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The ‘European’ Question: Migration, Race, and Post-Coloniality in ‘Europe’

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What is ‘Europe’? Who is a ‘European’? At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the ‘European Question’ has taken on a new significance and magnitude – above all in Europe itself, but also in its increasingly amorphous, externalised border zones and beyond. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, social movements were often pressed to address various political problems in terms of, for example, ‘the Jewish Question’ (or, in the United States, ‘the Negro Question’); thus, they approached these questions from the largely unexamined vantage point of relative privilege and power. In the wake of decolonisation on a global scale, this chapter proposes that there is an urgent need to critically formulate the European Question – as a problem of postcolonial whiteness – from the vantage point of transnational and intercontinental migration and the cross-border mobility of migrants. On a global scale, migration is implicated in socio-political and spatial conflicts that are defined on the basis of constructions of identity and difference, belonging and foreignness. Likewise, migration tends to be inseparable from ongoing socio-political processes of racialisation and racial formation. How, then, may we begin to examine anew the problems of European identity and the contradictory and competing productions of a European space – as racial formations and racial projects? By focusing a critical postcolonial lens on the very questions of European nationhood and ‘European’ identity more generally, the postcolonial politics of migration and race may serve to problematise some of the most urgent and dire perplexities of the contemporary European scene.


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  1. 1.

    Nahum Chandler poses practically the same questions: ‘Who counts, can be given an account, or can be given, as European? Who, or what, then, (is) Europe?’ (Chandler 2013: 51), in the context of asking another question that is nonetheless quite pertinent to the manner in which I am framing the central inquiry pursued in this essay. He asks: ‘What if a certain “Europe” might come to imagine that one W.E.B. Du Bois—Negro, African, Afro-Caribbean, African American, Black, American, European American, White, European, etc.—is one of its most distinguished practitioners of thought from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?’ (Chandler 2013: 50).

  2. 2.

    Here, notably, one of the explicit polemical aims of Du Bois’ essay is to compel a recognition among his U.S.-based audience ‘that after all America is not the centre of modern civilization’ ([1900a] 2014: para. 27).

  3. 3.

    In 2012, in the extended aftermath of the events of the Arab Spring, and amid ongoing civil wars in Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, and political and economic turmoil in Eritrea, in the enlarged EU-27 first-instance ‘refugee ’ recognition was only 13.9 %, with an additional 10.4 % of applicants denied ‘refugee’ recognition but granted ‘subsidiary protection’, and another 2 % granted authorization to stay for humanitarian reasons, in the first instance. In other words, 73 % of all asylum applications were rejected in the first instance (see Eurostat 2013).

  4. 4.

    An EU-commissioned report on detention revealed in 2006 that there were then at least 130 detention centres in the 25 EU member states (EP 2007). At the time this was probably an underestimate; certainly by now the actual number is much higher, especially once we take into account all of the work of interdiction that transpires beyond the continental territorial limits of Europe itself on behalf of the European border enforcement regime.

  5. 5.

    I am indebted to Can Yildiz for bringing this particular feature of the contemporary conjuncture of Roma racialization to my attention.

  6. 6.

    As an expression of its racial populism, Ataka (the ‘Attack’ Party) in Bulgaria has been known to contend that Bulgaria is still under the control of ‘Turks’.


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Correspondence to Nicholas De Genova .

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De Genova, N. (2016). The ‘European’ Question: Migration, Race, and Post-Coloniality in ‘Europe’. In: Amelina, A., Horvath, K., Meeus, B. (eds) An Anthology of Migration and Social Transformation. IMISCOE Research Series. Springer, Cham.

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  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-23665-0

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-23666-7

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