Lecture: Humanitarian Borderwork and Unequal Mobility by Polly Pallister-Wilkins (University of Amsterdam)

21-02-2020 from 08:00 to 09:30
Academieraadzaal, Volderstraat 9, 9000 Gent
Department of Conflict and Development Studies
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Debates in Conflict & Development - Bordering Europe: The securitization of the Europe's migration and development policies.

Abstract of this lecture

This lecture on humanitarian borderwork explores humanitarian responses to violent borders and unequal mobility. It highlights how such responses work as sticking plasters for larger structural issues underpinning decisions to harden borders and make mobility increasingly difficult for those deemed undesirable. The lecture will show that when humanitarianism operates in response to violent borders and unequal mobility, borders are not erased but solidified in often new and unexpected ways. For instance, humanitarian rescue in the Mediterranean has enabled Europe to expand its border intervention capacity into international and Libyan waters. Alongside this humanitarian arguments are made for increasing European intervention in ‘Africa’ under modern ‘trust-funds’ aimed at curbing migration and reproducing long-running colonial practices. Meanwhile, humanitarianism ties the right and ability to move to particular forms of vulnerability and victimhood which has led to the emergence of new borders between the vulnerable and the strong and new forms of inequality challenging humanitarianism’s universal claims. The lecture will therefore complicate the oft-simplistic narrative of crisis and asks us to think beyond restricted humanitarian solutions to politically crafted problems, while being aware of the ways critiques of humanitarianism can lead to advocacy for developmental and/or neoliberal solutions.


Polly Pallister-Wilkins is a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Amsterdam and Scientific Collaborator at L’Université Libre de Bruxelles. She has been researching humanitarianism in Greece’s borderlands since 2012 and is a principal investigator in the Horizon2020 ADMIGOV project examining humanitarian protection in response to border violence and the Swedish Research Council funded project ‘Outsourcing Migration Control: Externalising EU Borders to ‘Africa’’.