The deportation bus. Or, border politics after Walter Benjamin

Seminar organized by the International Security Cluster of the SIS
24 May 2024
Start time 
2:15 pm
Palazzo di Sociologia - Via Verdi 26, Trento
Poggi Room, first floor (formerly Professors' Room
School of International Studies & A.C.M.E. (Action Culture Meaning Experience)
Target audience: 
Contact person: 
Anna Casaglia
William Walters - Carleton University (Canada)


This paper conducts a conversation between materialist perspectives in international political sociology (IPS) and certain methods inspired by Walter Benjamin, especially his unfinished Arcades Project. Given his commitment to understanding social and historical change by thinking through objects and fragmentary artefacts, the marginality of Benjamin to IPS debates is somewhat perplexing. A conversation with this thinker is therefore timely.

In the spirit of Benjamin’s granular and heterogeneous approach to the modern city, the paper is not an exercise in high theory. Instead, it intervenes in debates about migration, deportation and border politics through a focus on one particular object: the bus. Buses feature in deportation struggles in a variety of ways. Deployed not just for carceral transportation between detention centres and airports, or in the conduct of deportation raids, vans and buses are also sometimes used to advertise deportation as a populist political project, while artists and activists have targeted the bus to enact a politics of sabotage and solidarity.

By confining ourselves to one largely neglected object but tracking it across multiple contexts and encounters the paper will demonstrate the promise of a Benjamin’s methods for studying border politics today.


  • William Walters - Carleton University (Canada)


I am a Professor of political sociology, cross-appointed in the Departments of Political Science and Sociology & Anthropology and FPA Research Excellence Chair (2019-22) at Carleton. As an undergraduate I trained in chemistry at Imperial College, London, before doing graduate studies in politics at City University of New York and York University, Toronto. I have published widely in the areas of political sociology, political geography, citizenship studies, security and insecurity, and Foucault studies. My research fields have been unemployment, the supranational governance of Europe, migration, and, most recently, secrecy. What links all of these areas is my interest in denaturalizing experiences and categories, and interrogating their relationship to different forms of politics.

I am currently working on three projects: (1) a SSHRC funded (2017-22) collaborative study of what I call air deportation which focuses on the role of civil aviation in the forced removals of foreigners and illegalized people in and from Europe; (2) with Martina Tazzioli I am co-editing A Handbook on Governmentality (Edward Elgar publishers) (3) a book project tentatively titled Secrecy: A Critical Introduction.

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