The global mobile labour force in the modern/colonial world-system: analysing migrant integration in Germany

Abstract

Following the ‘European refugee crisis’, European states have initiated different migration and integration policies that often perpetuate and reinforce nation-state otherisation, capitalist exploitation, colonial legacies, and gendered and racialised oppression. Using an interdisciplinary approach based on decolonial theory, world-systems research, Marxist analysis, critical state theory, critical race theory and feminist critiques, this article finds that a rigorous investigation of a complex world-system and its deep structures, including modernity/coloniality, capitalism, the nation-state, racism and sexism, can shed light on the formation of a global mobile labour force that manifests itself in place- and context-specific ways. Based on this assertion, this article analyses processes of migrant integration in Germany’s domestic work force and points to its colonial, gendered and racialised dynamics. The article concludes by reviewing Napuli Langa’s account of and involvement in the migrant resistance movement in Germany which began in 2012. This resistance movement highlights alternative ways of living together in and against the modern/colonial world-system that goes beyond (neo)liberal inclusionism.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74VqBx-goms (last accessed on 5 August, 2019).

  2. 2.

    Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHDdwgrwugo (last accessed on 5 August, 2019).

  3. 3.

    Available at https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-de/service/bulletin/rede-von-bundeskanzlerin-dr-angela-merkel-1543598 (last accessed on 5 August, 2019).

  4. 4.

    Available at http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/markus-soeder-ueber-heimat-und-integration-egal-woher-du-kommst-a-1165463.html (last accessed on 5 August, 2019).

  5. 5.

    This article understands that while the current migrations from Africa and the Middle East to Europe have evoked a new phase of South–North migration characterised by the emergence of neo-fascism and the convergence with other unprecedented global crises (Ahmed 2010; Figueroa-Helland and Lindgren 2016), they are the result of a much older world-system and its underlying deep structures (including coloniality, capitalism, the nation-state, racism, sexism and others). Hence, the current crisis showcases context-specific manifestations of this world-system. The ‘crisis’ here is twofold. Firstly, and following Bhambra (2017), it is primarily the migrants themselves (not European citizens or societies) that are in crisis. Secondly, it is a crisis of the world-system whose constitutive contradictions, violence and injustices are being exposed. To some extent, the re-surfacing of far-right neo-fascist groups as well as the anarchist, leftist and migrant resistances in the context of the ‘refugee crisis’—or what Robinson (2013) describes as the failure of top-down reformism being met with both neo-fascist and leftist grassroot movements—can be understood as a Polanyian countermovement to the dis-embedding of the economy from society. However, as this article tries to highlight, this crisis manifests not only in the global capitalist system, but in the modern/colonial world-system at large.

  6. 6.

    Many colonial administrations continue to exist including, among others, Canada, USA, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

  7. 7.

    As pointed out before, this process of categorisation is also entangled with gendered, sexualised and religious dynamics.

  8. 8.

    Mann (1984) distinguishes infrastructural power from despotic power, which describes the actions exercised by the state elite without institutionalised processes.

  9. 9.

    This is not to say that agency is no longer possible, but that this structural characteristic is compatible and entangled with capitalist accumulation.

  10. 10.

    As evidenced with regard to the current European migration ‘crisis’, capitalism is not the only force driving displacement and South–North migration; insecurity, conflict and war as well as environmental degradation, climatic stresses and the planetary ecological crises in general are equally vicious and structurally anchored causes of displacement (Delgado Wise 2013, 2015; Bose and Lunstrum 2014; Bettini 2013; Castles 2014). Often a combination of different factors causes displacement such as in the case of Syria where a convergence of conflict, oil imperialism, geopolitical power politics, military intervention, climate change, drought, rural–urban migration and food shortages have led to migration towards Europe (Al-Khalidi et al. 2007; Gleick 2014; Burrows and Kinney 2016; Ahmed 2017). This also alludes to the fact that capitalism is entangled with other deep structures and ‘global imperial designs’ (Mignolo 2000; Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2015a) and implicated in ecological and insecurity-based drives of displacement, which together create what Mbembe (2003) calls ‘death-worlds’.

  11. 11.

    It cannot, however, veil the contradictory forces of the nation-state and neoliberal capitalism, nor the ideological inconsistencies of the modern/colonial world-system, which are exposed by cross-border migrants through the very act of transcending nation-states. South–North migration in this context can be seen as a decolonial act.

  12. 12.

    This effectively positions migrants within this reserve army of labour as what Agamben called ‘Homo sacer’, the apolitical other, who can be killed with impunity (Dines et al. 2014).

  13. 13.

    Such mechanisms have been outlined in detail by Wong (1989) and include the conflation of the status with the identity of migrants and the forced/voluntary and legal/illegal dichotomies.

  14. 14.

    It goes without saying that there must be unbearable conditions in the country of origin that cause forced displacement and migration in addition to social and economic processes in the global North.

  15. 15.

    This also begs the question which lives are worth caring for within the modern/colonial world-system.

  16. 16.

    This decrease in official migrant deaths should not be confused with an improvement or elevation of the causes of displacement. Instead, through complex processes of outsourcing borders to, for example, Africa (including, among others, to Libya and Sudan as illustrated by the 2014 Operation Triton, the 2015 Operation Sophia and the 2017 Memorandum of Understanding between Libya and Italy), Europe is able to stop migrants much earlier than before (Bialasiewicz 2012; Menjívar 2014).

  17. 17.

    Here, Germany’s stance towards the genocide against the Herero and Nama people—the first genocide of the twentieth century—is exemplary as it did not issue a formal apology until 2015 and continues to refuse to pay reparations.

  18. 18.

    This refers to the global colour line discussed by Lake and Reynolds (2008).

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Acknowledgements

Many thanks and gratitude to Giancarlo Panagia for his mentorship and guidance throughout this project and beyond, to Debbie Samaniego for her support and invaluable feedback, and to the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and insights. I also thank Rebecca Richard for her comments on early drafts, as well as Leonardo Figueroa-Helland and Abigail Perez-Aguilera for many reasons.

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Mantz, F. The global mobile labour force in the modern/colonial world-system: analysing migrant integration in Germany. J Int Relat Dev 24, 1–26 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41268-019-00181-9

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Keywords

  • Germany
  • Migrant integration
  • Migrant resistance
  • Mobile global labour force
  • Modern/colonial world-system
  • South–North migration