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Reconsidering Free Movement

A workshop series : 27/​05, 28/​05, 01/​06, 02/​06, 10am-1pm, online

The purpose of the work­shop is to bring together people from different disci­plines and who study different regions or topics to reflect together on free move­ment, its defi­n­i­tions, the strug­gles for and against free move­ment, as well as for its defi­n­i­tion – a longer-term objec­tive is a collec­tive publi­ca­tion on this topic. 

The aim is to explore free move­ment not so much from a norma­tive perspec­tive, but in prac­tice : how are prac­tices of free move­ment set up and working (including in cases where they might not be labelled as such)? How, in other cases, is the free move­ment of persons restricted ? How are processes officially geared at setting up free move­ment working in prac­tice ? Who are the various actors of free move­ment and how do they make sense of their prac­tices ? Who are the people defending free move­ment, how do they define it and fight for it ? In order to inter­ro­gate this, we are inter­ested in gener­ating a collec­tive discus­sion between people who have not neces­sarily worked on processes usually falling under the label of ‘free move­ment’, but which allow us to think about it.

We are partic­u­larly inter­ested in :

  • ques­tioning genealo­gies and histo­ries of free move­ment, or of different defi­n­i­tions or expe­ri­ences of free movement ;
  • ques­tioning the different spaces and scales of free movement ;
  • ques­tioning the logics of inclu­sion and exclu­sion at play ;
  • exam­ining and comparing the differen­ti­ated dynamics of free move­ment for persons, goods and capital ;
  • exam­ining the actors of free move­ment and their practices.

Discussion : Antoine Pécoud, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord/​ICM, and Hélène Thiollet, Sciences Po Paris-CERI/ICM

Betty Rouland, IRMC : Intra-regional mobilities in practices : a geo-historical perspective in Tunisia

This paper discusses the evolu­tion of intra-regional prac­tices of mobil­i­ties from the colo­nial period to nowa­days through the case study of Tunisia. Until the 2011 popular upris­ings, the country was primarily known as a country of “emigration”and intra-regional mobility was hardly documented.

Econ­o­mists even qualify the region as “no Maghreb” (Hammami, 2016, Mahjoub, 2017) in refer­ence to the low level of economic inte­gra­tion. By using a geo-histor­ical perspec­tive, the paper empha­sizes inter­ac­tions and devel­op­ment resulting from multi-scalar spaces of circu­la­tions (cross-border, regional, transna­tional) in the region. It is based on various empir­ical studies of Libyans, Moroc­cans and Alge­rians in different cities in Tunisia. Intra-regional prac­tices of mobil­i­ties result from the evolu­tion of specific geopo­lit­ical contexts combined with the accu­mu­la­tion of conti­gu­i­ties (geo- histor­ical, polit­ical, and socio-cultural) and more recently processes of region­al­iza­tion by the bottom- up.

Diego Acosta, University of Bristol : Regional free movement of people law : a new field of study for international migration law

A powerful narra­tive presents the response to the global chal­lenge of migra­tion as the erec­tion of borders. This paper explores its apparent converse : the easing of borders at regional level. There are now poli­cies and laws facil­i­tating free move­ment of people in at least thirty-three regional orga­ni­za­tions involving 174 states, in addi­tion to numerous bilat­eral agree­ments and domestic norms. Yet little work has been done to under­stand their scope. This Article defines a new field of study for inter­na­tional migra­tion law, labelled as regional free move­ment of people law, and system­at­i­cally presents its components.

Delphine Perrin, IRD-LPED : Reflecting on free movement in ECOWAS from the Nigerien context

Free move­ment in ECOWAS is a social phenom­enon, an old polit­ical project as well as an object of fantasy. Intra-African free move­ment projects have recently been relaunched at the regional and conti­nental levels : they exem­plify a desire to develop an « African approach » to migra­tion, that would be distinct from a Euro­pean approach, but along­side which it could flourish. These projects are evolving at a time when African states (mainly in the Mediter­ranean and the Sahel) are engaged in « glob­al­ized » legal and polit­ical migra­tion dynamics : they are devel­oping migra­tion poli­cies and legis­la­tion that are supposed to regu­late migra­tion, they are promoting discourses of mobility manage­ment and they are partic­i­pating in the secu­ri­ti­za­tion of migra­tion by rein­forcing a legal arsenal to fight against unreg­u­lated migration.

