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Martina Tazzioli: The Making of Migration

Martina Tazzioli: The Making of Migration. The Biopolitics of Mobility at Europe´s Borders. SAGE Publications, Ltd (London) 2019. 184 Seiten. ISBN 978-1-5264-6404-0. 29,95 EUR.
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The “refugee crisis” received extensive coverage in the news of the summer of 2015. Similarly, researchers followed attentively the developments at the borders of Europe and within, but their works often critically question the expression “refugee crisis”. Tazzioli’s book is no exception in this sense and the title of the book (“The Making of Migration” [1]) is the first signal of her critical approach. Tazzioli never simply takes a concept and uses it in her book, not even “migrant” is a self-evident concept in her view. She looks for alternative terms, she highlights those aspects, which are relevant to certain contexts and she brings to light the concepts’ history. Faucault’s ideas are at the core of the book, be it in relation to issues of power, agency or genealogy of technologies and practices.

“The Making of Migration: The Biopolitics of Mobility at Europe’s Border” brings to the fore the making and the government of migrant multiplicities and singularities. Tazzioli investigates states’ practices and technologies of controlling and curbing the presence of migrants at border zones. Humanitarian organizations play their role too in the government of migrants. The author brings documentary evidence on the effects of both state and humanitarian actions on the lives of those who try either to move on or to stay in a certain place. Mobility itself can be used as a technology to inhibit migrants and Tazzioli shows how this, together with other techniques, is used by states to obstruct migrant groups from laying political claims. While some techniques aim at the invisibilisation of migrants, Tazzioli rises awareness through her book on the counter-geographies created by the migrants’ struggles in Europe and pleads for an “ethnography of vanishing [refugee] spaces” (p. 150).


Martina Tazzioli [2] is Lecturer in Politics and Technology at the Goldsmiths University of London. She authored, co-authored and acted as editor of several books and published many articles on topics reflecting her main research interests: critical migration and border studies, continental political philosophy and critical security studies.


Martina Tazzioli starts her book by pointing out the discrepancy between the “official” geopolitical map of Europe and other crucial border zones, which impede migrants to move on, such as Calais, Eidomeni, Ventimiglia, etc. Tazzioli argues that these frontier spaces are equally important and should be acknowledged as “counter-geographies enacted by migrants” (p. 1). She explains why she uses the expression “the making of migration”, which actually echoes the title of the book “The Making of the English Working Class” (1963) by E.P. Thompson. According to Tazzioli some people are subjected to legal, political and racializing mechanisms, they are labelled as “migrants” and are governed as such (p. 2). At the same time, migrants shape spaces through their movements and struggles, being therefore both subjects and objects in the process of the “making of migration” (p. 2). Tazzioli addresses in her book “temporary migrant multiplicities” defined as “collective formations [which] do not share an identity but come together in places; in some cases they act collectively towards common political goals and they lay claims, as a result of a shared condition – e.g. being blocked at a border, or not being allowed to stay in a given place” (p. 5). Tazzioli contrasts “multiplicity” with other categories such as “population”, “people”, “mob” and questions these categories. Moreover, the author stresses the importance of “not superimposing pre-fabricated conceits of subjectivity and not taking for granted ‘migrant’ as a starting point of the analysis” (p. 7). She also elaborates shortly on political technologies of migration control and illustrates how modes of mobility intersect with the idea of biopolitics.

The chapter “Migrant Mobs: The (Un)Making of Migrant Multiplicities” centres on the concept “migrant multiplicities” and shows how these collective formations are managed at borders through scattering and dividing, how biographical records are collected and used to create virtual maps of migration movements and how migrant groups are presented and described in the media. Building on Michel Foucault and Marcus Rediker the author investigates various other labels used in relation to migrant groups and identifies for instance important similarities between migrant multiplicities and the concept of the mob. Admitting that nowadays “the mob is used for disqualifying collective subjects, being very often associated with mechanisms of criminalisation” (p. 23), Tazzioli applies the notion of migrant mobs as an analytical lens in order to investigate how “some collective subjects are considered more political than others, or are disqualified as not at all political” (p. 23). She observes that as soon as migrants seem to build a collective strategy at a border zone or to have a common goal, national authorities immediately divide and scatter them. Even though at times migrant groups manage to open the borders (e.g. the migrants’ march from Budapest towards the Austrian border in September 2015), for Tazzioli the states’ tactics of scattering and dividing the migrants are “a way of preventing the formation of a collective political subject” (p. 33). She signals an interesting paradox in the control techniques of the state: on the one hand, authorities and humanitarian actors are interested in knowing the exact number of migrants at the moment of their arrival. On the other hand, once the migrants are denied international protection, their number becomes irrelevant: “asylum seekers ‘disappear’ from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) official statistics and reports as soon as their legal status changes with the rejection of their asylum claims” (p. 29). She further rises awareness on how during the 2015 “refugee crisis”, nationality became an important criterion in deciding upon asylum applications: “a series of degrees of vulnerability was established putting Syrians at the top, with all other nationalities being in need of demonstrating that they were deserving protection” (p. 38).

The chapter “Migrant Singularities: Between Subjectivation and Desubjugation” investigates how migrants are subjected to techniques of control and how this affects their lives. Further, the chapter points to another paradox: migrants are asked to report about themselves and their journeys, yet, they are often suspected of not telling “the truth”. As in the first chapter, Tazzioli clarifies the concepts she uses and draws parallels with other studies on migration. For instance, the reader is informed that the term singularity is not used as an antonym of the term multiplicity. Moreover, Tazzioli shows why binary oppositions in describing migrants either as subjects of agency and resistance or as victims are quite misguiding. She suggests that “[…] when it comes to migration governmentality we have to investigate all their nuances, modes of subjection and confinement that work by depriving lives without killing them, by wearing out and exhausting migrants, by hampering the building up of spaces of life and by stealing migrants’ time” (p. 47). One such a “nuance” is for example the introduction and the use of an unclear criterion in the selection of migrants: vulnerability. According to Tazzioli, since 2016 only “vulnerable” migrants attested by medical screening are allowed to leave the Greek islands for mainland (pp. 52–54). The author underscores both the absurd of positions such as “vulnerability expert” and the long-term effects for migrants living in a migrant camp: “migration policies do not only hamper free movement, they also make the future hard to be imagined and dreamed, and even more than uncertain” (p. 54).

The Alpine migration route between Italy and France (at Bardonecchia and Montgenèvre) is another example for “govern[ing] migrants’ lives through uncertainty” (p. 58): both the French and Italian authorities act incongruently, with the Italian police not stopping the migrants from crossing the border, and the French partially not registering the migrants, who are pushed backed to Italy. Describing this situation Tazzioli states that “Control at Europe’s border zones is more about disrupting, deterring migrants’ passages, and at the same time containing the political visibility of migrants’ presence” (p. 59). Adding to the “uncertainty” of migrant lives are other elements such as “bureaucratic confusion” (p. 60), “spatial confusion” (p.60), “confusion of the law” [3] (p. 61), and the author indicates that even for researchers, NGOs, migration agencies and state authorities it is difficult to keep up with all existing migration policies (p. 61). Migrants have to deal also with temporal borders (meaning to be aware of all the deadlines imposed during the asylum procedures) and when interviewed as part of the asylum procedure, they have to create a story to sustain their asylum claim. It is the paradoxical request to tell “the truth” and to “adhere to pre-established profiles and categories of refugeesness” (p. 68).

The chapter “Digital Multiplicities and Singularities: (In)Visibility and Data Circuits” investigates how migrants' data is collected and shared among different European authorities, how digital information is used and how this usage is framed by different actors and how migrants lives are affected by datafication procedures. Among the organizations collecting migrants’ data are Frontex, EURODAC (European Dactyloscopy), International Organization for Migration (IOM), Europol, UNHCR and other national fingerprint databases. However, data sharing among these organizations is described as an uneven process, characterised by “choke-points, local resistances, technical jams and legal restrictions” (p. 75). In order to show which data is relevant for state authorities, when it is collected and by whom, Tazzioli describes two fictional cases and concludes that “digital information extracted from the migrants is used not only for tracking migrants and storing their digital history of ‘illegal’ passages and presence, but also for proactively generating and populating virtual multiplicities” (p. 82). The author examines the introduction of prepaid debit cards in refugee camps in Greece and the promotion by the UNHCR and the World Bank of “the image of the refugee empowered by digital identity” (pp. 83–89). She questions the results of this campaign, as the refugees actually do not gain much by being in possession of those cards. The card only simulates empowerment: “This is a sort of fictional normality, since it does not necessarily correspond to an actual restoring of life beyond refugeesness and it is not future-oriented […]” (p. 88). Tazzioli identifies other technologies, which negatively affect the lives of the migrants and addresses the relationship between financial tools such as the prepaid debit card and the ideas of autonomy and freedom. In the last part of the chapter, the author describes technologies, which make possible to control migration from the distance (e.g. radars, the European Surveillance System – EUROSUR), but she admits that “Actually digital technologies do not necessarily close up political space nor manage to fully monitor migrant movements” (p. 98).

