Using Foucault to Re-launch the Debate on Borders, Mobility and Freedom

William Walters, a contributor to this volume, was among the first to displace the questioning from territory to border and boundaries- making, and from the assumed naturality of the state to its modalities of governing borders. Building on Foucault’s conception of power,24 Walters proposed to use the notion of “diagram”—that Michel Foucault developed as a form of understanding of the possibilities that can emerge from different practices of governmentality that are never given and fixed in advance—also suggesting that Foucault may be useful to conceptualize the government of borders as “a way to think about governance not in institutional or structural terms, nor in ways limited to the image of the state, but in terms of concrete practices, schemes and spaces.”25 Here, what becomes central for the study of the movements of world population is not their entry/exit into/from territories controlled by states claiming sovereignty over these territories, but the kind of regime of mobility at stake, the forms of understanding of freedom and their limits as, for example, the study of the politics of visas suggests.26

As Foucault illustrated, modern liberal regimes do not govern through “security against threat,” but through a regime of liberties, freedom and hence, circulation.27 The art of government no longer consists in enforcing what is allowed and what is forbidden (power in societies of sovereignty), nor is it to mold bodies into workers, soldiers or reformed prisoners (power in disciplinary societies). It is to “produce” liberties and to encourage them to be “in motion,” in order to cross borders, territories and many different forms of boundaries.28 The “let it go” and “free pass” arguments of the liberal economical discourse are certainly not forms of anarchy. They work through a human capital and the apparent or imagined natural specificities of population characteristics, rendered visible through statistical tools, and separating the majority from the margins. Freedom produces its own limits and generates channels, roads and pathways into a milieu organized to condense flows around these pathways (see Paltrinieri and Mattelart in this volume).

 
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