully grasped except in relation to migration: indeed, the very existence and functioning of borders is co-implicated with the production and the government of migration (Hess/Karakayali/Tsianos 2009). Thus, migration becomes a fundamental lens for looking at processes of spatial reshaping and spatial disruption, since unauthorized movements constantly forces the ‘order of mobility’ to reassess its strategies of selection, channelling and capture. Conceived in this way, counter-mapping is framed quite differently than in critical geography’s literature (Harris/Hazen 2006; Sparke 1998): as a matter of fact, counter-mapping has usually been presented as a political strategy for “appropriating the state’s techniques and manners of representation in order to re-territorialize the area being mapped” assuming that “these mapping projects are subversive since they exploit the authority of cartography” (Peluso 1995), putting on the map phenomena and subjects that tend to be left unmapped or silenced.

However, migration counter-mapping touches upon a much broader contested frame than migration itself. Indeed, a critical investigation on migration and spaces cannot overlook the (post)colonial question in which the cartographic gesture has a fundamental role: as many scholars have shown, mapping has played an important role as an epistemic device and a technique for building the “geo-body” of nations (Whinchakul 1997) and for crafting it as an “imagined community” (Anderson 1991). Along with that, the maps of the colonial period served to present the American African space as virgin areas, blank maps to fill and where cartography effectively played as a technique of appropriation and dispossession (Harley 1989; 2001; Wainwright/Brian 2009). But it is not only a national order of space that is performed and represented through maps: more broadly, it could be argued that the cartographic gesture empowers a governmental grasp on spaces, fixing and allocating subjects and movements through a certain spatial b/ordering. Instead, the challenge of taking migration as a vantage point relies also in the attempt to undermine the sovereignty pitfall of mapping. This depends on the consideration that the cartographic gaze historically dominates and permeates the Western governmental rationale (Pickles 2004). Moreover, the struggle over (in)visibility that maps open up, selecting what can be represented on a map and what remains under the thresholds of visibility – the ‘silences’ of maps – inevitably brings migration to the foreground: indeed, migrants’ strategies are substantially played out around the issue of visibility and invisibility. The complex regime of (in)visibility that maps display and the geo-body of nation that cartographies not only represent but also contribute to perform, leads us to the issue of representation as the trouble spot of any mapping gesture. This addresses simultaneously two aspects, within and beyond the cartographic order. It is quite intuitive to say that representation is constitutive of mapping: although maps do not simply represent the territory but have a performative and legitimizing function to do with border tracing, working as a kind of “juridical territory” for colonizing and governing spaces (Harley 1989, 18), and that as Korzibsky reminds us, “the map is not the territory” (Korzibsky 1933), it remains that the political function of maps is always conveyed by the purpose of representing (something in) space (Cosgrove 2008). Such a discourse can be translated in the following terms: there ought to be no political science without border studies, and likewise, no border studies without mapping. But what is of interest in the perspective of a counter-mapping approach is where mapping exceeds the cartographic dimension.

The focus on the impossible cartographies to trace migrants’ elusive spatial upheavals is precisely what makes it possible to connect cartographic and non-cartographic regimes of politics and mapping, positing representation as the trouble spot for rethinking political practices. Migrants’ uneven geographies and the upheavals they produce allow shifting from the visual and political order of representation to the spatial transformations they engender and to an enacted politics of presence that cannot be charted or narrated on maps.

