The University of Arizona

Beyond the Sovereign Gaze

Geoffrey Boyce

Abstract


Since the late 1990s the Arizona border region has become the most heavily policed area along the United States / Mexico boundary. As enforcement activities have increased, so too have the number of undocumented migrants who have died in the southern Arizona desert. These deaths have generated considerable public controversy – over their meaning, scale, and causation. This paper reflects on this conflict through the historical-philosophical framework of ‘biopolitics’: the assumption of the management of the biological life of a population as the central task of governance. By reading Giorgio Agamben’s work on biopolitics through the everyday practices of differently-situated actors along the U.S. / Mexico border, I gesture toward ways that these ideas might more successfully be adapted for empirical study. Specifically, this paper argues that visibility, aesthetics and phenomenal appearance operate as central mechanisms by which biopolitical governance is both enacted and contested. While the state invests considerable resources toward rendering undocumented bodies visible in order to enact their removal from its territory, the manipulation of visibility also becomes a means by which non-state actors may advance competing ethical and political demands.


Keywords


U.S. / Mexico border; migration; sovereignty; biopolitics; Agamben; phenomenology

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