My paper will present some reflec­tions on free move­ment in the ECOWAS space in light of the new situ­a­tion in Niger, which has been engaged since 2016 in a fight against « migrant smug­gling » and « human trafficking ».

The Nige­rien perspec­tive allows us to high­light two areas of reflection :

  • intra-African free move­ment in a context of infor­mality : how the discourse and instru­ments for fighting irreg­ular migra­tion and promoting regular migra­tion clash with the prac­tices of states and individuals ;
  • Intra-African freedom of move­ment in a « glob­al­ized » secu­rity context : how to achieve freedom of move­ment in a polit­ical space inserted in and connected to other spaces (Mediter­ranean, Euro­pean, ..)? Is it possible to achieve in spite of these inter­ac­tions that constrain freedom of move­ment, without ques­tioning and confronting the mobility manage­ment system outside the ECOWAS space ?

Camille Gendrot, Université Paris 1‑IREDIES/​ICM : Free movement of persons in West Africa : historical choices and the impacts on current rights

The construc­tion of a right to free move­ment of persons in West Africa is essen­tially being carried out within the frame­work of subre­gional inter­na­tional orga­ni­za­tions. As early as the late 1950s, a project emerged to create a space, without calling into ques­tion colo­nial admin­is­tra­tive sharing, where workers could continue to move while main­taining a form of unity among the future inde­pen­dent states. The Sahel-Benin Union was the first forum in which the polit­ical idea of facil­i­tating intra- regional move­ment devel­oped. While the idea of facil­i­tating the move­ment of part of the people of the subre­gion is an old one, its trans­la­tion into a right to free move­ment for part of the citi­zens is rela­tively recent.

Indeed, it was not until the late 1970s that a right to free move­ment was for the first time legally affirmed and imple­mented by the Consti­tu­tive Act of the Economic Commu­nity of West African States (ECOWAS) signed in 1975. Other spaces in the subre­gion subse­quently devel­oped, responding to partic­ular polit­ical strug­gles – such as the West African Economic and Mone­tary Union (WAEMU) and the Commu­nity of Sahelo-Saharan States (CENSAD) – or to specific tech­nical areas – such as river manage­ment within the Mano River Union (MRU).

These move­ments, which some authors have described as « frag­men­ta­tion of inter­na­tional legal action » or « sub-region­alism », lead us to ques­tion the objec­tives of their creation. Each orga­ni­za­tion is the result of a partic­ular creation process. Through their study, we observe that the choice of free move­ment of persons is first and fore­most part of economic inte­gra­tion projects. Never­the­less, limiting the expla­na­tion and defi­n­i­tion of this right to its economic dimen­sion does not embrace the moti­va­tions and objec­tives advo­cated in the regional texts. Inte­grating the West African terri­to­ries with the ambi­tion of creating an area of peace and stability for the West African popu­la­tions also remains the spear­head of these organizations.

These ideo­log­ical approaches are more or less reflected in the legal norms that West African orga­ni­za­tions have devel­oped. It there­fore seems impor­tant to study the construc­tion of rights to free move­ment of persons in the subre­gion in order to under­stand the legal impacts of the policy choices made by States. We thus propose to examine how the choice of a liberal free move­ment of persons trans­lates into the current recog­ni­tion of rights relating to the move­ment of persons in the subregion.

