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Strategic non-regulation as migration governance

Katharina Natter, Kelsey Norman, Nora Stel

Mig. Pol. 2, 004 (2023) · published 9 November 2023


Over the last decade, critical migration scholarship has been increasingly concerned with how state actors in both the Global South and Global North deploy forms of inaction and ambivalent action to govern migrants. Scholars have mobilized and developed concepts to capture such strategic non-regulation, ranging from notions of standoffishness, ignorance, indifference, ambiguity, adhocracy, and informality in political science, IR and sociology, to necropolitics, ignorance, opacity, obfuscation, non-recording and liminality in anthropology, socio-legal studies and political geography. Scholars thus seem to agree that the strategic use of non-regulation by state actors is a significant aspect of migration governance. Yet, conceptual and methodological advances remain fragmented and scattered across geographical regions and disciplines. This paper argues that much can be gained by putting the different conceptual and methodological innovations on strategic non-regulation into dialogue. First, consolidating insights from different bodies of scholarly work moves analyses of strategic non-regulation from the fringes of migration scholarship to its center and demonstrates that strategic non-regulation is a core feature of migration governance. Second, bringing these different works together enables us to synthesize the variety of analytical strategies that scholars have devised to empirically locate the elusive phenomenon of strategic non-regulation. Overcoming disciplinary and geographical divides in the study of strategic non-regulation will also be key to advance broader social science debates on the political functionality of policy failure and on the interplay between state capacity and political will - in migration governance but also beyond.

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