The making of Europe at a distance and the Mediterranean frontier

The spatial disruptions and the reshaping of Europe that has characterized the last two decades have been scrutinized by many authors, especially in terms of spatial rescaling (Brenner 2004; Mezzadra/Neilson 2013; Sassen 2013). All these analyses underline that subjects, policies and mechanisms related to mobility have played a crucial role in the spatial re-bordering of Europe: the politics of externalization, the increased presence of migrants, the activation of the visa system and of bilateral agreements with third countries have caused such a substantial dislocation and fragmentation of Europe that it is not even possible to establish where Europe is. The image of a Europe “at a distance” (Casas-Cortes/Cobarrubias/Pickles 2012) captures the effects of the Neighbourhood Policies that proliferated in the last decade. However, Europe ‘at a distance’ can be a misleading image if confused with a territorial dislocation or the enlargement of Europe: actually, the purpose and the effect of Neighbourhood Policies is not to integrate the third countries involved within the European Union but to make some administrative measures (like border patrolling against ‘illegal’ migration) and economic standards work there. Thus, Europe ‘at a distance’ concerns less the territorial transformation than the reshuffling of Europe’s spatial influences. A view on spatial transformations enables us to decouple space and territory, and also to disconnect sovereignty from territory: for instance, the mixed Italian-Libyan patrolling along the Libyan coasts established by the bilateral agreement between the two countries is less part of a direct territorial control strategy than of spatial reconfiguration of Italy’s border management. Or in the case of the agreement signed in June 2013 between Morocco and the EU, the contested clause concerning the repatriation of third-country nationals on Moroccan territory cannot be analysed in terms of territorial influence.2 Instead, the opening of detention centres for deportees that have been widely criticized by human rights groups will be one of the most tangible spatial transformations in Morocco engendered through the agreement with the EU. Therefore, the spatial fragmentation of Europe is not necessarily something happening within the geopolitical boundaries of Europe: the European space is formed also by non-territorial processes of bordering through which practices of mobility are partitioned, governed, monitored or detained.

Moreover, the image of a Europe at a distance requires a further consideration of the difficulty to draw a unitary map: the emergence of a contested zone of action entails that different and in part conflicting maps of that new space of government can be narrated. One of the most incisive cases concerns a space that is not fully part of the European territory – the Mediterranean Sea – and the double governmental function deployed – rescuing and monitoring migrants’ vessels. The Mediterranean, as a space of governmental intervention where competing legal frames and political responsibilities overlap, is built around what can be called the ‘humanitarian-security’ nexus. That is to say, the monitoring of the Mediterranean is presented as a necessary transnational ‘two-sided’ operation: surveillance for fighting ‘illegal’ immigration and monitoring for saving lives are considered two inseparable governmental actions. To be precise it is not security that combines with the humanitarian logic but, rather, military, while security becomes the encompassing and legitimizing concept through which surveillance at sea is deployed. The militarization of the Mediterranean as an (un)safe space of mobility and the humanitarian intervention become coupled through the blurred referent of security. Indeed, after the many shipwrecks that have occurred in the last two years, some states of the Mediterranean region (Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus) have put the issue of migration control in the Mediterranean on the European political agenda, instantiating a continuum ‘military-humanitarian’ in which security, controls and rescuing overlap.

Southern European countries demand the cooperation of the European Union conspicuously through the enforcement of Frontex, but at the same time they restate the competence of member states in search and rescue operations and in disembarkation.3 Furthermore, in the face of the EU’s strategy to build a European border regime, Southern member states push for more flexibility in conducting rescue operations by refusing a set of common binding rules, deciding rather case by case. The Mediterranean Sea is not integrated into European territory, rather it becomes a space of uneven intervention: the map of the Mediterranean as a sea of (un)safe mobility is changeable according to the discrepancy between the European border regime and the autonomy of states in intervening or not; a mismatch that the European agency Frontex has in principle the task to reduce. Therefore, in the face of Europe’s spatial conundrum that makes it problematic to determine where Europe starts and ends (Walker 2000) and more broadly, where Europe is, the geopolitical map falls apart.

The recent bilateral agreements between Italy and Libya concerning the deployment of an electronic frontier along the southern Libyan border to block the departure of migrants’ boats is quite significant in the way in which the enforcement and the proliferation of borders also cannot be fully analysed through the frame of territoriality.4 In fact, the goal of this new mechanism of bordering is less for Italy to exercise control over the Libyan territory but instead to push and force Libya to control and block migrants’ routes. In other words, it is a form of control which aims less to govern a space than to govern movements which trouble the order of mobility, a sort of combination of ‘pedagogical sovereignty’ practice made by another state (Italy) within its own territory and abroad,5 and scattered exchanges of sovereignty, beyond territorial borders – Libyans trained in Italy, Italian boats used for patrolling Libyan coasts, Libyan militaries serving on Italian boats.

