Contingent camps: An ethnographic study of contested encampment in the northern French and northern Moroccan borderlands
As clandestine migration towards the European Union continues, politics of hostility and securitisation against those who travel northwards are constantly being reinforced. This thesis is situated in the shadows of borders zones where makeshift encampment is no longer tolerated, and violent deterrence practices intimately target migrant people. Drawing on extensive fieldwork among displaced people living in the borderlands of northern France (2017-2020) and northern Morocco (2019), it scrutinises how racialised acts of routine shelter destruction by police forces have come to be the norm at these sites. In these conditions, displaced people constantly seek to rebuild shelter or forge it out of the environment at the frontier: between the headstones of an abandoned Tangier cemetery or the petrol pumps of an industrial zone in Calais. Through a deep ethnographic approach, this thesis tunes into the rhythms that govern encampment, the atmospheres inherent to these spaces and their effects on those who live them. Moving beyond readings of the camp as a fixed space, it conceptualises these fleeting spaces of dwelling as “contingent camps”, drawing on assemblage, non-representational theory and writing on Black fugitivity to capture their dynamic ontology. Through interview extracts, field notes and visual materials, this thesis bears witness to a punitive contemporary geography of ruination, drawing on microlevel evidence to discuss the human, humanitarian and (geo)political implications of the rise of contingent camps. It also investigates the ambiguous social formations and modes of resistance these spaces give rise to, conceptualising the mode of dwelling that emerges in these conditions as rhizomatic and fugitive, joining a broader body of work theorising migration as a defiant, decolonial act.