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Migration and the Refugee Dissensus in Europe: Borders, Security, and Austerity

Migration and the Refugee Dissensus in Europe: Borders, Security, and Austerity’s contribution is that it speaks across disciplines and explores the links between power and resistance, state and non-state, theory and practice. Although the book is not exhaustive, it does provide a schematic context and framework for future research.





Migration and the Refugee Dissensus in Europe, written by Nicos Trimikliniotis, was released in the last quarter of 2019. Trimikliniotis is a Professor of Sociology specializing in social inequalities, immigrants, minorities, and collective memory. The starting point of the book is the notion of disagreement or ‘dissensus,’ i.e., lack of consensus, over migration and asylum. The book focuses on the last forty years, which were characterized by hot issues such as the decline of democracy and the rise of illiberal, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric and politics, in order to shed light on today’s dissensus. Trimikliniotis conceptualizes discussions around migration within the framework of dissensus by addressing the social turbulence that emerges due to migration, and the reactions that migration has caused and encountered at the institutional, administrative, political, and social levels. Accordingly, dissensus is the manifestation of a crisis within a series of interconnected crises and trends, such as globalization, neoliberal economics, and economic and political integration, which are considered irresistible.

The book consists of seven chapters, through which Trimikliniotis seeks to explain how the migration and asylum issue has become so important in a national, regional, and global conjuncture from a European perspective; it aims to emphasize the importance of establishing global political sociology of migration and asylum. In the Introduction, Trimikliniotis clearly reveals the main idea of the book, its guiding questions, the outline of the chapters, what he is trying to do, and what is missing. In the first chapter, a general outline of the refugee crisis and a basic framework for the dissensus regarding migration and the refugee issue in Europe is presented. In the second chapter, the impact created by the encounters of immigrants and citizens living in the places to which they migrated, the treatment of immigrants as ‘deviant others’ and the transformation of the concept of ‘surplus population’ throughout history are examined. Trimikliniotis also analyzes the concept of ‘austerity citizenship,’ which is based on historical, legal, and institutional specificities and local struggles; he argues that it can be experienced in different places and in changing processes in terms of ethnic origin, race, gender, class culture, and belonging while criticizing it a type of citizenship that destroys consensus. As one of the most important points of the chapter, Trimikliniotis seeks to make a new contribution by adding a number of additional factors to the arguments that Leo Lucassen put forward in 2018 about why the migration flows in 2014-2016 were perceived as a ‘crisis’ in Europe, although a similar situation in the 1990s was not perceived as a crisis despite the larger number of refugees in Europe at that time.

In the third chapter, which is the most striking part of the book, Trimikliniotis discusses the transformation of the asylum issue into a ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe and the continuities and breakages that have occurred cumulatively over the past 40 years. He concretizes the book’s theoretical framework with data and observations drawn from fieldwork carried out in a refugee camp at the Moria hotspot on Lesvos Island. The fourth chapter deals with contradictions in the EU’s integration policies among EU institutions related to integration, and integration debates within the framework of anti-immigrant and anti-immigrant policies. Chapters five, six, and seven focus on the establishment of a state of emergency or state of exception by those in power, aided by the portrayal of the refugee issue as a crisis. Trimikliniotis notes the authoritarianization of various governments and the imposition of measures suspending fundamental constitutional and human rights norms. He draws attention to the voting rates of parties with anti-immigrant discourse and the distribution of political groups in the European Parliament, the rise of far-right populism, and the mainstreaming of anti-immigrant and racist populism, authoritarianism, de-democratization, and anti-immigration policies in the cases of Trumpism and Brexit. The last section focuses on exception regimes, emphasizing the dissensus potential within the state of exception.

The book is structured and designed like a multi-author edited book. Although the subject is migration and asylum dissensus, this issue is examined in multiple chapters, as in edited books, from different perspectives. However, although Trimikliniotis tries to address the subject in different dimensions, the same concepts are frequently examined from similar perspectives in some chapters, which readers may find repetitive. The use of maps, concrete data, and original analyses strengthens the study, as does Trimikliniotis’ consideration of the issue of immigration in the context of Trumpism and Brexit. Although it is too early to say whether it will be successful or not, the author’s attempt to theorize the concept of dissensus can be seen as a new contribution to the literature.

Trimikliniotis finds the idea of the European ‘refugee crisis’ exaggerated, especially compared with the number of refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Importantly, he considers the problem as a question of managing the distribution of people’s well-being and their settlements in terms of resources –in other words, as a kind of ‘reception crisis.’ The book’s contribution is that it speaks across disciplines and explores the links between power and resistance, state and non-state, theory and practice. Although the book is not exhaustive, it does provide a schematic context and framework for future research.

To sum up, there is a ‘unit of analysis problem in the analysis of the migration issue, to use Wallerstein’s term.’ While Trimikliniotis emphasizes that migration is a global issue and should be examined on a global scale, he nonetheless chooses to make inferences from the regional to the global with an inductive approach and to look at the issue from a Europe-centered perspective, just like the studies that make up the majority of the literature. Of course, this may be due to insufficient resources. Nevertheless, while most researchers are focusing on the migration management processes in the EU and in Europe, the author’s handling of the issue over the dissensus over immigration and asylum makes the book more remarkable than other studies on migration and asylum. Trimikliniotis focuses on the importance of establishing global political sociology in order to solve migration and asylum problems, including the problem of dissensus, and of creating a global migration and asylum policy. However, he is unable to present a concrete perspective on a global scale. Moreover, the problem goes beyond policies and organizations, as Trimikliniotis indicates in his treatment of the rise of right-wing populism. It seems that it will not be possible to adopt economic and social policies, ideologies, and attitudes that are inclusive, rather than exclusionary and alienating, in the short term. Unfortunately, it seems that immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers will continue to be constructed as the ‘other,’ the ‘enemy,’ or ‘threat’ in our age. The book offers a very useful sociological perspective, especially for academics, students, and policymakers dealing with the issue of migration. In this respect, I highly recommend anyone interested in migration to read it.

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