31/05/2023 – Migration Seminar: Citizen X: A transatlantic ethnography of undocumented activism

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Date(s) - 31/05/23
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm



This Migration Seminar discusses Dr. Thomas Swerts’ forthcoming book (University of Chicago Press) entitled Citizen X: A Transatlantic ethnography of undocumented activism. In the second year of his fieldwork, Thomas Swerts drove a van full of undocumented activists across borders to attend a protest. Fariss overcame his fears during the risky undertaking and used his experience to call others to action. A few months later, Fariss was arrested and detained for not wearing his seatbelt. Despite protests by supporters, he was deported back to Morocco.

How do undocumented migrants like Fariss become activists against all odds? How can we make sense of the fact that undocumented activists are powerful, resourceful, and hyper-visible yet vulnerable, precarious and relatively invisible all at once? And why do the actions they organize from the margins hit politics-as-usual in its very core? These are the complex and provoking questions that Swerts poses in this transatlantic ethnography.

Based on years of immersion as an ally in Chicago and Brussels, Swerts offers an unprecedented inside look into the birth, growth and demise of undocumented-led organizations. In both cities, migrants struggled to create a space from where they could speak their own truth. Lived experiences of illegality tend to reinforce feelings of powerlessness. But Swerts reveals that under certain conditions, vulnerabilities can be turned into collective strengths. By openly sharing their stories, vehemently contesting mobility restrictions, and publicly expressing their raw emotions, undocumented activists expose the hidden reality of ‘Citizen X’.

At a time when legal avenues for migration are becoming narrower and undocumented migrants are blatantly criminalized and stigmatized, Swerts’ book discloses the fundamental inequalities and social injustices that result from unevenly distributing legal status in the world while highlighting the renewed meaning that non-citizens are giving to citizenship from the ground up.

About the speaker
Thomas Swerts is an Assistant Professor in Urban Sociology at the Department of Public Administration and Sociology of the Erasmus University Rotterdam. He previously received his PhD in Sociology from the University of Chicago. He has extensive experience in ethnographic and participatory research with undocumented migrants and has regularly been consulted by civil society and government actors over the years. His research on the nexus between migration and urban studies has been published in journals like the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Antipode and the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. At the Erasmus University Rotterdam, he is a member of the Team Policy, Politics and Society led by Prof. dr. Peter Scholten and he serves as the coordinator of the Sociology Master Track in Urban Issues and Policy (Grootstedelijke Vraagstukken en Beleid).

The seminar will take place on Zoom, via the following link.

Please note that this seminar will be recorded and live streamed via UNU-MERIT’s YouTube channel as well.

You can find the previous Migration Seminars in this YouTube playlist.

For further information, please contact Laura Cleton (convenor of the seminar series, on behalf of UNU-MERIT & MACIMIDE): laura.cleton@maastrichtuniversity.nl

Venue: Zoom: https://unu-merit-eu.zoom.us/j/89622112631?pwd=cnJHVlF4R0JHYXBUOVowbEhISkVndz09

Date: 31 May 2023

Time: 16:00 – 17:00  CEST