Venezuelan Refugees in Colombia: "Emergency" Bodies and the Biopolitics of Border Control

Authors: Lucía Caballero*, Dartmouth College
Topics: Migration, Political Geography, South America
Keywords: borders, border politics, political geography, latin america, nation-state
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Virginia A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


For much of the Westphalian system’s life, the question of borders hinged primarily upon questions of state sovereignty, a concept whose conceptual foundations have been challenged since Foucault (biopolitics), Mbembe (necropolitics) and others in their orbit. Because much of the focus on sovereign territoriality emerged in writings on modern warfare – from Clausewitz, to Schmitt, to Butler – scholars overemphasize questions of life and death when theorizing borders. I question the ways in which borders determine the physicality of bodies by conducting a critical border study of the Colombia-Venezuela border. Following the ongoing Venezuelan refugee crisis, now the largest migratory event in Latin American history, I analyze how Venezuelan refugee bodies exist as “emergencies” by conducting empirical fieldwork in the border town of Cúcuta and applying that data to larger theoretical frameworks of biopolitics. I search for what it is about the border that, upon crossing it, transforms the physicality of Venezuelan bodies into something other. By drawing from Agamben’s states of exception, I find that both the physical manifestation and the abstraction of the border has lasting effects on the biopolitical construction of refugee bodies by deeming them eternally exceptional.

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