Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Book Review: The New Politics of Immigration and the End of Settler Societies



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4 Minutes

Guest post by Jakub Burkowicz, Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University. By focusing on the history of the racialization of Slavic immigrants in Canada, his research aims to uncover the discourses involved the construction of racial identity. He also investigates social movements, with an emphasis on antiracist and anarchist movements.  

Review of The New Politics of Immigration and the End of Settler Societies by Catherine Dauvergne (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

In The New Politics of Immigration and the End of Settler Societies, Catherine Dauvergne critically assesses the changing legal and political terrain of immigration in the Western world. Completed for publication in early 2015, this book in many ways anticipated Brexit and Trump – not explicitly by naming them, but by spelling out in advance the contours of the punitive politics of immigration now taking shape around us. Dauvergne considers the shifts in immigration policy characterized by ongoing asylum crises, increasing skepticism toward multiculturalism, a growing preference for highly mobile and wealthy immigrants, the criminalization of poor immigrants, and, crucially, the policy convergence of the European Union and the broader Western world.

In Part 1 of the book, Dauvergne devotes a chapter each to the asylum crisis, the fear of Islamic fundamentalism, and the end of multiculturalism. Her thesis is that in each example one can spot the disintegration of settler societies, a term used to characterize the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand which were all built through colonial displacement of Indigenous populations and heavy reliance on European immigration. With their nation building days behind them, settler societies are undergoing an existential shift imposed by the need to re-think immigration outside nation-building imperatives.

Dauvergne begins her analysis by considering how both the ‘old’ (European Union) and ‘new’ (settler societies) worlds are increasing efforts to stymie the flows of asylum seekers by cracking down on what media and politicians describe as ‘bogus refugees’ and ‘queue jumpers.’ The security turn of the post-9/11 period, which has led to such developments as the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, aims to reduce and criminalize migration – a trend increasingly observable everywhere. In settler societies, such efforts mark the end of an era. Societies, once eager to provide asylum, now practice a politics of deterrence.

In light of the rise of Islamophobia, Dauvergne notes a similar tightening of restrictions, with immigration law becoming the site to counteract alleged terrorism concerns. Noting how immigration law has become a tool for exclusion and othering, Dauvergne highlights a paradox: the space of liberal democracy is protected by liberal laws and norms while the boundary of this space is necessarily illiberal. As she points out, any immigration policy necessarily discriminates and excludes. The fear of Islamic fundamentalism has been used to justify the illiberal exclusion of potential Muslim migrants in the name of protecting liberalism itself, and this irony is not lost on Dauvergne.

In Dauvergne’s view, the Western world is moving away from multiculturalism. She argues that with multiculturalism’s shallow approach to culture, as well as with its inability to provide a unifying national identity, settler societies are joining ranks with the European community which has never warmly received the idea.

Dauvergne shifts her analysis in Part 2 to consider the new political terrain that is emerging in the immigration policies of settler societies. She argues that migrants not only face greater barriers to settlement, but that the idea of permanent status is being eroded as well. The loss of settlement as a permanent endeavor is at the core of the emerging politics of post-settler societies. The wealthy and highly skilled do not immigrate in search for a better life but move because they can. The poor, in contrast, face deepening restrictions including deportation. Other developments, she notes, include the growing number of guest and temporary worker programs along with the rise of ‘illegal’ immigration; the constraints on family reunification; and the emergence of European citizenship and the closing off of immigration from former European colonies. The temporary and precarious nature of immigration implies that immigration can no longer be associated with nation-building, integration, and cultural diversity. On this ground, Dauvergne announces ‘[t]he firm end of the settler society era’ (p. 184) and the beginning of meaner, market driven immigration politics of a new imperial zeitgeist.

The New Politics of Immigration and the End of Settler Societies connects a number of dots that help us sketch our present era. The author's strong criticism of the law coupled with genuine concern for migrants make this a relevant text for anyone willing to challenge conventional thinking on the subject matter. However, from my reading of this text, the author prematurely signs the death certificate of settler societies. My concern is that Dauvergne leaves out the pivotal term ‘colonial’ in between the words ‘settler’ and ‘society.’ The U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are settler colonial societies whose status as occupying powers remains despite the immigration shifts Dauvergne identifies. As settler colonies, they continue to articulate their national identities (even after the initial nation building project) and assert their dominant status over the various dispossessed Indigenous peoples whose territories and cultures they divide. The dispossession of Indigenous peoples implies an ongoing, rather than an eroding, colonialism.

A more balanced reading of settler (colonial) society might theorize the resistance to the shifts Dauvergne identifies. Social movements and campaigns like No One Is Illegal, Solidarity Across Borders, and the emergence of sanctuary cities, contribute to the re-articulation of national identity, to the ongoing contestation of colonialism, and to attempts to steer us away from the new politics of immigration. Observable throughout Europe and settler colonial societies alike, such movements provide what the author observes is lacking in contemporary immigration politics – namely, a ‘rhetorical space for thinking of migrants as holders of robust human rights entitlements’ (p. 205).  Including immigrant, refugee, and migrant-based social movements would certainly strengthen Dauvergne’s challenge to re-imagine immigration by starting with the rights of migrants over those of states.

Despite these concerns, this is a valuable book for immigration scholars, activists, law experts, and social scientists. Dauvergne’s writing is energetic, lucid, and intellectually daring. She advances a number of crucial insights, with her contribution lying in identifying the trends of the new disconcerting politics of immigration while opening up the subject to further discussion.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Burkowicz, J. (2017) The New Politics of Immigration and the End of Settler Societies. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2017/06/book-review-new (Accessed [date])

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