It is crucial to remember that the legacy of colonialism still bears on the bilateral relations between Italy and Libya:6 for this reason the exchanges in question cannot be analysed simply at the level of state relations but need to be complicated with the consequences of neo-colonial power relations. However, the Italian bilateral cooperation in part overlaps with the European programme for Libya, called EUBAM, that establishes collaboration by European military forces in patrolling the Libyan borders and in which Italy also cooperates with some military units deployed, training Libyan authorities to build border management strategies in Libya and in Libyan national waters.7 The heterogeneity of mechanisms of control and the overlapping of European and national cooperation projects hamper the envisioning of a stable map of the ‘scattered Europe’ produced by Neighbourhood Policies and bilateral agreements. Overlapping joint-sovereignties (joint border patrolling) and de-sovereignty mechanisms (namely, EU and member states that ‘train’ foreign national authorities in order to teach them the best practices of control) constitute a patchy map formed of multi-level spatial scales of intervention. The rescaling and reshaping of borders across Europe concerns only in part visible borders: if on the one hand detention zones and refugee camps can be considered bounded spaces marked by acts of border tracing, the emergence and the effects of other spatialities remain undetectable to the cartographic eye. The spaces of mobility produced by bilateral agreements signed with third countries are difficult to chart, since those spaces do not necessarily correspond to new territorial divides but rather they are actualized through the routes and the movements of selected mobilities established and allowed by those agreements. Moreover, these spaces have a specific and uneven temporality since migration policies instantiate conditional spatialities, that is to say spaces that exist only for some categories of mobile people or that are accessible to some only at intervals. The most pertinent example is given by the Mobility Partnerships8 that are based on channels of selected mobility to which some people could – sometimes only temporarily – get access.

From a counter-mapping standpoint, the spatial reshaping that migration policies and the politics of control have generated should be read in the light of migrants’ spatial disruptions, as well as of their uneven geographies that, as I explain later, disrupt the temporality of the mapping narrative. To put it differently, a patchy Europe emerges from the spatial effects of the array of policies for governing mobility (politics of externalization, Neighbourhood Policies, new detention zones and mechanisms of remote control) in an attempt to counterbalance the erratic presence of migrants.

Struggles for movement

In order to highlight some of these spatial turbulences, I draw the attention to migrants’ movements and migrants’ presence in Europe in the aftermath of the Arab revolutions. Tunisian migrants arrived in Lampedusa after the outbreak of the Tunisian revolution and troubled the order of mobility in which both authorized and unauthorized migrations were supposed to be situated. Indeed, they neither claimed asylum nor wished to stay in Italy, rather, they wanted to go to Northern Europe and especially to France, without demanding international protection. Once in Italy, they did not claim rights: their unexpected presence was characterized not by the claim they laid but by the way in which they persisted and moved in space, irrespective of the time and the conditions established by the politics of quota and the politics of selected mobility. They moved and stayed: some of them were blocked at the border with France and occupied public buildings in the cities of Padova, Bologna, Milan and Rome; others took their space in train stations or in public gardens. Some of those who arrived in France gathered themselves in ‘collectives’, collectives of ‘shared geographies’. But beyond the experience of self-organized collectives, the uneven geographies enacted by most of the Tunisian migrants did not appear in the form of a visible collective ‘on the map’ nor of an identifiable political subject. Rather, they played off the map, namely under the thresholds of any traceability and political recognition; or better, their presence was visible at time intervals, depending on their juridical status, on their migratory projects and on the alternated migration regime of capture.

The ‘migrant condition’ needs to be pluralized and diffracted, not only case-by-case but also concerning a single subject: the condition of being a migrant as well as the manifold migration categories are experienced and enacted in different ways by people from time to time. It is precisely the heterogeneities and singularities of the struggles for movement enacted by migrants that should be taken into account. Therefore, from a counter-mapping standpoint, the analytical gaze should be directed towards borders which remain invisible on the maps: borders which generate or foster differences in space and borders which ultimately coincide with managing movements governing the routes and the speed of mobility.

