Afterword: What Contemporary Camps Tell Us about the World to Come

Our knowledge and understanding of contemporary camps developed significantly at the end of the 1990s, and the relative importance of this field of study today reflects not only the significance of encampment in the world but also the political concerns it raises. The history of encampment can be captured through some landmark studies (in French and in English) referenced here.

In order to attempt a genealogical reading of the current literature on camps, I will outline three arguments that are central to the issues tackled by researchers and are the main themes of the controversies surrounding all discourses and practices about camps: a securitarian argument, which links the general concept of encampment to the colonial era, a time when an ambivalent relationship between camps and humanitarian action started to emerge; a humanitarian argument, which somehow reproduces the first argument in reverse because encampment, when considered as a problem, is dealt with from an array of positions going from moral denunciation to (bio-)political analysis; and an identity-based argument, which first caught the attention of anthropologists when this new research highlighted issues such as the loss of identity or the anchoring of relationships and subjectivities. We will see, however, that these three approaches have often intertwined in recent years.

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About Michel Agier

Michel Agier, an anthropologist, is professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris) and senior researcher at Institut de Recherches pour le Développement (IRD). His main interests are human globalization, exile, and urban marginalities. He is coordinating the research program Babels—The City as a Borderland (2016–18) supported by French Agency for Research (ANR). He published in English At the Margins of the World (Polity, 2008), Managing the Undesirables: Refugees Camps and Humanitarian Government (Polity, 2011), and Borderlands: Towards an Anthropology of Cosmopolitan Condition (Polity, 2016).