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Lind, 2020 đź”—

The Continuous Spatial Vulnerability of Undocumented Migrants: Connecting Experiences of “Displaceability” at Different Scales and Sites 

Year: 2020

Type of text: Academic Article

Published by: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, ACME

Language: English

Author: Jacob Lind

Pages: 12

Available at:

Short description of text 

“In this intervention I draw on my research on undocumented migration to suggest that these and other kinds of displacements are interconnected as they are expressions of various forms of spatial vulnerability at different scales and sites. I then attempt to connect this suggestion with a discussion about the potential usefulness of the concept “displaceability”, which has been briefly introduced in a blog post by Oren Yiftachel (2018) (as part of the “MIT Displacement Resarch & Action Network blog symposium”).” (s. 386)

“I argue that the concept can help us even further if it is connected to larger issues of transnational migration, but it also has to be discussed in relation to similar concepts such as “evictability” (van Baar, 2016) and “deportability” (De Genova, 2002).” (s. 386)

“This paper focuses on how the spatial vulnerability undocumented migrants experience in their country of origin, especially in the case of people fleeing war or violence, continues in their host societies both through the constant threat of deportation and through the fact that most of them experience difficulties finding stability in their housing situation.” (s. 386)

Most important results

“This intervention argues that these policies that construct spatial vulnerabilities locally are connected to national and transnational policies of displacement globally and suggest that “displaceability”, the potential of being displaced, is a strategy for governing vulnerable groups at every scale where governing takes place. Consequently, this intervention suggests that displaceability can help us capture the universal, interconnected experience of spatial vulnerability shared by many differently positioned groups in the world who are susceptible to forced mobility or removal” (s. 385)

“In my research, the participants highlighted how the continuous stress they felt in relation to their housing situation was one of the most significant aspects of their everyday lives of living in a state of constant fear of being deported, or in “deportability” (De Genova, 2002).” (s. 286)

“Here I want to extend the discussions on deportability and evictability to thinking about the potential usefulness of viewing them as part of a more general phenomenon that relates to all different forms of spatial displacements that those positioned in deportability and/or evictability can experience along their life courses. Drawing on the experiences of undocumented migrants, I suggest various prolonged and connected experiences of displacement could be thought of in terms of spatial vulnerability. I draw on philosopher Catriona Mackenzie (2014) to argue for the usefulness of conceptualizing this phenomenon in terms or vulnerability.” (s. 387)

“The examples above show how spatial vulnerability on the housing market for undocumented migrants is produced through direct forms of governing in the UK, by making illegal to let apartments to undocumented migrants, and more indirect forms of governing in Sweden, by sharing of undocumented migrants’ address information between the social services and the border police. The “Right to Rent” policy is a specifically clear example of how hostile policies towards undocumented migrants are expressed through spatial “vulnerablisation”, or the creation of pathological vulnerability as a form of governing (Lind, 2019). I argue that it is necessary to analyse this spatial vulnerability on the housing market as connected to the spatial vulnerability many of these same people have experienced as they have been forcibly removed from their countries of origin because of armed conflict or them being at risk of persecution and violence, as well as their ongoing experience of living in a state of deportability. By connecting these forms of displacements, we can see how in western liberal states and regions (such as the EU) as well as in conflict-torn countries and regions from where refugees originate, spatial vulnerabilisation is a tactic and a result of policies and practices by those in power at all sites at various scales simultaneously. (p. 392)

In this intervention I further suggest that these different forms of displacements could be better understood through the concept of “displaceability”, which I propose could be used as an overarching concept to capture the broader experiences of spatial vulnerabilisation shared by many different groups who are continuously living with an over-shadowing threat of potential displacement. This paper points towards experiences of displaceability that undocumented migrants often experience both in their country of origin and in their host societies (as well as when they are transiting between these two sites). The concept of displaceability has the potential of connecting research areas, such as, for example, forced migration studies, studies on undocumented migration and gentrification studies. Migration researcher Stephen C. Lubkemann de-couples displacement from forced migration suggesting that displacement should be defined as “a disruption of key life projects (especially those involved with the navigation of the expected social life course), that is caused by an imposed interruption of the established baseline socio-spatial management strategies upon which those projects are premised” (Lubkemann, 2008, 468). This perspective of the “diffusing” of displacement is also important to bring into a discussion about displaceability; it does not necessarily imply the actual potential dislocation of a person but can also encompass the potential of losing a sense of home. The constant fear of having to change apartments or being deported is also detrimental to undocumented migrants’ (and not the least children’s) ability to make oneself feel at home. This is arguably a sought-after effect of most governing through displaceability (see Lind, 2019).“ (s. 392)


“Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Sweden and the UK, the paper shows how weak the position of undocumented migrants is on the housing market through recently established policies in the UK which criminalizes the letting of housing to undocumented migrants and the practice of sharing address information between the social services and the border police in Sweden.” (s. 385)

“This paper builds upon empirical observations made during ethnographic fieldwork among undocumented migrants in Malmö, Sweden and Birmingham, UK between 2014 and 2017 where I interviewed children and parents and took part in activities of NGOs and support networks that these families regularly attended (for more details on my methodology see Lind, 2017b).” (s. 386)

Suggestions for further research

“Experiences of displacements are wide ranging and interconnected, and I suggest that research on all issues relating to different forms of spatial displacements would benefit from thinking about them as interconnected forms of spatial vulnerability to better understand how the governing of local and territorial presence as well as mobility can take place at various scales and sites through the creation of pathogenic vulnerabilities.” (s. 388)

“Future research and debates are welcomed to discuss the potentially agentic characteristics of displaceability.” (s. 393)

“The examples in this paper are limited in scope and do not represent a comprehensive list of experiences that could be categorised as expressions of “displaceability”. More research is needed to establish which additional phenomena the concept potentially could help us understand better. However, my main reason for suggesting that this neologism could be useful is that I believe that research more generally would benefit from looking into how policies and practices that construct spatial vulnerabilities locally are connected to national and transnational policies and practices that construct them globally. The concept could help to capture the spatial character of the experiences of vulnerablised groups” (s. 393)

Summarized by: Josefine Carlsson