The International Organization for Migration and the international government of borders

Early debates often read globalisation as a powerful tendency destined to make state borders less pertinent. Recent research has challenged this view by suggesting that globalisation and (re)bordering frequently advance hand-in-hand, culminating in a condition that might be described as ‘gated globalism’. But somewhat neglected in this recent wave of research is the role that particular international agencies are playing in shaping the norms and forms that pertain to emergent regimes of border control—what we call the international government of borders. Focusing on the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and its involvement in the promotion of what it calls better ‘border management’, this paper aims to partially redress this oversight. The IOM is interesting because it illustrates how the control of borders has become constituted as an object of technical expertise and intervention within programmes and schemes of international authority. Two themes are pursued. First, recent work on neoliberal governmentality is useful for illuminating the forms of power and subtle mechanisms of influence that characterise the IOM’s attempt to managerialise border policies in countries as different as Armenia, Ethiopia, and Serbia. Second, the international government of borders comprises diverse and heterogeneous practices, ranging from the hosting of training seminars for local security and migration officials to the promotion of schemes to purchase and install cutting-edge surveillance equipment. In such different ways one can observe in very material terms how the project of making borders into a problem of ‘management’ conflicts with a perception of borders as a site of social struggle and politics.

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