'Illegal' Traveller: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders (Global Ethics) 2010th Edition
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"Shahram Khosravi's new book, 'Illegal' Traveller is really powerful and rich. One of the gems for me is the way the author clarifies the networks of migration from several perspectives. There are so many facets: the loneliness of making one's way alone and defenseless except for trying to keep one's wits; the political economies of the networks of smuggling at the lower levels; the human rights indignities of being stateless and vulnerable to rape, violence, extortion, and disappointment; and the ways in which small time smugglers also are liable to bankruptcy and inability always to calculate the margins. Also of course, the descriptions of the author's family as mid level khans with open houses both in Isfahan and Bakhtiari country, and the alienation of being Bakhtiari in Isfahan. Also the descriptions of Defense Colony in Delhi (the American Institute of Indian Studies has a house there) and the Topkapi area of Istanbul, places I have inhabited as well, albeit under very different circumstances. The minority experiences with the resonances that are invoked from Kafka, Benjamin, and the comparative references from the southern border of the U.S. (migrants from Mexico and Central America) as well as the borders around Fortress Europe make the book a cartography of the contemporary world, one that is only gradually being taken seriously by analysts as something quite other than an aberration."
- Michael M. J. Fischer, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities, Professor of Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies
"The little-seen and personal perspective that is presented in Illegal traveller not only offers new empirical insights on human smuggling as a process, but also addresses the emotional aspects of the process of 'illegal' migration which hardly ever emerge in academic writing...Illegal traveller with its particular perspective on smugglers, which goes beyond state-defined categories of who and what is defined to be criminal, is a welcome contribution to the debate about 'illegal' migration from a side of the story that is too often ignored, but in need of telling."
- Ilse van Liempt, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Urban Geography at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.
'A moving, original and profound meditation on borders and illegality [...] Combining analysis with personal anecdotes and biographical vignettes [...] Khosravi combines intellectual distance with irony, wit and passion and never loses his ability to relate the particular to the general.' - Matt Carr, Race & Class
'Illegal Traveller is a very welcome addition to the literature on migration and it can be recommended to all whose interests go beyond traditional approaches.' - Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society
About the Author
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Khosravi takes the reader into his own journey from Iran to Switzerland to unmask the dialectic between politics and the body of an undocumented traveler. By positioning himself as the focus of the conversation, Khosravi recreates in an auto-ethnography the journey of many immigrants across the world. He invites the reader to an intimate conversation dwelling into his life as an immigrant and the life of other travelers to write a personal, yet academic account founded on the politics of immigration. To make his claim valid he juxtaposes the immigrations politics from around the world by using rhetorical devices to accentuate border crossing practices.
This intimate, personal, and direct book describes the undocumented body, specifically the undocumented body of the author that trespasses with his account the imagination of the foreigner reader to the experience of border crossing. From a performance studies point of view, Khosravi speaks about the “migratory performance” or the act to perform around the world the role of the undocumented traveler by providing examples of how undocumented travelers perform the role of the bodies without identity. Descriptions of bodily experiences such as embodiment of fear, Khosravi manages to depict the undocumented traveler as the body in trauma. In terms of a politics of representation, Khosravi depicts the undocumented traveler as symptomatic of the lack of immigration laws and the de-franchised individual, undocumented immigrants stand for more than just bodies in trauma. The agency of the body in transit trespasses the borders of personal determination, bodies in transit transcend the trauma and nostalgia of past/present events for a better future. Khosravi exposes the realities of undocumented immigrant and tactics of survival in the journey for a better life.
Even if you are against immigration or pro, reading Khosravi’s ‘Illegal’ Traveller An Auto-Ethnography of Borders brings to the front issues of human rights, criminalization of bodies in transit, and the politics of immigration around the world in a time of critical immigration crisis. Regardless of your feelings towards immigration, ‘Illegal’ Traveller An Auto-Ethnography of Borders investigates the human condition of the non-existent body, the body who belongs somewhere at the same time nowhere, the body without identity, and the undocumented traveler to demonstrate the significance of making solid politics to address immigration laws for once and forever. Khosravi does an outstanding job describing irrational sometimes even absurd immigration laws around the world. Furthermore, the author addresses in great detail the trauma of the bodies in transit and the unspeakable damage of the body caused by undocumented traveling. The reader will encounter in the ‘Illegal’ Traveller An Auto-Ethnography of Borders by Shahram Khosravi issues of immigration that are relevant and relatable in today’s nation, a nation of long history of migration. In addition, the reader will find personal accounts about bodily experience of immigration that make the reader relate on a humanistic level to the longing and suffering of people trying to find a place somewhere in the world.