Three snapshots on migrant struggles: Hamburg, Calais and Lampedusa

The spaces emerging from migrant movements or from migrants’ unexpected stays can hardly be accommodated or represented on a map. If one follows the erratic geographies of Tunisian migrants across Europe – whose fragmented journeys were fundamentally made of round-trips between Italian and French cities – their elusive character makes them impossible to trace as lines on a map. And if one also takes into account migrants’ visible claims and struggles, all these (in part) escape the cartographic order: the spaces taken or named by some migrant collectives, like the Lampedusa in Hamburg do not correspond to any zone or line that can be traced or located on a map, nor can they be envisaged in terms of ‘borders’. Rather, those migrants’ struggles make certain spaces – that can also exceed localizable areas – become spaces of stay, resignifying or reshaping them in the light of migrants’ enacted geographies. The Lampedusa in Hamburg refugee group neither designates nor simply renames the city of Hamburg as such but talks about “a space in action”, namely the space enacted and travelled by those migrants who arrived in Lampedusa in 2011 and then, after obtaining the temporary permit decided to move to Germany because of the economic crisis in Southern Europe.9

Focused on migration, the counter-mapping approach I mobilize enables us to highlight broader spatial practices that, despite being located in a specific place, are not territorially bounded and clash with the temporal order of maps based on a linear passing of time and on persistence in space. To phrase this in other terms, I suggest that counter-mapping engages in the effort of not fixing in advance the spatial units and spatial scales on which migrants act. In fact, analyses of migrant struggles tend to take for granted the spatial unit in which practices of migration take place, reiterating a sort of ‘spatial mastering’ on migrants’ movements (Marciniak/Tyler 2014; Nyers 2010): instead of taking and rethinking together migration and borders/spaces, practices of migration are ultimately flattened and encoded through existing spatial analytics, hampering the possibility to see the upheavals that migrants sometimes generate. Therefore, not only do migration and border-spaces need to be analysed together, but the ways in which migrations impact and transform spaces and new space-time units are put into place should also be investigated. From this perspective, instead of addressing migrants’ presence and action in space through the bounded spatialities in which we usually move, we could ask which spaces are produced or enacted by migrants’ movements. It is precisely in this sense that migrants unearth territorial units: not because they do not act in a local space, but insofar as they enact geographies that exceed and trouble any possible “methodological nationalism” (De Genova 2010). Above I argued that the Lampedusa in Hamburg collective is not merely a group acting and living in the town of Hamburg. Rather, it is a collective that cannot be extensively framed through the given space of that town: actually, in that case Hamburg designates the place of arrival and, in particular, the specific squares, the occupied buildings and the streets where refugees live in Hamburg. But the location of Hamburg is complicated by the journey narrative through which they name their own space: Lampedusa in Hamburg evidently does not correspond to any place ‘on the map’, but it is an enacted space they travelled and in some way produced. Simultaneously, Hamburg refers to a claim, the claim for a space that is not already there: a space for them to stay. The Lampedusa in Hamburg collective contributes to instantiate a temporal frame of migrant struggles, going beyond the punctual moment of their spatial presence in the city of Hamburg (De Genova 2015), insofar as their claim for space is articulated on their common journey from Libya.

Similarly, the Syrians blocked in Calais, as the Syrian asylum seekers who wanted to go to the UK defined themselves, refer to the city of Calais in terms of the ways in which it limited, fragmented, impacted on and related to their journey. Syrian migrants neither arrived in Calais all together – although all of them arrived in the first half of October 2013 – nor did they come from the same route – some arrived via Turkey, others via Libya and Lampedusa. They became the group of the Syrians stopped in Calais soon after the block of the ferries to Dover on the 2nd of October for two days:10 they went up to the roof of the harbour departure zone as a protest against the treatment they received in France and demanding from the UK to accept their asylum claims. The protest was covered extensively in the media, since that was one of the few protests after many years in Calais. And when British authorities came to negotiate with the Syrian migrants, this was seen as an unexpected victory. However, as usual, after a few days no subsequent news circulated any more on the web about the follow up of the protest and about the consequences for the Syrians involved. When media attention to migrant struggles stops, migrants’ spaces tend to become inexistent to the eyes of citizens and lose their political visibility. Indeed, the temporality afforded to migrants’ spaces is ultimately the temporality of the narration on them, which coincides with the punctual irruptive moment of the political ‘emergency’ or of migrants’ visible struggles: namely, the moment when migrants come on the stage and when there are some ‘events’ to be narrated.

