Mainstream accounts of migrant movements or struggles often employ the lens of citizenship and contend that migrants want to become citizens. The autonomy of migration approach does something different from this. It looks at the fact that migrants – documented and undocumented – act as citizens and insist that they are already citizens (Bojadžijev and Karakayali 2007: 205). This requires a conceptualization of citizenship which is distinct from the one employed by mainstream studies, where the latter is centred upon a concern for the integration of migrants within an already existing legal and political framework. In contrast, we stress the importance of practices and claims of those who are not necessarily citizens in juridical terms for the development of an understanding of the transformation
of the legal framework of citizenship itself. This opens up the possibility of conceptualizing the movements and struggles of irregular migrants as central to the construction and transformation of citizenship as an ‘institution in flux’ (Balibar 2001; Isin 2002 and 2009; Mezzadra 2004). Nevertheless, from my point of view (and this is where I differ from the position adopted by Papadopoulos, Stephenson and Tsianos), the autonomy of migration approach has to be further developed in relation to our understanding of the role played by mobility in the history and the contemporary reality of capitalism. Far from reducing ‘mobile subjectivities to a productionist subjectivity of capitalism’ (Papadopoulos, Stephenson and Tsianos 2008: 207), this reading highlights the tensions and conflicts that play themselves out on the very embodied experience of migrants and locates the autonomy of migration approach within the broader context of an analysis of the production of subjectivity under capitalism. It is precisely from the perspective of the production of subjectivity under capitalism that this essay analyzes different questions at stake in contemporary debates on migration – from the so-called ‘new economics of migration’ to the concepts of integration, citizenship and democracy – in order to outline the autonomy of migration approach. The main argument developed in this essay is that irregularity is an ambiguous condition that forms a key political stake in contemporary social struggles around capital and migration.