Illegal Traveller is not only an auto-ethnography but also a lucid example of critical ethnography. D. Soyini Madison defines critical ethnography as “an ethical responsibility to address processes of unfairness or injustice within a particular lived domain” (2005: 5). Khosravi locates the “processes of unfairness and injustice” within the “lived domain” of asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants, refugees, or simply to put it in his word, “border transgressors.” As Madison distinguishes a critical ethnography from a conventional one through its “political purpose,” we can observe throughout Khosravi’s book, how he vehemently negotiates the political dimensions of the very intimate aspect of border-crossers’ bodies and lives. In Khosravi’s view, not only the lives of “border transgressors’ but also their bodies are politicized through the ritual of border crossing. The politicization of the bodies is taken place by the process of “dehumanization” marked by extreme gendered and racialized rules.
By providing ample ethnographic examples in the form of “biographical vignettes,” Khosravi demonstrates different stages of what he refers to as “the performance of border rituals.” This performance begins with the leaving one’s own country regulated by a nation-state, followed by a state of liminality occurring between the borders of two or more nation states which ends, at the best, in the condition of “homelessness.” This condition is pronounced by feelings of, as the author illustrates, shame, fear, and non-belonging to home or anywhere else. For him, as long as the capitalist rules of citizenship and nation-states persist, human beings are doomed to find themselves in such predicaments, to feel and internalize such sentiments. The internalization of conditions of “inequity” and “inferiority” is, according to Khosravi, imposed from outside forces to the border-crossers. This internalization is a result of tension between otherness and belong-ness. Khosravi sees only one way out of this condition and that is universalizing and de-territorializing the state of feeling at home everywhere, or to put it in Khosravi’s term “de-territorializing the state of homelessness.” He argues that only in the condition of “[homelessness] humanity is not territorialized” (2010:95). In his view, as he elucidates, “homelessness as a paradigm, as a way of being in the world, as a lifestyle, as ethical and aesthetic normativity opens the door to accepting the other as she is, not as how we want her to be. Only when home has vanished and humanity is no longer territorialized, only then, there will be a chance for humanity” (2010:96).
Khosravi structures his book based on a chronological order of different stages of the performance of border-crossing. These stages are summarized in seven short chapters, each highlighting specific themes and issues related to each stage, such as race, gender, identity politics, power relation and also hospitality. The author explores these themes and their relations through juxtaposing his auto-ethnographic experiences with theories, particularly those related to borders. By incorporating theories of scholars such as Theodore Adorno, Hanna Arendt and Walter Benjamin who not only observed but also were exposed to the violence of borders, Khosravi illustrates how, following Arendt, “The Right to have Rights” (the title of his final chapter), is crucial to attain. In his part observational, part foretelling approach in this chapter, Khosravi warns his reader that if we do not strive for obtaining such a right, we would lose our humanity; and the world would take a path to deterioration. Only through fostering this right, “the right to have rights, we would be able to achieve a balanced world, a world that is not based on power relations between the oppressor and oppressed. The construct of nation-state bestows power upon some and deprives others of power. It reduces the concept of citizenship to “civil rights.” According to this system, as Khosravi explains, there is no right outside of the system of nation-state. Hence, “there is no space for humanity” (2010:122).The “right to have rights” can be achieved, in his view, by “approaching history from the point of view of the defeated,” the oppressed. Even though he acknowledges that this approach “results in a philosophy of ‘the organization’ of pessimism,’” he asks his reader to view this pessimism, not as a contemplative sentiment, but an active, organized, practical pessimism used as a political strategy to prevent the imminent dangers looming over humanity” (2010:131).
As someone who was born and grew up in the same country as the author and as someone who has crossed many borders, though not illegally, not only I found this book intriguing and compelling, but also I believe it provides those who have crossed borders of any kind with a lens to look differently at their past and to achieve a better understanding of what border means and what they have achieved by crossing them. The book is, indeed, a thought-provoking, inspiring critical auto-ethnography. And although I agree with the author that our humanity is at risk, after reading the book, I needed to ask myself if Khosravi’s practical pessimism is at all attainable? If we can eradicate borders as long as students are educated at schools to strive for capitalist ambitions. More importantly, how are we supposed to replace so deeply entrenched constructs of nation-states and citizenships with a state of homelessness? Through his attentive observations and close interactions with asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants and refugees, Khosravi succeeds in deciphering the multi-layered meaning of borders and border-crossing. However, one wishes for more analytical accounts of the nation-state, its politics and mechanism, through which we might be able to find other ways, more practical ones to deconstruct or improve the status quo of our current borders. These questions should not be considered as a critique of Khosravi’s book but rather suggestions for further research in this area. I believe Khosravi’s work is a significant contribution not only to scholarly work in Anthropology but also other disciplines in social sciences and humanity.