Conceptualizing Borders

Benjamin Boudou

The Concept of Hospitality in Political Thought

Hospitality has known a theoretical revival since the 1990s in various fields of research, in order to address both a historical question (why hospitality seems to have disappear from our social vocabulary?), and a theoretical one (is it possible to address contemporary issues of mobility, integration and immigration with this concept?).

Often inspired by Jacques Derrida’s philosophical insight on the contradictory nature of hospitality, scholars tried to consider the moment of welcoming others, crossing boundaries, or giving time and space to strangers as a normative and critical ideal, which should help evaluating real policies through the lens of ethics.

The challenge for political theorists is to rediscover and reconstruct the political purpose of hospitality. In order to do this, they need to get rid of three clichés.

Firstly, the idea that hospitality is a manifestation of generosity; if hospitality may be or have been a matter of beneficence towards strangers, it is first and foremost a power relation. It involves different sorts of rights and claims, a more or less solid hierarchy, possibly some form of violence – symbolic or not.

Secondly, hospitality would be a synonym for openness. In fact, hospitality relations are more complicated: they distribute membership, define border policies, and shape political communities according to a specific balance between openness and closure regarding foreigners. Hospitality can be seen as a boundary apparatus that organizes relations between people wanting to come in and people already in.

Thirdly, many authors tried to define a ‘law of hospitality’. In other words, there would be an essence of hospitality entailing rights and duties that can be known a priori. On the contrary, hospitality is necessary relational, i.e. its meaning is made of various rules evolving with the related entities. Thus, defining hospitality means on the one hand identifying various ‘problematizations’, historically embedded in networks of concepts (what a foreigner, a border, or a political community means is always changing); on the other hand, explaining how the concept helps addressing contemporary issues.

I want to show why understanding hospitality as an ethical standard, a religious duty or an old-fashioned private virtue diverts us from seeing its political purposes. Thus, I will present a short genealogy of the political meanings of hospitality, through the identification of various historical moments or problematizations, and explain what are the features of hospitality that could make sense for contemporary politics. 


Laurence Roulleau-Berger

Rethinking the Question of Migration: multisituated inequalities, individuation and struggle for respect

Chinese migrants today are emblematic figures to analyze the transformation of local and global orders in China and in other countries in the world. Men and women are moving, circulating on different migratory routes, coming back to their native country, village, or city, and leaving again. They are acquiring migratory experiences and their social, ethnic, and gender identities are often tested. In China trials are social and gendered, in European and African countries trials are social, ethnic, and gendered. The geography of Chinese migratory spaces reveals new centralities and new peripheries, which are linked by intracontinental networks in China and transnational, diasporic, ethnic ones in Europe. Chinese migrations reveal new societal narratives in the globalization process. As contemporary societies are getting much more complex, economies are both local and global, more and more multipolar. Spaces of mobility are situated at different local, national and international scales and produce spatio-temporal frameworks. New Chinese migrations also forced us to consider diffracted inequalities and reticular dominations in multiple contexts, in different local and societal space. Given that hierarchies related to a new social economic, political, moral and cultural global order are constructed between these inequalities.

So biographies become more and more diversified, individualized and cosmopolitan, they produce plural identities built not only in different situations but also in multisituated times and spaces. Chinese migrants are constrained to reconfigure their identity in any new situation and are struggling to get social and public recognition in each new context. Chinese migrants are producers of competences in mobilization, reflexivity and resistance as well as being involved in a work of reconfiguration of identities. The Chinese migrants are positioned and position themselves in a diversity of spaces and temporalities. Competence asserts itself in its capacity to mobilize repertories of different roles and to combine individual experiences and resources of different natures in a more or less original way. Chinese migrants, especially the second generation in China and in Europe is demanding more and more respect, are producing new collective resistances’ competences. China’s internal and international migrations provide an international “geography of anger” to quote A. Appaduraï.

The conception of migration according to a constructivist approach therefore means conceiving them in relation to reticular dominations as well as social and mobility competences. In their experience of mobility and in their never-ending endeavor to attribute meaning to what they do, spatially and economically constrained Chinese migrants produce norms and accepted behaviors. As co-producers of the social worlds they inhabit or pass through, they always have at their disposal a greater or lesser capacity for the interpretation and invention of roles in diverse situations, which vary according to social, economic, cultural and symbolic resources.