Claire Gallien, The Subversive Power of the Migrant,, 02/03/2017

About: Thomas Nail, The Figure of the Migrant, Stanford, Stanford Univerty Press, 2015.

« In his 2015 book, The Figure of the Migrant, Thomas Nail offers a reverse approach of migration, focusing on the migrant from the perspective of movement. Claire Gallien questions the relevance of Nail’s dialectic between the ’kinopolitics’ of the state and the ’pedetic force’ of migrants.

When hardly a day goes by without the ‘problem,’ ‘issue,’ or ‘crisis,’ of migration being mentioned in the news, Thomas Nail’s The Figure of the Migrant published in 2015 by Stanford University Press cannot appear more timely. More than an urgent reflection on a burning topic, Nail’s monograph, intersecting political philosophy, social theory, and migration studies, aims to provide a new conceptual framework to think about migration and migrants in order to reshape the debate.

Indeed, Nail indicates in the very first pages of his book that there are two problems in the ways in which migration and migrants have been understood so far – first, that ‘the migrant has been predominantly understood from the perspective of the stasis’ and second that ‘the migrant has been predominantly understood from the perspective of states’. Nail then suggests that we urgently need to rethink migration and migrants, not from the perspective of stasis but from that of movement, and not from the perspective of the state but from that of the migrant. Once we accept to operate this change of perspective, we may start to view migrants not as ‘failed citizens,’ but as constitutive agents of society’s structure and texture. From these two premises, Nail then develops his own theory of society being operated by the dialectic between what he calls ‘kinopolitics,’ that is the power of the state to create and regulate movement, and ‘pedetic force,’ that is the power of the migrant to resist and subvert the power of the state by force of the foot, that is by the force of her/his unpredictability and turbulence. » (…)

« Nail has published in 2016 a third monograph entitled Border Thinking (see below) which he presented as a sequel to The Figure of the Migrant, proposing to scrutinise the material and the technological conditions according to which migration takes place. Border thinking is a theme which has been considerably discussed in postcolonial theory and reconceptualised in decolonial studies, especially in the works of Walter Mignolo, but also analysed of course in sociology and migration studies. It would interesting then to see how Nail intervenes in the field and whether he addresses in the sequel some of the shortcomings identified in The Figure of the Migrant. »

 See also: Thomas Nail, Theory of the Border, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016