Introduction EF Lecture Lieven De Cauter


2009, Euregional Forum Newspaper

Lieven De Cauter takes up an uneasy position within discussions on the reality and future of Europe. This is already apparent in the favourite subjects of De Cauter’s analyses, such as the ‘new iron curtain’ in the Spanish enclaves Cueta and Melilla in Northern Africa, the detention centres on the Italian island Lampedusa, the fortification belt separating Poland from Ukraine, or the Palestinian refugee camps. All these extreme border places and conditions are conceptualised, in the terminology of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, as (concentration) camps.

Remarkably, De Cauter doesn’t so much present these camps as the flipside of the European success story, but as Europe’s main dispositive or model. In other words, the fortification of Europe is not only the unfortunate yet inevitable price to pay for the realisation of the European political project; more fundamentally, it mirrors Europe’s general condition and is part of its everyday functioning. Or, as De Cauter puts it somewhere: “The wall runs through every country of Europe”. In fact, we might add that these walls also run through the relaxed and peaceful Euregion Meuse-Rhine, the wider region in which this lecture is held: the most blatant case in point being the several detention centres for illegal refugees situated here, or the border controls between Belgium and the Netherlands having been re-instated in Maastricht’s ‘war on drugs’.

Lieven De Cauter’s depicture of European integration is thus anything but rosy. The dystopian images of ‘Camp Europe’ show how the removal of borders within Europe is not so much established by the literal disappearance of geographical dividing lines between the old nation-states, as by their miraculous trans-substantiation, multiplication and diversification. Borders are returning everywhere today, both in the form of new and specialised spatial zones spread out over Europe’s territory (quarantine zones in airports, detention centres for illegal refugees, etc.) and in the form of temporary emergency interventions (ad hoc police controls on trains or roads) and institutional procedures.

Lieven De Cauter’s work thus reminds us of the special form of sovereignty at the basis of European integration. Its condition of possibility is the constant drawing of dividing lines between those inside and outside of the European Union, between those with political, economic and cultural rights and those without these rights. Camp Europe is the spatial manifestation of the dark, sovereign side of the European dream, a place where individuals are deprived (willingly or unwillingly) of their freedom of movement as a result of the lack of a fixed or transparent political-legal framework. No wonder that capsularisation and fear manifest themselves as the dominant psychological traits of European subjectivity. The European – but equally the European nations/regions – is obsessed with the clear demarcation of Europe’s identity, rights and goods by means of crystal clear rules.

The uneasiness created by what one might call De Cauter’s European nightmare scenario is heightened by his attribution of both dystopian and utopian meanings to the contemporary condition of the camp. For De Cauter, the camp is not first and foremost a prison, but rather a zone that is situated outside the law and therefore a place where anything can happen. This implies that the camp is not merely a place where the ugly underbelly of European integration manifests itself, but also a place harbouring the potential for alternative practices that escape the usual regulation and control of everyday life. For this more positive aspect of the camp, De Cauter employs the notion of heterotopia – a term borrowed from French thinker Michel Foucault. De Cauter sees the heterotopia as the intermediary space between the political and the economic, or between the public and the private – thus, it can function as the source of an alternative order, or what he calls a counter-camp.

There are many similarities between De Cauter’s speculations on Camp Europe and the main problematics and theses of the lecture series ‘The Unresolved Borders of Europe’. One example is the status of the borders, not only as a physical or geographic phenomenon, but also as a more abstract condition and mode of functioning. Or the unresolved borders of Europe as the places and conditions in which a line is drawn between Europeans and non-Europeans, but also between different Europeans. Or the border as a dystopian place where the nature of the European project reveals itself most nakedly. Or, more optimistically, as a more utopian place where a different European politics might first be developed.

We are therefore very eager to listen to, and then enter into discussion with Lieven de Cauter.

NAi Maastricht, 7 May 2009

Tags: English

Categories: Urban planning

Type: Article