Symposium – “Undocumented Immigrant Activism and the Political: Disrupting the Order or Reproducing the Status Quo?”

Edited by Thomas Swerts (Erasmus University Rotterdam; [email protected]) and Walter Nicholls (University of California, Irvine; [email protected])

Forthcoming in Antipode 53(2) in March 2021, and available online now, “Undocumented Immigrant Activism and the Political” consists of seven essays brought together as the culmination of conversations that began at the 2018 AAG annual meeting in New Orleans on the disruptive potential of undocumented immigrant struggles.

Theoretically inspired scholarship in critical political geography has used undocumented immigrant activism as evidence that the current order can be disrupted. However, key questions of what gets disrupted, how, by whom, and to what effect tend to be ignored. In this Symposium, we treat these questions as a starting point to dissect and explore the disruptive potential of undocumented immigrant struggles. Drawing on detailed case studies from recent immigrant mobilisations in the United States, Greece, Germany and Belgium, the Symposium distils key insights pertaining to the characteristics and qualities of, respectively, subjects, acts and spaces capable of instigating political disruption.

The introductory essay provides a framework for understanding disruption and reproduction as logics of collective action that continuously express themselves in immigrant rights mobilizations and need to be carefully negotiated by activists in struggles over citizenship. On the one hand, the essays illustrate that undocumented immigrant activism can disrupt exclusionary migration regimes under certain circumstances and, in some cases, even provide a roadmap of how a different world might look like. On the other hand, authors issue warning signs about what happens once the dust of political disruption settles and the order regains its balance.

Erik Swyngedouw’s Afterword pushes this discussion further by arguing that political disruption depends on undocumented immigrant struggles’ ability to create initialize universalizing politicizing sequences around the injunction that “we are all undocumented immigrants now, foreigners in our exclusionary states”. Overall, this serves as an open invitation to engaged scholar-activists to develop realistic and useable theories and methods that can help to explain the limits and possibilities of transformative change and map out the narrow and precarious routes to a more egalitarian and liberated future.

Photo by flickr user Molly Adams (

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