Discussion : Sara Casella Colombeau, Université de Grenoble-Alpes/ICM, and Olivier Clochard, CNRS-Migrinter/ICM

Torsten Feys, VLIZ-IMIS : Viapolitics of Transport Revolutions & their Restrictive Impact on Free Movement

Trans­port revo­lu­tions marked the long nine­teenth century which has been labeled as the era of free mass migra­tion and by exten­sion free move­ment. There is a general consensus that the increased mobility caused by trans­port revo­lu­tion forced nation states to suspend pass­port regu­la­tions and lower controls on mobility. However, this assump­tion lacks empir­ical research, not least from the perspec­tive of the trans­port compa­nies and their rela­tions with state author­i­ties. The presen­ta­tion argues that the trans­port revo­lu­tion facil­i­tated state control over human mobility on two levels. First it concen­trated a great number of passen­gers on vehi­cles trav­el­ling at fixed sched­ules. Second it gave rise to a limited number of major trans­port compa­nies facil­i­tating rela­tions between the trans­port sector and state author­i­ties. This allowed states to grad­u­ally inte­grate trans­port compa­nies in mobility control mech­a­nisms using them as impor­tant actors of enforcing migration/​mobility poli­cies. This put trans­port compa­nies in a para­dox­ical posi­tion as their natural logic spurs free move­ment, yet the impo­si­tions force them to restrict it. As states gained power, trans­port compa­nies were increas­ingly pushed in a difficult balancing act to swell their passenger numbers while avoiding that govern­ments imposed further restric­tions on their busi­ness. This balancing act and how Amer­ican and Belgian author­i­ties used trans­port revo­lu­tions (steamship and rail­roads respec­tively) to carry out their migration/​mobility poli­cies will be used as case-studies.

Martin Seeleib-Kaiser, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen : Territoriality, Citizenship, and Welfare

The provi­sion of welfare has histor­i­cally been closely asso­ci­ated to a spec­i­fied terri­tory, be it the local munic­i­pality, region or the nation state. Increased internal mobility and inter­na­tional migra­tion has regu­larly chal­lenged the defi­n­i­tion of insiders or citi­zens, being able to access welfare. Terri­to­rial juris­dic­tions have used various means to restrict mobility, or have provided the right to freedom of move­ment very often depen­dent on economic consid­er­a­tions. Welfare in this paper is defined as the provi­sion of the means of subsis­tence either in the form of poor relief or the right to social assis­tance. The paper draws on expe­ri­ences and devel­op­ments in diverse juris­dic­tions of Europe, the People’s Republic of China and the US. It will discuss the tension between terri­to­ri­ality and accessing welfare in an histor­ical and inter­na­tional compar­ison, different under­stand­ings of citi­zen­ship, and finally the need for a guar­an­teed social minimum as an element of EU citi­zen­ship in the 21st century.

Adrienne Mannov, Aarhus University : Leviathan to-go : What is means to move freely with an itinerant sovereign

This talk will focus on free move­ment through the lens of protec­tion and care of those subject to and moving across state juris­dic­tions. My work takes its point of depar­ture in field­work among inter­na­tional merchant seafarers and their percep­tions of phys­ical and exis­ten­tial secu­rity in connec­tion with contem­po­rary maritime piracy (Mannov 2015). One perspec­tive that emerged from this project is an analysis of how power, protec­tion and care are prac­ticed at sea and on land, which I call “itin­erant sover­eignty” (Mannov, n.d.). Modern sover­eignty grows out of a West­phalian framing of polit­ical space and power within bounded terri­to­rial space, and sover­eignty at sea is framed as “free” (Cf. UNCLOS). But I argue that sover­eignty – in the sense of the power to wield force for and against a subject for the purpose of protecting and providing care – is neither as static as national, phys­ical borders might imply, nor is it as fluid as the notion that mare liberum (Cf. Grotius 1609) imparts upon us. Instead, sover­eignty is deeply strategic, rela­tional, polit­i­cally driven and itin­erant. I supple­ment these ideas with how itin­erant sover­eignty is helpful to think with in connec­tion with networked cyber­spaces (Cf. Hilde­brandt 2017). How might we think about free move­ment and protec­tion when the space through which we move is both phys­ical and virtual ? Thinking about what it moves to move freely through the lens of itin­erant sover­eignty is fruitful because it forces us to step outside of legal frame­works as if they were repre­sen­ta­tions of how polit­ical space is prac­ticed and into what actu­ally happens when people, ideas and things move (or are blocked) through phys­ical and virtual spaces.

