This article starts with an observation made by many migrants and refugees stuck at Europe’s borders: that reception and detention facilities have become a money spinner and a racket. In conversation with the extensive literature on the biopolitics of borders, the article approaches this business as a “bioeconomy” to highlight how migration controls (sometimes framed in the idiom of care) facilitate profiteering and predation. Rather than focusing on the production of cheap, deportable labor, the bioeconomy perspective developed here is concerned with the extraction and generation of financial and other value from life itself. Visiting the US-Mexico and Euro-African borders in turn, it considers biotechnologies for surveillance and detection; detention and “warehousing”; and risk strategies for deterring migration, in each case delving into the political economy of human vitality in both its physical and psychological dimensions. The article concludes by asking whether irregular migrants may be “canaries in the coal mine” of an increasingly prevalent mode of profiteering from life itself.
Profits and Predation in the Human Bioeconomy
Ruben Andersson is an anthropologist and associate professor at the Department of International Development, University of Oxford. He is the author of Illegality, Inc.: Clandestine Migration and the Business of Bordering Europe (2014) and has written extensively on border security, irregular migration, and related topics. His forthcoming book, No Go World, is concerned with security risk and the “mapping of danger” in international crisis interventions.