EU4A8      Half Unit
Migration From Below: Theories and Lived Experiences of Borders

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Niina Vuolajarvi CBG 7.06


This course is available on the MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe, MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe (LSE & Sciences Po), MSc in European and International Public Policy, MSc in European and International Public Policy (LSE and Bocconi), MSc in European and International Public Policy (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in International Migration and Public Policy, MSc in International Migration and Public Policy (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in Political Economy of Europe, MSc in Political Economy of Europe (LSE and Fudan) and MSc in Political Economy of Europe (LSE and Sciences Po). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access) and demand is typically very high. Priority is given to students from the European Institute, so students from outside this programme may not get a place.

Course content

This course will explore mobility and borders as sites of contestation and focus on perspectives rising from the (everyday) practices of migration in Europe and beyond. Migration is part of human condition, however, in the contemporary media and political debates it is often approached through a framework of crises or a problem to be solved. Unlike this static approach to societies, this course takes distance from the normative lens of the nation-state and its control apparatus to the movement of people. It will introduce critiques of methodological nationalism, address issues of decolonisation and postcolonial condition in migration studies and examine mobility and rights as differentially accessed resources defined by global hierarchies.

The course is divided into two parts. The first part provides a historical and conceptual overview of the questions related to border regimes, modern state formation, and rights. We will examine the historical development of border regimes in Europe and in the USA, their relation to colonial legacies and control of labour force, and how these formations inform contemporary understandings of the movement of people. Then we move to explore the core concepts, such as race, ethnicity, and nation, examine critically the categories of migration, and acquire an understanding of the international legal agreements concerning the movement of people. After orientating in concepts and providing a framework for discussion, we will move to more empirical accounts of the contemporary movement of people discussing themes such as lived experiences of border crossings, citizenship and illegality, diasporic and borderland identities, detention and deportations, and experiences of labour migration. Along the way, we will also discuss the ethical and political implications of researching (im)mobilities.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the AT.

This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Autumn Term.

Formative coursework

There are three pieces of formative coursework designed to help students prepare for their summative essay:

1.     Seminar discussant and presentation on the readings of the week that are relevant to your essay topics.

2.     Weekly Moodle posts related to the readings.

3.     Research question & long (500-word) abstract together with annotated bibliography submitted on the reading week.

Indicative reading

  1. Shahram Khosravi (2010). ‘Illegal’ Traveller: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders. New York: Palgrave.
  2. Andreas Wimmer and Nina Glick Schiller (2003). Methodological Nationalism, the Social Sciences, and the Study of Migration: An Essay in Historical Epistemology. The International Migration Review, Fall, 2003, Vol. 37.
  3. Stuart Hall (2021). Selected Writings on Race and Difference. Duke University Press
  4. Mae Ngai (2004). Impossible subjects: Illegal immigrants and the making of modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  5. John Torpey (2000). The invention of the passport. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  6. Seyla Benhabib (2020). “The End of the 1951 Refugee Convention? Dilemmas of Sovereignty, Territoriality, and Human Rights,” Jus Cogens, 2: 75-100.
  7. Jason De Leon & Michael Wells (2015): The Land of Open Graves. Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. California University Press.
  8. Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) Borderlands=La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books.
  9. Nicholas De Genova (2002). Working the boundaries: race, space, and "illegality" in Mexican Chicago. Chicago University Press. 
  10. Ben Bowling and Sophie Westenra (2018). Racism, Immigration, and Policing. In Mary Bosworth, Alpa Parmar, and Yolanda Vázquez (Eds.). Race, Criminal Justice, and Migration Control: Enforcing the Boundaries of Belonging. Oxford University Press.


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the WT.

Essay on a topic of your choice formulated with the instructor. 


Key facts

Department: European Institute

Total students 2022/23: 34

Average class size 2022/23: 12

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication