Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Forced Migration and Humanitarian Borders: Anthropological Perspectives

UM LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course



DEPARTMENT Anthropological Sciences

DESCRIPTION How does border management become humanitarian? And how does humanitarian work service border management? How do humanitarian aid and rescue, sit alongside security and control? How is humanitarian border management implemented in practice? And what are the conceptual and practical contradictions that borderworkers employed with different agencies face on a daily basis? These are some of the driving questions of this study-unit, which will explore the concept of the humanitarian border, first coined by William Walters (2011), and its pervasive rise in different parts of the world. The International Organisation of Migration defines humanitarian border management, or ‘border management in emergency situations’ as border management before, during and after a humanitarian or migration crisis. Migration crises are exceptional situations requiring states to have extraordinary measures in place at the border to meet the challenges it brings. This has brought about a formidable development of an industry devoted to the upholding of the humanitarian border. During this unit we will look at such situations from different actors’ perspectives, including states, border management agencies, intergovernmental organisations and humanitarian organisations. The unit will also give special attention to the migrants’ experiences. This will allow us to gain a better understanding of the dynamics and opportunities present in these situations, as well as the tensions and challenges created. The unit will adopt an interdisciplinary approach, together with key critical approaches developed in anthropology of humanitarianism.

Study-Unit Aims:

The aim of the study-unit is to familiarise students with the key concepts and contemporary debates that will enable them to understand the characteristics, dynamics and tensions of the humanitarian border. Students will be encouraged to draw parallels between the conceptual underpinnings of the security-humanitarian characteristics of the 'humanitarian border' approach and its practical implementation, and to nurture an analytical and critical approach to situations where the humanitarian border is being implemented. The unit will give students exposure to different debates taking place in the social sciences, with a particular focus on contributions by social anthropologists.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Describe the origin and definition of the humanitarian border;
- Analyse the conceptual tensions of the humanitarian-security nexus as applied to international borders;
- Examine the dynamics and different actors involved in the construction of humanitarian borders;
- Explore the practical challenges in the implementation of the humanitarian border;
- Appraise the effects of the humanitarian border on forced migrants.

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Engage in discussions about the humanitarian-security nexus at international borders;
- Critically analyse situations created by humanitarian border policies, and its effect on different key actors and forced migrants;
- Present and deliver a seminar paper on this topic.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:
- Fassin, Didier. 2012. Humanitarian Reason: A Moral History of the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press.

- Cuttitta, Paolo. 2017. Delocalization, Humanitarianism, and Human Rights: The Mediterranean Border Between Exclusion and Inclusion. Antipode 50(2): 783-803.
- DeBono, Daniela. 2019. Narrating the Humanitarian Border: Moral deliberations of territorial borderworkers on the EU’s Mediterranean border. Journal of Mediterranean Studies. 28(1): 152-185.
- DeBono, Daniela. 2019. ‘Plastic hospitality: The empty signifier at the EU’s external border’. Migration Studies 7(3): 340-361.
- De Lauri, Antonio. 2019. Humanitarian militarism and the production of humanity. Social Anthropology 27(1): 84-99.
- De Lauri, Antonio. 2019. A Critique of the Humanitarian (B)order of Things. Journal of Identity and Migration. Studies. Vol 13(2): 148-166.
- Holmes, S., and H. Castañeda. 2016. Representing the ‘European Refugee Crisis’ in Germany and Beyond: Deservingness and Difference, Life and Death. American Ethnologist 43 (1): 12–24.
- Pallister-Wilkins, Polly. 2018. 'Médecins Avec Frontières and the making of a humanitarian borderscape,' Environment and Planning D: Society & Space 36(1): 114-138.
- Rozakou, Katerina. 2012. The Biopolitics of Hospitality in Greece: Humanitarianism and the Management of Refugees. American Ethnologist 39(3): 562-577.
- Stierl, Maurice. 2017. A Fleet of Mediterranean Border Humanitarians. Antipode. 50(3): 704-724.
- Ticktin, Miriam. 2016. Thinking Beyond Humanitarian Borders. Social Research: An International Quarterly 83(2): 255-271.
- Vaughan-Williams, Nick. 2015. “We are not animals!” Humanitarian border security and zoopolitical spaces in Europe. Political Geography.
- Walters, William. 2011. ‘Foucault and Frontiers: Notes on the Birth of the Humanitarian Border’. In Ulrich Bröckling, Susanne Krasmann and Thomas Lemke. Eds. Governmentality: Current Issues and Future Challenges, New York: Routledge, pp.138-164.
- Williams, Jill M. 2016. The safety/security nexus and the humanitarianisation of border enforcement. The Geographical Journal 182(1): 27-37.
- Williams, Jill M. 2015. From humanitarian exceptionalism to contingent care: Care and enforcement at the humanitarian border. Political Geography. 47, 11-20.

Supplementary Reading:
- Bastia, Tania & Skeldon, Ron. 2020. Handbook of Migration and Development 1st Edition. Routledge: Oxon.
- De Genova, Nicholas (ed) 2017. The Borders of “Europe”: Autonomy of Migration, Tactics of Bordering. Durham: Duke University Press.
- De Lauri, Antonio. 2020. Humanitarianism: keywords. Brill. Available online:
- Mainwaring, Ċetta. 2019. At Europe’s Edge: Migration and Crisis in the Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Vaughan-Williams, Nick. 2015. Europe’s Border Crisis: Biopolitical Security and Beyond. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
Seminar Paper SEM2 Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Daniela DeBono


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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2023/4. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.