Discussion : Emmanuel Blanchard, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines-CESDIP/ICM, and Laura Odasso, Collège de France /​ICM

Farida Souiah, LAMES : Free movement between France and Algeria : a lost cause for French bureaucrats (1962–1989) ?

Since Alge­ria’s inde­pen­dence in 1962, circu­la­tions of people have been a major diplo­matic issue in Franco-Algerian rela­tions. The Evian agree­ments, signed on March 18, 1962 and approved by refer­endum on April 8 of the same year, main­tained a priv­i­leged regime of circu­la­tion between France and Algeria. No specific travel docu­ments were required for Alge­rians to travel to France. They were free to travel between France and Algeria with an iden­tity card (except in the case of a court deci­sion). The post-colo­nial period is that of a multi­pli­ca­tion of obsta­cles to freedom of move­ment, through increasing required formal­i­ties for migrants and trav­elers between the two coun­tries. Based on the French diplo­matic archives located in La Courneuve, this contri­bu­tion focuses on the actors and insti­tu­tions that posi­tioned them­selves in defense of freedom of move­ment between 1962 and 1989 (the year visas were imposed between the two coun­tries), tracing the evolu­tion of the argu­ments mobi­lized and the causes invoked to justify their imple­men­ta­tion or main­te­nance, at least from a formal point of view. In partic­ular, it explores the diver­gences between the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) and the French Ministry of the Inte­rior, as well as the diver­gences within MAE on this issue of freedom of movement.

Mahmoud Keshavarz, HDK-Valand Academy of Art and Design : Colonial Techniques of (Im)mobility

What does histo­ries of tech­nolo­gies of mobility from the perspec­tive of those banned from moving tell us ? Focusing on a time period from 1800 to 1920, this essay will bring few exam­ples of tech­no­log­ical forma­tions around which iden­ti­fi­ca­tion prac­tices were linked to the right to move.

Blending state and non-state actors who were involved in imposing, nego­ti­ating and contesting certain tech­nolo­gies of mobility control, the essay links the ways in which tech­nolo­gies of free move­ment for colo­nizers and their inter­ests were part and parcel of tech­nolo­gies of control­ling the colo­nized. In this sense, expan­sion, grasping and occu­pa­tion mobi­lized through a liberal claim to freedom of move­ment went hand in hand with restric­tions, confine­ment and expul­sion all of which were impos­sible without a set of specific iden­ti­fi­ca­tion prac­tices linked to the right to move. If free move­ment became possible for some because they could be known, this essay argues that the right to free move­ment always needs to be discussed in rela­tion to the right to opacity.

Emma Carmel, University of Bath : The double coloniality of ‘Europeanness’: free movement governance from Rome to Brexit

‘Free move­ment’ (strictly, free move­ment of labour, FMoL) is today frequently touted as an emblem­atic, even consti­tu­tive feature of the EU as a project. Yet this char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of FMoL as funda­mental to the iden­tity of the Union is belied by the major trans­for­ma­tions in its defi­n­i­tion, regu­la­tion and priv­i­leges since the Treaty of Rome. This paper argues that this ambiva­lent status of FMoL stems from its role as a central – if dynamic – gover­nance prac­tice of colo­nial polit­ical economy since the late 20c. ‘Free move­ment’ has never been a funda­mental condi­tion for either member state­hood or indi­vidual citi­zen­ship. However, FMoL is funda­mental to its ontology. That is, it is funda­mental to the ways in which the ‘Euro­pean­ness’ of the Economic Commu­nity, and later the Union, is dynam­i­cally artic­u­lated in rela­tion to both what is outside, or non-Euro­pean, and what is inside and is Euro­pean. Empir­i­cally the paper exam­ines four key changes in EU free move­ment regu­la­tion : Rome, the intro­duc­tion of social secu­rity co-ordi­na­tion ; Amsterdam and the 2004 acces­sions ; and pre-Brexit nego­ti­a­tions. It finds that FMoL gover­nance has always circum­scribed who gets to be Euro­pean and have access to FMoL ; and strat­i­fied the terms and condi­tions of such access among those who are deemed ‘Euro­pean’. These circum­scrip­tions and strat­i­fi­ca­tions are deeply impli­cated in the racial, gendered, classed and geo-polit­ical hier­ar­chies of the Union. Through this, we can iden­tify a double colo­niality of rela­tions : on the one hand, among highly strat­i­fied citi­zens and states inside the Union, and on the other, between ‘the Union’ and those citi­zens and states outside it. This double colo­niality is inscribed in specific regu­la­tions on work, marriage, social secu­rity and welfare. Despite regu­la­tory change and rede­f­i­n­i­tion over time, FMoL has persis­tently exhib­ited this double colo­niality ; contin­gently trying to fix the bound­aries of what counts as Euro­pean and Europeanness.

