Living the ungrievable life: Central American migrants in Mexico and survival amidst social devaluation

Authors: Mario Bruzzone*, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Topics: Migration, Social Theory, Cultural Geography
Keywords: Butler, Central America, immigration, Mexico, migration, ungrievability
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Marriott Ballroom Salon 1, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper uses Judith Butler’s concept of “un/grievable life” to explore how mobilities against the state might enact political meanings as well as political contestation. In particular, it focuses on the experiences of irregular Central American migrants within an ungrievable norm that devalues their lives. For Butler, “ungrievability” becomes embodied in social norms that apply to demographic groups and individuals, which is to say that it applies to collectives. First, I highlight the ways in which individual Central American migrants recognize their partial and lesser status as subjects, and how they must learn to survive in that status even while they might assert their value in words. In short, an irregular migrant might accept (in action) the ungrievable status that she contests (in discourse). Second, I note that there is no necessary relation between the social statuses by which migrants are exposed differentially to violence and that violence. Consequently individual migrants might be seen as taking up plural subject-positions, matched by their movements that might be read as a form of plural action. The plural action of migrants in transit that literally cross borders might also signify against state borders, yet in a different register than that of a nationalism that requires discourse. Through this argument I seek to specify an immanent politics in the movement of people against borders and the operations of struggles over mobility that join signifying and material logics.

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