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Ticktin discusses the politics of border walls as part of Social Science Matters series

Jesse Tucker/Collegian

Miriam Ticktin, associate professor of anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York and co-director of the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, spoke to a crowd of faculty members and students about the politics of migration and border walls during her lecture on March 2.

The talk, titled “Border Walls and the Politics of Becoming Non-Human,” was sponsored by the anthropology department as a part of the Social Science Matters lecture series coordinated by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Elizabeth Krause, a professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, began the event by explaining the goal of the lecture series, which focuses on migration.

“Our goal is to add perspective to the national conversation on migration,” Krause said.

She went on to talk about the tense political environment in the U.S. regarding immigration policy, citing the recent immigration ban and initiative to build a border wall on the  border with Mexico.

Krause then introduced Ticktin, who has published two books and over 30 peer-reviewed articles on humanity.

Ticktin started her lecture by talking about the ways in which border walls not only work to defend certain territories, or keep things in place, but also to decide who belongs and who does not. As being tied to both racism and white supremacy, border walls, along with their developing technology, both define and redefine how certain bodies should be treated.

Ticktin stated that border walls are not new, but were popular even before President Donald Trump brought them to the forefront of the U.S. political agenda.

“Fifteen new border walls were built in 2015,” said Ticktin. “Trump comes very late to the game on this.”

She went on to talk about how U.S. quarantine and inspection stations at the U.S-Mexico border reshape border walls in a way that makes humans synonymous with pests. In other words, humans are becoming treated like animals who contain some sort of threat or disease.

Ticktin emphasized the importance of how borders walls are being designed. She mentioned how U.S environmental groups, in an attempt to protect wildlife zones at border walls, pushed the government to create small openings in border walls for the safe passage of animals.

While people continue to show great concern about the safety and livelihood of animals, migrants and refugees are not receiving this same sympathy and treatment.

“Here,” Ticktin stressed, “the design of the wall determines which lives matter.”

Additionally, Ticktin mentioned that although current policies allow for the easy flow of goods across borders, it’s not comparable when it comes to people.

“Goods pass across borders more easily than people,” Ticktin said.

Cary Speck, a graduate student at UMass studying anthropology, came to the event interested in hearing what Ticktin had to say. Considering his current research on refugees and forced migration in central Europe, Speck found the talk relevant to his studies.

“It’s nice to see a comparative perspective,” said Speck.

Toward the end of her lecture, Ticktin talked about the new border wall being built in Calais, France, near what was once the Calais migrant camp, also known as the “Jungle.” This refugee camp was bulldozed and replaced with a container camp designed to house migrants in shipping containers normally used to transport goods.

Ticktin criticized container camps as limiting the mobility, individuality and freedom of migrants, while also hiding why these people are there in the first place.

“The choice to use containers for migrants is politically meaningful,” said Ticktin.

Ticktin ended her talk with a message of hope and positivity. As a proponent of open borders, Ticktin pushed the audience to be creative and imagine how borders can be reconsidered in a different form and facilitate new interactions between people and countries.

“Let’s take what we have and turn it into entirely something new,” Ticktin said.

Shawn Provost, a senior majoring in civil engineering and political science, mentioned he saw the information for the event online and felt compelled to attend because of what’s taking place in the U.S.

“It’s very relevant with what’s happening in the new administration,” said Provost.

Carly Burgess can be reached at

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