Discussion : Nora El Qadim, Université Paris 8‑CRESPPA/​ICM

Charles Heller : Towards a Politics of Freedom of Movement

If the only alter­na­tive to the current regime of border closure seems to be one founded in migrants’ freedom of move­ment, this polit­ical horizon is confronted with a host of difficul­ties. By way of trying to respond to these issues, we set out from the multiple borders and social bound­aries that constrain migrants’ move­ments as they travel, and high­light the many dimen­sions of the struggle into which one must engage to imple­ment a poli­tics of freedom of movement.

Kristin Surak, SOAS-University of London : Free Movement, For a Price : Investment Migration and Cross-Border Mobility

Invest­ment migra­tion programs offer “golden pass­ports” and “golden visas” in exchange for a passive invest­ment in a country. Driving demand for these offer­ings is the concern by the wealthy to secure mobility, whether in the present, in the form of crossing borders, or in the future as a Plan B. For those who can afford it, the programs offer a way to circum­vent borders once they become incon­ve­nient – which were often the borders that facil­i­tated their wealth accu­mu­la­tion in the first place. For the coun­tries, they bring in a fast but small injec­tion of foreign direct invest­ment with few costs. These dynamics offer inter­esting compar­isons with those of multi-national corpo­ra­tions, which also leverage juris­dic­tion to their own advan­tage, while coun­tries compete for a small slice of the pie.

Darshan Vigneswaran, University of Amsterdam : Freedom is a Road Seldom Travelled by the Multitude : Black Thinkers and Migration as Resistance

The concept of ‘free move­ment’ has often be8en narrowly conceived in ‘liberal’ terms, as corre­sponding to the absence of state imped­i­ments upon personal choices to move. This work seeks to move beyond this liberal frame­work, through a genealog­ical survey of the rela­tion­ship between ideas of phys­ical move­ment through space and the lived expe­ri­ence of autonomous choice across a range of anti-colo­nial and anti-racist polit­ical theory. The under­stand­ings of freedom that were consti­tuted in and through confronta­tions with racialised and colo­nial forms of oppres­sion, neces­sarily placed a heavy emphasis on addressing and over­coming terri­to­ri­al­ized, racialised and violent forms of control. In contrast to liberal ideals of freedom, these anti-colo­nial and anti-racist thinkers concep­tu­alised freedom as an activity or lived expe­ri­ence rather than a passive condi­tion or absence. Key here, was the notion that specific forms of im/​mobility – occu­pa­tion, trans­gres­sion, flight – etc. could unsettle terri­to­rial and radi­calised forms of power, and open up path­ways to alter­nate forms of polit­ical order. This paper explores how mobility came to be central to their under­stand­ings of what it meant to be free in these contexts, and then looks for ways in which these ideals of freedom may both reframe the way we think about contem­po­rary migrants’ acts of occu­pa­tion, trans­gres­sion and flight as political.


LIBRCIRC project is funded by the Institut Conver­gences Migrations.
Project coor­di­nated by Nora El Qadim and the LIBRCIRC team : Emmanuel Blan­chard, Sara Casella Colombeau, Olivier Clochard, Camille Gendrot, Laura Odasso, Hélène Thiollet, Antoine Pécoud.


Coor­di­nator : Nora El Qadim