The causes of borders

Soundings 82 (2022)

The transformation of the conditions to which borders are a response: on the case for abolition. Also: Why alter-politics has a future, and democratizing Germany’s corporatist public service model.

In Soundings, Gracie Mae Bradley and Luke de Noronha draw on the critique of the prison-industrial complex to make the case for border abolition. The ‘no borders’ campaign is an anti-capitalist struggle ‘concerning not only the rights and dignity of migrants living in the global North, but also the plight for poor and oppressed people everywhere’.

At the core of both prison and border abolitionism is the ‘right to locomotion’. EU-style free movement, though worth preserving and expanding, is based on the externalization of borders and the preservation of inequalities disguised as development. The EU Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), designed to ‘tackle the root causes of irregular migration’, effectively serves to ‘police, contain and immobilize unruly populations more effectively’.

Border abolition, by contrast, is about advocating for the ‘transformation of the conditions to which borders are a response. An obvious case in point is the labour market in the destination countries of immigration, where migrant workers are often accused – not infrequently also by leftwing nativists – of pushing wages down.’

‘Fighting for the rights and conditions of precarious migrant labourers can improve the lot of all working people,’ Bradley and Noronha argue ‘Abolitionist reforms would include uncoupling workers’ rights from their immigration status, securing the right for all non-citizens to unionize, and ending the criminalization of those who work without papers.

The future of alter-politics

Alexandros Kioupkiolis looks at the history and potentialities of ‘democratic alter-politics’, from the Zapatistas to the Indignados, ‘Occupy’ and ‘new municipalism’, that have fostered diversity, openness and horizontality.

Learning the lessons of the 20th century, new social movements have realized that democratic emancipation is impossible if society remains passive. The mainspring of social renewal ‘is the gradual weaving of new social texture – institutions, counterpowers, economies and practices of social reproduction … Through a new self-institution of society, people can learn in practice how to govern themselves.’

‘The achievements of democratic alter-political mobilization may appear to be few. It has certainly failed to deliver any broader system change’. Nevertheless, amidst growing inequality, xenophobic populism and inaction on the climate emergency, the alter-political path remains worth exploring, provided that its strategic failures are addressed.

‘What is at stake in such an alter-political hegemonic venture is nothing less than another, better, freer, more equal and caring world – one that can carry a pluriverse of different worlds.’

Democratizing public service media

The influence of profit-oriented tech giants in information dissemination and consumption makes the existence of public media institutions ‘essential to protecting citizens from the narrowing of the spectrum of public opinion,’ writes Annika Weiss.

But structural imbalances in public service media often counteract that goal. In Germany, debate about the organization of the country’s federally organized public service broadcasters has been intense following a corruption affair in the second half of last year.

As Weiss argues, the governing bodies of public service broadcasting in Germany overrepresent certain social groups while marginalising others: political parties, churches, business associations and trade unions are included at the expense of people with migrant backgrounds, youth, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ community members, and Muslims.

As Weiss puts it, ‘an elite group of political actors, media researchers and organisational articulators perpetuate a “corporatist democracy”, while governing and controlling a consumer population that is not allowed to elect its own representatives’.

Turning the tide would require meeting the need for greater civic participation at all levels in the decision-making process, ensuring independence, accountability, democracy and transparency. The online network funk, founded in 2016 through a joint collaboration between ARD and ZDF, represents ‘an interesting counterexample to the hierarchy of conventional media organizations’. With its flat structure, it allows viewers to be actively involved in shaping the content they consume.

Published 5 April 2023
Original in English
First published by Eurozine

Contributed by Soundings © Eurozine


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