The urban fabric of contemporary Spain has long included the presence of street vendors. Selling a range of counterfeit goods, from Ray-Ban sunglasses to Gucci bags and Nike trainers, these hawkers are mostly undocumented migrants from developing countries. They occupy patches of pavement where footfall is heavy, so as to illicitly, albeit very publicly, sell their goods, laid out on mantas, or blankets. Attached to these blankets are four strings, one fixed at each corner, that are then joined together at the center of the rectangle. When police are sighted, the strings can be grabbed and pulled up, instantly converting the manta into a sack that can be hoisted on the migrant’s back as they flee to evade detention. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Barcelona in 2018, this article explores ideological dynamics that produce the contexts and tensions experienced by the manteros. The strings of their sack facilitate a fluidity between physical mobility and immobility, or between migrancy and detention, metaphoric of the precarity of lives and livelihoods that are borderline. Through a conceptual lens shaped from theories of sociomateriality, the article explores the systems and practices of neoliberalism in Europe from the perspective of the street vendors, who embody and perform the bordering mechanisms that propel such economies. As such, Spain and Catalonia’s alignment with the European Union comes into view, as does the granularity of Spanish democracy and its tensions, especially within the context of Catalonia’s struggles with the central government. To read the lives and contexts of undocumented migrants as street vendors leads to a questioning of neoliberal democracy and its dependency on bordering mechanisms that assign migrant lives and bodies to socioeconomic margins. Yet, neoliberalism also defines its own hegemony through the construction and perpetuation of such margins, so that bordering becomes a self-perpetuating sociopolitical dynamic.

You do not currently have access to this content.