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Counterfeit Asylum: The Gift of Gender in Confinement

5 April 2011

Time: 5:00 - 7:00pm
Venue: Francis Bancroft Building, Level 4, Room 4.26 (Mile End Campus)

Abstract:
In the last half-century, the so-called `strong passport’ so-called democracies have turned the application for asylum into a criminal justice procedure. In so doing, these nation-States have redefined citizenship as they have redrawn the maps of national sovereignty.  Take, for example, the Lindela Repatriation Centre in Krugersdorp, South Africa. It is a prison filled with people who have committed no crimes but rather are deemed unworthy of citizenship. Seen from the perspective of asylum seekers, the overwhelming majority of whom are Zimbabweans, there is no South Africa, there is no Zimbabwe. There is rather South Africa/Zimbabwe, bound and separated by punctuation, by power, but not by a border. For Zimbabwean women, the life in Lindela, a private prison opened initially by the African National Congress Women’s League, is particular and particularly dire.

A consideration of the political economy of asylum in the UK, US, Canada, South Africa, Australia in the current neoliberal global Moment finds variants of this narrative repeated endlessly. Asylum has come to mean detention. But what is asylum and how has it become part of the global carceral fabric?

Asylum has become part of a political economy of worthy and unworthy citizens. When processed through the prison industrial complex, scholars have tended to use a Foucault – Agamben frame of control and discipline, of bio-politics and bare life. This paper suggests not so much an alternative as a supplementary reading. Historically, asylum was not about states of exception, but rather exceptional states, states capable of responding to a plea of mercy, states capable of bestowing the gift of citizenship on otherwise unworthy people.

Professor Moshenberg proposes to re-read the political economy of worth and unworthy in asylum procedures, when seen from a perspective that centers on Black women asylum seekers. A somewhat Derridean reading of debt cycles, gift cycles, violence, national sovereignty, is merged with a reading, via Marx and Negri (and their readers), of labor, accumulation, surplus, and value. In the end, he argues that Black women asylum seekers are global precarious citizens, are, more precisely, citizens of global precarity.

About the speaker:
Professor Daniel Moshenberg is Director of the Women's Studies Program and co-convener of Women in and Beyond the Global, both at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. He has worked with women's movements, youth movements, worker and trade union movements, anti-privatization and anti-eviction movements, landless peoples' movements, and various education movements and projects in the United States and in South Africa. He edited <P/L/C>: Prison/Literacy/Cultures, a special issue of PRE/TEXT: A Journal of Rhetorical Theory. He has published in Semiotext(e), Rethinking Marxism, Voice of the Turtle, State of Nature, Interventions, Radical Teacher, The Mail & Guardian, Pambazuka and elsewhere. He translated Paul Virilio’s Lost Dimension. Searching for South Africa: The New Calculus of Dignity, critical writings by South African social movement activists, co-edited with Shereen Essof (University of South Africa (UNISA) Press, 2011). He is completing a book, tentatively entitled Haunts: Women In and Beyond the Global Prison, on women’s global and transnational prisons. He is a founding member of the Tenants and Workers United of Northern Virginia.

All are welcome. To attend the seminar, please send an email to Ade Alele a.alele@qmul.ac.uk.

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