The Image and Image-Making of Immigration Control

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The purpose of this study is to reformulate the way immigration control is framed in the migration literature. It is primarily a theoretical paper, situating migration scholarship in the context of various concepts of the state from Max Weber to Joel Migdal. The study charts a new course for how to think about the state’s role and activities in the sphere of migration control. It draws on examples from the Russian experience, based on field research in several regions of Russia and analysis of political and legal developments in the migration sphere. It seeks to understand why the policies and practices of the state that seem contradictory can be understood as a state that is balancing a number of demands at the same time. After discussing definitions of the state, the article elaborates how the image and practices of immigration control in Russia diverge and can be contradictory. The image of immigration control, as demonstrated through the statements of political elites, laws on papers, and the measurable indicators that bureaucratic organs produce, seek to create symbols of immigration control. Practices in the sphere of immigration control, however, may not uphold the image. Nevertheless, the author argues that producing a coherent image of immigration control is an important stabilizing factor and allows practices (implementation on the ground) to remain contradictory. The article analyzes political rhetoric, legal outputs, and official statistics to suggest concrete ways in which state actors and agencies seek legitimacy in the immigration arena. The state projects a certain image of immigration control using rhetoric, written documents such as laws and other policy documents, and through the production of official data. Other ways state actors build and reinforce the image of immigration control in Russia are through visible activities such as migration raids or the creation of state migration centers where many migrants are served (and money from fees is collected). The importance of these activities is primarily symbolic rather than in their ability to actually reduce illegal immigration or change migrant flows. While the image of control may or may not be realized into actual migration control, scholars find that the promise to control migration is essential. Drawing on the perspective of Migdal, contradictions between the practices of the state and the image it strives to project does not necessarily create a picture of a state with limited capacity or coordination. Rather it opens up analysis for a nuanced and multifaceted picture of the state.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-190
JournalВестник Томского государственного университета
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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