Migration as a part of the consumer capitalist culture. Or when the content becomes obsolete


The last time I landed at Edinburgh airport I was welcomed by an Ipad questionnaire enquiring about the satisfaction of Edinburgh airport’s ‘customers’. The ‘customer’ in this case is a migrant – using the airport as a tool to move around and to explore the world. The ‘customer’ is here, as in any other market interaction, asked for their feedback. This use of visual culture allows for a simple and efficient interaction; the consumer/migrant does not even need to speak English. They need only choose from one of the three smiley faces representing their satisfaction. “Neoliberalism has pervasive effects on ways of thought to the point where it has become incorporated into the common-sense way many of us interpret, live in, and understand the world.[1]” Jason Read explains that neoliberalism is ‘an ideology that is generated not from the state, or from a dominant class, but from the quotidian experience of buying and selling commodities from the market, which is then extended across other social spaces, “the marketplace of ideas,” to become an image of society.[2]’ Under neoliberalism, a subject has become, as Foucault puts it, homo economicus, an entrepreneur of himself. However, what happens if one is unable to have a voice and govern his/her own life under the racialization of current neo-liberal global capitalism? There are millions of people migrating not because of pleasure or exploring the world, but to survive. They do it without appropriate papers and with the fear of death. The nation-state apparatus refers to them as sans papiers, refugees, or those without identity. Hence, I find it problematic when migration is treated like a consumer experience with smiley faces asking for one’s feedback. Those who desperately need to migrate are not treated like human beings, and are certainly never asked for their feedback. And why? Maybe because they happen to have lost their homo economicus status; they have become merely those without the papers.


I would like to have a closer look at the visual language used by the airport to ask about the immigration experience and refer to Marina Gržinić . Gržinić claims that: ‘Global capitalism has at its core a mechanism that simultaneously produces and eschews content, leaving us with an empty form – a performative repetitive mechanism so self-conscious that it neutralizes any revolutionary potential of the content.[3]’ She uses this mechanism when referring to art and culture today to explain how the content becomes empty while the form is ‘abnormal’. Even though, Gržinić speaks here about contemporary art and culture, especially big powerful exhibition projects (biennials, documentas, manifestas, etc.), I see here the parallel with the ipad visual questionnaire at the airport. Gržinić says that: ‘These forms of performance present and encapsulate a process of emptying (not only of diminishing, but in many cases completely nullifying) what at the level of content was made visible.[4]’ I believe that similarly, when ‘migration’ has become re-presented in various situations and re-used for marketing purposes to attract homo economicus, the form of its representation has become empty. ‘Thus content becomes abnormal while the form is normal.’ Gržinić even says that: ‘the form is being so snobbishly stylized, so to speak, that it is getting out of all proportion.[5]’ She concludes that: ‘The form is not hiding the content any more, but the way in which it is presented – through its formalization – makes the content obsolete.[6]Why does it matter? Because by formalization of the form which is emptying the important content, we become numb towards the urgent social reality. I was recently told by the people working for a homeless organisation in Edinburgh that their vendors who are European nationals have been forcibly taken from the streets of Edinburgh and deported to their home countries. Even though these people are employed here by a homeless organisation they can still be deported to their home country if found sleeping on the streets. The Home Office immigration officials are working in Edinburgh and have advised that if EEA Nationals are found sleeping rough, they are breaching their treaty rights and they can be arrested and deported. This updated policy and guidance came into practice on 4th May 2016 and it has been written for voluntary-sector agencies, local authorities and others working with EEA nationals facing homelessness. I was kindly forwarded it by one of the people working with homeless people in Edinburgh under the condition that they remain anonymous. What has changed since the original 2016 document is that rough sleeping is now being seen as an abuse of the right to freedom of movement (Reg 19(3)(c)). EEA nationals sleeping rough become liable to be removed, which may include detention and subject to re-entry restrictions for 12 months, regardless of how long they have been residing in the UK or if they are otherwise exercising Treaty rights. Nina Möntmann refers to Martha Rosler’s 1980s exhibition and action project ‘If You Lived Here’ concerned with homelessness in New York city. Möntmann explains that: ‘Less privileged, marginal social groups take up the spaces and enclaves assigned to them, or, like the homeless, have vagabond status. Hence the “homeless and other benefit-dependent groups … have no part at all in the struggles for territory. The absence of their own defined and hence defense-worthy space of collective consumption mirrors their lack of social cohesion.[7]’ This is what makes the situation problematic. One’s social space is defined by their legality to occupy certain place and their ownership of a place of residence. Hence the commercial advertisements promoting traveling experience and visual questionnaires asking for consumer’s migration experience are hiding the pressing social issues and their content becomes obsolete.  There are many today migrating without appropriate papers escaping fear of death and many who migrate with dreams of a better future. They do so without papers, without national identity or without physical place of residence.


[1] David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 3.

[2] Jason Read, ‘A Genealogy of Homo-Economicus’, 26

[3] Marina Gržinić http://www.ub.edu/doctorat_eapa/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Marina.Grzinic_Biopolitics-Necropolitics_Simposio_2012.pdf

[4] Marina Gržinić http://www.ub.edu/doctorat_eapa/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Marina.Grzinic_Biopolitics-Necropolitics_Simposio_2012.pdf

[5] Marina Gržinić http://www.ub.edu/doctorat_eapa/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Marina.Grzinic_Biopolitics-Necropolitics_Simposio_2012.pdf

[6] Marina Gržinić http://www.ub.edu/doctorat_eapa/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Marina.Grzinic_Biopolitics-Necropolitics_Simposio_2012.pdf

[7] Nina Möntmann http://www.e-flux.com/journal/09/61370/under-privileged-spaces-on-martha-rosler-s-if-you-lived-here-8230/


One thought on “Migration as a part of the consumer capitalist culture. Or when the content becomes obsolete

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s