Race and Empire in Europe's Borders

Hosted by the European Institute

In-person and online public event (LSE Campus, Marshall Building, 1.04)

Racism and the use of violence against people on the move have no place in the liberal theories and self‐perception of the European Union (EU) and its member states. The EU portrays itself as a liberal institution guarding rights, liberties, and human dignity whose promotion in Europe and worldwide is grounded in its constitutional treaties. Liberal concepts and visions also dominate the study of the EU not only as a historical process, but also as an institutional and organizational project. 

However, a different story has unravelled in Europe’s peripheries where racial violence has become a norm of the EU’s external boarder work. This is a story that has not been captured by the liberal visions of Europe. Thousands of lives are lost to sea and desert every year. Physical violence, police brutality, pushbacks, forced detentions and deportations are daily experiences of clandestine journeys of people from Europe’s former colonies.  

A new form of imperialism has also emerged as the EU draws its ‘externalized’ border across the Sahara, enlisting African countries to police their populations for the benefit of Europe. Outsourcing of immigration control, the main pillar of the EU’s border management, has deterred, confined, and repressed people on the move. It has displaced violence to places where it can’t be seen or detected. 

How can we explain the existence of a border that systematically generates conditions for mass migrant deaths, a border that results in abuses on the part of collaborating states in countries of origin, transit, and destination? What do these ever-expanding processes of bordering, ordering, and othering tell us about Europe, European nation-states, and their integration project? 

Eurocentrism of existing conceptualisations of Europe and the EU as a force for good in the world, with established legal and political structures for the protection of life, rights, and liberties, as well as the prevention of violence make it difficult to understand violence and imperialism performed by the EU border regime. 

This event puts Critical Border Studies in conversation with Postcolonial and Critical Race Studies to detect the colonial logic of former empires that lives on in the EU border discourse, policy, and practice. The panellists will pose several questions about the relationship between Europe’s border/ing and Europe’s past and present colonialisms:  

- What role does racialized violence, past and present colonialisms of EU and its member states play in EU border security today? 

- What does the European border look like from the other side?  

- What kind of relationships does the border create between the EU and those who attempt to cross it?  

- What kind of Europe has emerged from its border practices? 

The event offers a novel reading of the European Union that challenges the normative and liberal theories of the EU.  Empirically, what happens at Europe’s borders delivers knowledge on the colonial impulses of coercion, imposition, and control over foreign territories and populations. Theoretically, the study of border brings the story of race, violence, and imperialism back to the account of an integrating Europe and the global order it produces in the process of bordering. It reveals that through its border, the EU re-enacts the past colonial practices of its members, former empires, and re-entrenches them in a hierarchical global order of the present. 

On the eve of elections to the European Parliament in which migration features high on electoral agendas, and at time when the new EU Pact on Migration is put in place, the LSE European Institute and the Brussels-based European Network Against Racism (ENAR) join hands with critical scholars to examine the interactions between border practices and the character of the EU. They explore how the new lines of inclusion/exclusion drawn in Europe’s peripheries and on distant shores inform the political identity of the EU.  

Find details about the days agenda in the Event Programme.


Nadine El-Enany, University of Kent; Emmanuel Achiri, ENAR; Janine Silga, Dublin City University; Tarsis Brito, LSE; Hope BarkerArshad Isakjee, University of Liverpool; Thom Davies, University of Nottingham; Jelena Obradovic-Wolchnik, Aston University; Magda El Ghamari, Collegium Civitas; Eva Polonska, LSE; Patrick Kimunguyi, LSE; Martina Tazzioli, University of Bologna.

More about this event

The European Institute (@LSEEI) is a centre for research and graduate teaching on the processes of integration and fragmentation within Europe.

This event is part of the European Institute's Beyond Eurocentrism Programme. The Beyond Eurocentrism programme aims to explore how the shape and shaping of Europe – its political-economy, its political policy making, or its political culture – needs to be rethought in a time of the exhaustion of Eurocentrism.

Twitter Hashtag for this event: #LSEEurocentrism

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