I arrived in Calais fifteen days after the end of the struggle in an effort to understand what was happening regarding the Syrians and the outcomes of the protest. The sixty Syrians who staged the protest were still in Calais, with their tents near the harbour, but far from considering the struggle a victory they stressed that British authorities instead succeeded in neutralizing their claims: “actually, British politicians came here just to explain the rules of ‘the game’, namely the UK’s mechanisms of asylum and did not open any concrete possibilities to us. Thus, they voided all our claims, since at that point any further claim appeared useless.”11 However, despite the existential and juridical impasse they decided to write a collective letter addressed to European countries demanding the possibility to settle and claim asylum in any country without being forced to give fingerprints in the first European country at which they arrived – against the Dublin II regulation. Coming back to Calais twenty days later, the space occupied by Syrians and their condition was further changed: some of them had managed to arrive in the UK, while others were still waiting there, in the occupied square, and the composition of that space was transformed by the arrivals of migrants from Afghanistan and Iraq.12

16th July 2013, Lampedusa: two hundred Eritrean migrants marched in the streets of Lampedusa, protesting against the obligation to give their fingerprints in Italy, asserting their desire to move on and claim asylum in a different country. The protest then became a sit-in in front of the main church in Lampedusa and on the 21st, Italian authorities agreed not to take their fingerprints. However, after they were moved to Sicily it was not possible to know what had happened to them, whether they were fingerprinted or not once on the mainland in the detention centres or if Italy had let them escape to Germany and France. Was it really a victory for them and had Italy again disobeyed the Eurodac regulation or, despite the very important symbolic result (not being fingerprinted in Lampedusa) were they then identified in Sicily? To formulate at least a partial answer, it was necessary to follow the traces of a few of them at a distance, who, once arrived in Germany, came into contact with networks of activists: as two Eritrean migrants explained, although Italian authorities officially tried to identify them in the hosting centre for asylum seekers, actually they didn’t care about them in any particular way, allowing them to escape.

Temporal geographies and migrant spaces in action

In order to complicate the counter-mapping gaze on migrants’ spatial upheavals, it is important to come to grips with the temporal pace of migrants’ geographies which conflicts with the temporal narrative of geopolitical maps. In this regard a look at practices of migration taking place in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings provides us with a useful lens for unpacking the temporal issue that is at stake in any map. For this reason, we should pay attention to the relationship between spatial disruptions and the ways in which they resonate elsewhere at a temporal distance. Therefore, in the face of the elusiveness of migrants’ geographies, the issue becomes to look at whether and how ‘another map’ has been finally traced by all these movements. Three and a half years after the outbreak of the Arab uprisings most of the ‘Libyan’13 and Tunisian migrants are scattered across the European space or have come back because of the economic crisis in Europe. The political collectives of Tunisian and ‘Libyan’ migrants in place in 2011 and 2012 in some European towns do not exist anymore. Therefore, in the face of the elusiveness of the ‘spaces in action’ resignified by migrants, it is fundamental to interrogate to what extent migrants’ spatial disruptions succeed in initiating and rooting a political language which goes beyond the register of recognition without vanishing after a specific political struggle comes to an end. Actually, this appears as one of the most outstanding impasses, once considered the elusive character of migrant struggles and migrant spaces; and for this reason the effort of rethinking the political space beyond both the paradigm of representation and the traditional spatial representations seems to be the fundamental issue at stake.

