Imperceptible Politics: Illegalized Migrants and Their Struggles for Work and Unionization

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Imperceptible Politics: Illegalized Migrants and Their Struggles for Work and Unionization


  • Holger Wilcke Berlin Institute of Migration and Integration Research, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany


Full Text   PDF (free download)
Views: 1346 | Downloads: 982


Abstract:  This article argues that illegalized migrants carry the potential for social change not only through their acts of resistance but also in their everyday practices. This is the case despite illegalized migrants being the most disenfranchised subjects produced by the European border regime. In line with Jacques Rancière (1999) these practices can be understood as ‘politics’. For Rancière, becoming a political subject requires visibility, while other scholars (Papadopoulos & Tsianos, 2007; Rygiel, 2011) stress that this is not necessarily the case. They argue that political subjectivity can also be achieved via invisible means; important in this discussion as invisibility is an essential strategy of illegalized migrants. The aim of this article is to resolve this binary and demonstrate, via empirical examples, that the two concepts of visibility and imperceptibility are often intertwined in the messy realities of everyday life. In the first case study, an intervention at the ver.di trade union conference in 2003, analysis reveals that illegalized migrants transformed society in their fight for union membership, but also that their visible campaigning simultaneously comprised strategies of imperceptibility. The second empirical section, which examines the employment stories of illegalized migrants, demonstrates that the everyday practices of illegal work can be understood as ‘imperceptible politics’. The discussion demonstrates that despite the exclusionary mechanisms of the existing social order, illegalized migrants are often able to find work. Thus, they routinely undermine the very foundations of the order that produces their exclusions. I argue that this disruption can be analyzed as migrants’ ‘imperceptible politics’, which in turn can be recognized as migrants’ transformative power.

Keywords:  illegal migration; imperceptible politics; migration; mobile commons; political subjectivity; social change; trade union; Rancière

Published:   29 March 2018


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v6i1.1297


© Holger Wilcke. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.