"Reconceiving Immigration Politics: Walter Benjamin, Violence, and Labor," in American Political Science Review 114(1):95-108 (go to article)
This paper theorizes the circulation of violence in the realms of immigration and labor. Through Walter Benjamin, I conceptualize the relationship between racial violence and law and note that while violence can support the authority of law, excessive violence—as in US immigration enforcement—makes law vulnerable to decay. This tension between authority and excess is eased by humanitarianism, a prevalent narrative in today’s immigration debate. Yet, rather than opposing violence, humanitarianism legitimates it. Against this, I theorize radical scripts of labor organizing through Benjamin’s notions of the real state of exception and the general strike, in conversation with farmworker activism by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. I conceptualize three dimensions of emancipatory politics: (a) practices of refusal (to engage on the terms of the immigration debate), (b) the establishment of historical constellations (of racial regulation of labor constitutive of law), and (c) glimpses of divine violence (through exposure of lawful violence in the food production chain).