Nevertheless, more than focusing on a given field of struggle, we could examine the circulation and the dissemination of a certain language that could be put at the core of the analysis. In fact, engaging in a counter-mapping approach means to challenge the supposed fixed spatial narrative which traditionally underpins political imagination and language (Van Houtum 2005). In other words, the issue of political subjectivity and language can be reframed, reformulating it according to a mobile spatiality which corresponds to the dissemination of some practices at a distance. This entails disengaging from the “territorial trap” (Agnew 1994) in which also many analyses on migrant struggles fall, stressing their territorially-based character. Without denying the importance of the specific place in which migrants’ geographies are enacted, I suggest focusing on the way in which those local and territorial struggles contribute to the emergence of ‘spaces in action’. From a spatial standpoint, more than looking at the border-line crossing, we could focus on the transformation and the production of spaces that migrants’ movements do, hinging on what Nicholas De Genova has called the “radically open-ended politics of presence” (De Genova 2010: 103). Thus, coming back to the three snapshots I took into account and interrogating what was left after the end of those migrant struggles, we should draw attention to the spatial claims that those struggles actualized. They staged the image of a European space of free movements not grounded on citizenship but on spatial presence.


The fundamental non-synchronicity of the many ‘times of politics’ at play in the European space of migration and the uneven maps that emerge, resonate with the spatial and temporal cartography of colonial modernity (Goswami 2004): in order to understand the ambivalent relationship between diaspora time and the West and the tensions between different coexisting temporalities, Paul Gilroy suggests that a “stereoscopic sensibility” is required “adequate to building a dialogue with the West: within and without” (Gilroy 1993: 196). Translated into the contemporary European space as a space of migration, this counter-mapping approach is situated at the crossroads between the production of an alternative cartography from within the existing geopolitical coordinates and at the limits of representation as such. In this article I showed that to situate mapping at the limits of any possible representation means also to take into account how migration policies and migrants’ upheavals impact on existing spaces and, simultaneously, how they produce other spatialities that overlap and clash with the existing geopolitical map of Europe.

An analysis of the ‘scattered Europe’ engendered by the EU politics of mobility and the spaces on the move produced by migrants shows that the geopolitical map of Europe envisaged as a dominant spatial unit is troubled by the patchy spaces on the move that migrants enact. This paper attempts to come to grips with the conundrums and the limits that claims to visibility made by activists or even by migrants themselves could lead to in the field of unauthorized migration. I also stressed that a counter-mapping approach does not aim to produce contrapuntal maps, tracing migrant cartographies. Instead, ‘counter’ in counter-mapping means situating at the very limits of what can be represented, refusing to encode any subject and movement within the cartographic order. The Lampedusa in Hamburg collective, the Syrians blocked in Calais and the two hundred Eritrean migrants refusing to give their fingerprints in Lampedusa: these three snapshots do not have a direct relationship to one another but they correspond to episodes located in European places that produced ‘spaces on the move’, spaces of movement and stay that do not fully correspond to the geographic locations named here. But these snapshots also show the uneven temporality of migrant struggles and migrants’ geographies.

To conclude, a further consideration is needed on Europe in migration and on Europe of migrations that these snapshots have shown. By drawing the attention to migrants’ spatial upheavals and to a scattered Europe, the task is not (only) to take the migrants’ perspective for looking at borders and spaces, but rather to keep up with the spatial transformations they generate. In other words, a counter-mapping approach follows the spatial effects and the turbulences that migration policies and migrants put to work, making geopolitical Europe collapse in patchy and clustering spatialities. The map, as an organizing principle of spatial and political imagination, starts to fracture in the face of migrant’s unmappable spaces. In the end, an insight on migrants’ spatial upheavals makes it possible “to read between the lines of the map” (Harley 1989), in this case of the geopolitical map of Europe, seeing how it is troubled and displaced by scattered spaces on the move, challenging the spatial and temporal narrative it illustrates.


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  • Volume: 1
  • Issue: 2
  • Year: 2015

Martina Tazzioli is postdoctoral research at LabexMed (Marseille). She holds a PhD in Politics (Goldsmiths College). She is the author of Spaces of Governmentality. Autonomous Migration and the Arab Uprisings (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), co-author with Glenda Garelli of Tunisia as a Revolutionized Space of Migration (Palgrave, forthcoming) and co-editor of Foucault and the History of our Present (2015). She is co-founder of Materialifoucaultiani Journal (http://www.materialifoucaultiani.org).