‘We are all refugees’: how migrant grassroots activism disrupts exclusionary legal categories

Perolini, Marco. 2022. ‘We are all refugees’: how migrant grassroots activism disrupts exclusionary legal categories. Social Movement Studies, ISSN 1474-2837 [Article] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

Migrant activists with precarious legal status mobilize against border regimes in Berlin under the label of ‘refugees’. They engage in a classification struggle through which they disrupt the legal notion of refugee by reappropriating an externally assigned category. Their struggle is crucial because legal status categories produce an exclusionary system in which only some migrants can obtain residence rights as well as other rights. I contend that migrants, in the context of their mobilization, collectively interpret their structural position vis-a-vis border regimes, characterized by oppression and exclusion. This collective interpretation is associated with the emergence of a refugee* collective identity that disrupts the legal notion of refugee. I argue that migrants mobilize under the label of ‘refugee’ not only for strategic reasons but also because of their shared beliefs regarding the unfairness of the asylum system. The refugee* collective identity not only disrupts exclusionary legal status categories but also interrupts some of the divisions among migrants that border regimes produce. This article contributes to showing that while migrant activism takes place in a political field that is not chosen by migrants, it has an impact on the regulatory framework that characterizes that political field. Moreover, my findings emphasize the importance of the connections between structural forms of oppression, including regulatory frameworks and classificatory systems, and collective identity processes emerging in the mobilization of subaltern groups.

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Activism; legal status; border regimes; refugees; collective identity; classification struggle

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24 January 2022Accepted
3 March 2022Published Online

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Date Deposited:

08 Mar 2022 10:42

Last Modified:

08 Mar 2022 10:42

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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