Public Engagement

Politics Department Speaker Series w/Professor Ayten Gündoğdu

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Wolff Conference Room, Room D1103, Albert and Vera List Academic Center 6 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003, Room D1103

Forced Disappearances: A Critical Phenomenology of Border Deaths

Borders have become increasingly lethal in the last two decades. According to a recent estimate provided by the International Organization for Migration, at least 60,000 migrants have died as they tried to cross borders since 2000. This is a conservative estimate that counts only the deaths that occur at the territorial borders of states or in the process of reaching those borders; it does not take into account the deaths that result from routine practices of border enforcement, including deaths in immigration detention centers, or deaths resulting from the use of force during deportation, or deaths connected to the refusal of asylum claims or humanitarian visas. 

The challenges of holding states accountable for border deaths demand a critical interrogation of the organizing principles of the international order. Proposing a critical phenomenological perspective, this lecture repurposes the term “forced disappearance” for rethinking border deaths as state crimes that push migrants outside the pale of the law, make it difficult for their families and friends to locate their whereabouts, and render their lives disposable. For the most part, existing legal frameworks, including the international human rights norms, fail to provide migrants with robust protections against such lethal border control practices. In fact, the law itself turns into a site of “forced disappearance,” when it justifies these practices in the name of territorial sovereignty, endows sovereign violence with an aura of legitimacy, and effectively renders migrants dead to rights. A form of civil death antedates migrants’ physical deaths, in other words, and it can help explain why border deaths remain legally unaccounted for. 

Ayten Gündoğdu is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Barnard College-Columbia University. Her research addresses problems related to human rights, migration, sovereignty, and personhood by drawing on the resources of modern and contemporary political theory. She is the author of Rightlessness in an Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants (Oxford, 2015).

Presented by The New School for Social Research.

Event Type

Lectures and Panel Discussions


Politics, Policy and Government


The New School for Social Research, Department of Politics






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