The chapter “‘Keeping on the Move Without Letting Pass’: Dispersal and Mobility as Technology of Government” tackles as suggested in the title modalities of governing mobility through transfers, dispersals, and other forms of forced mobility. Tazzioli shortly presents Foucault’s expression “making live and letting die” (p. 103) and its place within the field of biopolitics and she stresses the importance of power and power mechanisms in shaping the politics of mobility. Techniques of dispersal are nothing new, and Tazzioli describes how France used dispersal in its colonial past and continues to use it for instance at Calais or in Paris, dispersal being also instrumental in urban planning strategies. Judged through the eyes of state authorities, dispersal represents a way of making the migrants less visible and it also prevents the formation of potentially ‘dangerous’ migrant crowds (p. 113). However, for the migrants “dispersal results in a multiplication of convoluted routes (sometimes undertaken by migrants more than once), forced stops over time and diverted paths […]” (p. 114). Interestingly, Tazzioli shows that humanitarian organizations also play their role in operations of dispersal by convincing the migrants to move away from informal camps to official ones, though this sometimes means being deported or sent back to the European countries where the migrants first arrived. The author states that “The institutional channels for asylum are at the same time a humanitarian trap for migrants – as demanding protection entails leaving one’s own digital trace and involves a spatial fixation – and what states try to restrict access to, preventively hampering some migrants from submitting an asylum claim” (p. 122). In the final section of the chapter, Tazzioli discusses how the European Union embraced mobility as one of its core values and examines shortly the “mobility-freedom nexus” (p. 127).

The chapter “Migrant Spatial Disobediences: Collective Subjectivities and the Memory of Struggles” starts with a vignette about 108 migrants on the Mediterranean Sea who took control of the ship that rescued them, opposing in this way to being returned to Libya. Other forms of “disobedience” enacted by the migrants is their refusal to be registered in the first European country they arrived to, as this would mean, according to the Dublin Regulation, that the respective country is responsible for the asylum application. Tazzioli interprets migrants’ refusal to apply for asylum in border European countries such as Italy or Greece as more than “[…] resistance against the spatial restrictions of Dublin. […] by unsettling the triple nexus between spatial fixation, compulsory identification and access to rights, migrants refused the very terms upon which asylum politics is predicated” (p. 133). Tazzioli reiterates the importance of questioning concepts and notions and pleads for a reconsideration of terms such as “agency” in light of feminist and postcolonial research. She also points to “a partial or total absence in the archives and political memory of Europe of migrant collective struggles and experiences that reshaped many European spaces, with their claims and presence” (p. 147). The author returns to the idea of “counter-geographies” of the first chapter and encourages the creation of an emigration map to Europe based on “research on unofficial spaces that have been produced as an effect of migration and border policies, as well as of migrant’s practices of movement” (p. 151).

In the “ConclusionTazzioli shortly reviews the points of departure in her analysis of the making of migration and presents some of the main insights of the book.


“The Making of Migration: The Biopolitics of Mobility at Europe’s Border” by Martina Tazzioli is a challenging book on migration governmentality in today’s Europe. Applying a critical lens to the empirical material collected in some of Europe’s migration hotspots, Tazzioli’s main contribution is the reconceptualization of the vocabulary used in relation with migratory practices. Her permanent attention to labels, categories, binary oppositions as well as her genealogical approach to both words and governmentality practices cast a fresh view on the migration phenomenon. The book is well worth the attention of a specialized audience, yet, for students it might be a difficult read.

[1] Own emphasis

[2] Information about the author was selected from​staff/​tazzioli-martina/

[3] Emphasis in original for all three expressions

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Iuliana Ancuţa Ilie
Iuliana Ancuţa Ilie, Academic Assistant for International and Intercultural Management and Management Accounting at Pforzheim University
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Iuliana Ancuţa Ilie. Rezension vom 18.06.2020 zu: Martina Tazzioli: The Making of Migration. The Biopolitics of Mobility at Europe´s Borders. SAGE Publications, Ltd (London) 2019. ISBN 978-1-5264-6404-0. In: socialnet Rezensionen, ISSN 2190-9245,, Datum des Zugriffs 05.03.2021.

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