political history of contemporary migrant crossing in the Mediterranean involves starting from Europe’s borders, and more precisely from its “margins”. Relatedly, in order to expose that what is happening today in the Mediterranean is not unprecedented, it is fundamental to avoid the trap of presentism that underpins both academic and non-academic debates. Migrants who cross the Mediterranean tend to be depicted as a “bare humanity” (Malkki, 1996: 387) formed by subjects who are deprived of history. An analysis of the violent politics of migration containment and of its most recent transformations needs to attend to the history of the EU’s border regime and of the contentious politics that it generated among EU member states as well as with non-European countries. This is what Ċetta Mainwaring’s book, At Europe’s Edge: Migration and Crisis in the Mediterranean brilliantly draws attention to: indeed, the EU’s politics of migration containment cannot be fully understood without “centering on the margins” (Mainwaring, 2019: 16), that is by focusing the analysis on border-zones that have been considered as marginal or peripheral. 

A case in point, as Mainwaring highlights, is represented by Malta, which has quite surprisingly been ignored in migration literature, with few exceptions, despite its contested role in search and rescue activities. The book deconstructs the “migration crisis” narrative by retracing how administrative measures, as well new policies that had been enforced as temporary emergency responses have been consolidated and fully integrated into the EU’s border regime. As Mainwaring asks, “at what point does such an entrenched ‘crisis’ stop becoming an emergency and become the normal order of things?” (148). In this respect, it is worth stressing for instance that six years after that the European Commission introduced the “Hotspot Approach” in 2015 in response to the so called “refugee crisis” in the Mediterranean, both formal and informal hotspots have multiplied across Europe. Indeed, people seeking asylum in Europe have been increasingly subjected to preventive illegalisation and denied access to the asylum procedure.

Here I would like to focus on two theoretical-political points that At Europe’s Edge pushes us to reflect on. The first concerns the importance of grappling with the specificity of borders and border-zones, depending on their locality and functions: what do we gain, analytically and politically, from focusing on border-zones like Malta who are deemed to be “marginal”?  The second point is related to the persistent excess and deviation of actual state’s interventions for regaining control over unruly mobility, with respect to official migration policies: how shall we come to grips with the apparent arbitrariness through which border violence is perpetuated? As far as the salience of locality and specificity of border-zones is concerned, Paolo Novak has called for “investigating borders’ spatial manifestation as a way of discovering how the social is configured in place-specific and embodied settings” (Novak, 2017: 849). In fact, it is not only a question of bringing the edges of Europe from the margins to the core. Rather, as Mainwaring shows, methodologically taking “peripheral” border-zones as vantage points enables us to investigate how state measures introduced as emergency responses have been routinized and to grasp the field of tensions and the contestations they triggered. 

Alongside that, a focus on Europe’s edges is by far not narrowed to geography. Indeed, taking into account the socio-political specificity of the border-zones involves exploring how these latter partially shape and inform the way in which migration policies and laws are enforced. An insight into Europe’s edge sheds also light on the discrepancy between official migration policies and laws, and the actual ways in which both states and non-state actors intervene for containing and illegalising migration. However, how shall we conceptualise the border violence that is often enforced by infringing International law or through administrative measures that de facto dodge legal obligation? As Enrica Rigo has poignantly stated, a political reading of the violence that migrants are persistently targeted by should refrain from the logics of arbitrariness. Arbitrariness “can work only as a dysfunction of a system considered fair as a whole […]  with respect to the management of European borders […] arbitrariness is neither random nor accidental, to the extent that it does not affect everyone who is subjected to the law in the same way” (Rigo, 2020: 186). 

This means that it is not in terms of exception or deviation from the legal norms that we could understand the role of “Lilliputian powers” (Mainwaring, 2019) - that is of “marginal” places like Malta and Lampedusa - in the EU's politics of migration containment. Indeed, such an approach would de facto end up endorsing the exclusionary border regime as long as its “excesses” are corrected. Instead, as Mainwaring’s book also suggests, it is a matter of investigating and contesting the racialised borders of Europe starting from how these are enforced on the ground at its margins. 

At Europe’s Edge invites us to pay attention to the uneven geography of the EU’s border regime and its internal contestations. However, given that “the production of space is always implicated in the production of subjectivity” (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2013), we should also ask “which migrants’ legal and political subjectivities are crafted at Europe’s edge?” In turn, and related to that, if the racialised border politics are fundamentally contentious and unstable this is not merely because migrants try to resist and dodge controls, nor because they show agency. Or better, of course they do. Yet, more than that, in order to counter-map the violent and shifting geographies of border controls it entails taking stock of the constituent role of migrants in framing justice claims through their unruly mobility (Grappi, 2020). A genealogy of migration containment that focuses on Europe’s edge enables challenging the presentism which sustains “refugee crisis” narratives. The “margins” of Europe are also the vantage point for grounding a politics of justice grounded on the materiality of migrants’ struggles.


Grappi G (2021) Migration and the contested politics of justice: An introduction. In: Grappi G (ed) Migration and the Contested Politics of Justice. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 1-20.
Malkki LH (1996) Speechless emissaries: Refugees, humanitarianism, and dehistoricization. Cultural anthropology 11(3): 377-404.
Mezzadra S, and Neilson B (2013) Geography is not enough. Dialogues in Human Geography 3(3): 332-335.
Novak P (2017) Back to borders. Critical Sociology 43(6): 847-864.
Rigo E (2020) Struggles for Freedom within and against the Legal Order at the Borders of Europe. South Atlantic Quarterly 119(1): 182-192.

Martina Tazzioli is a Lecturer in Politics and Technology at Goldsmiths University. Her work explores the biopolitical mechanisms by which some subjects are racialised and governed as “migrants”, analysing the intertwining of modes of objectivation and subjectivities. More recently, she has investigated the technologization of the border regime and how technologies constitute a battlefield for migrants, states and non-state actors. Tazzioli’s monographs include: The Making of Migration: The Biopolitics of Mobility at Europe’s Borders (Sage, 2019); Tunisia as a Revolutionised Space of Migration (with Glenda Garelli, Palgrave, 2017); and Spaces of Governmentality: Autonomous Migration and the Arab Uprisings (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). Tazzioli is also part of the editorial teams of the following journals: Radical Philosophy, Politics, and Political Geography Open Research. She is also a member of the Euro-African network Migreurop.