On Monday, April 10, 2017, the Mellon Research Initiative in Comparative Border Studies will present “Violent Borders, Carceral Seas,” featuring an interdisciplinary panel of scholars who will examine the historical antecedents of contemporary border and refugee crises.
Reece Jones, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, will discuss present-day restrictions of refugees in his talk “Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move.” The plight of refugees today, specifically those fleeing the war in Syria, have captured international attention as well as restrictive responses by national governments that have limited the ability of refugees and the poor to move across borders. Jones’ presentation argues that this is not a recent development; rather, they are part of a long history of protecting privilege through legal restrictions and backed up by violence.
Following Jones’ presentation on restricting movement across national borders, Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, will discuss the militarization and restrictive practices of sea borders. In these “Carceral Seas,” Khalili suggests, we can see the fractures and disjunctions of international law regarding migration and trade.
Like restrictions of movement across land borders, the securitization of maritime travel has a long history. As states attempt to crack down on pirates and smugglers, necessity and desperation often force migrants to make perilous sea journeys in unseaworthy ships. The flow of migrants from North Africa into Italy and then to Europe presents a contemporary example of this fraught history.
Lastly, Terry Park, lecturer in History and Literature at Harvard, will focus on a particular border and historical moment in the Korean War and the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). In his presentation, “’Please Believe Us With All You Heart’: The Nonpatriated Asian Prisoner of the Korean War, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and US Liberal Empire, 1947-1953,” Park will examine how the production and representation of the nonpatriated Asian POW created a new political figure in the history of migration, the “escapee,” and how this new kind of migrant refigured the Cold War as a humanitarian and cosmopolitan project. From the Korean DMZ, the U.S. emerged as a liberal empire, and this transformation has helped to define the politics of migration and political asylum seekers to the present day.
Comparative Border Studies is currently in its second year of the three-year initiative. The Mellon-funded collaboration, comprised of over two dozen core and affiliated faculty and thirty affiliated graduate students from across the UC Davis social science and humanities departments, focuses on “promoting interdisciplinary, comparative research on the making, unmaking, crossing, and fortification of borders – national, colonial, regional, and continental.” The “Violent Borders, Carceral Seas” panel addresses this year’s focus on mobility, militarization, and containment and follows successful events on Syria and the refugee crisis in the Middle East.
–Kaleb Knoblauch, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral student in the Department of History