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Refuge and colonization of the future: borders built by words

Refúgio e colonização do futuro: fronteiras erguidas nas palavras
Fernando Resende e Fábio Ferreira Agra
Tradução de Diego Granja do Amaral
p. 161-178
Este artigo é uma tradução do:
Refúgio e colonização do futuro: fronteiras erguidas nas palavras [pt]


Este trabalho propõe pensar a migração forçada para a Europa sob a perspectiva de uma narrativa jornalística ancorada em repetições e reiterações de determinadas palavras que, ao produzir sentidos, resultam em uma visão de mundo que estabelece a presença dos migrantes e dos refugiados como razão de uma desordem ao que está posto. Assim, buscamos entender que esse processo contribui para o que denominamos de colonização do futuro, a partir das ideias de Giddens (2002) e Gomes (2004). Neste processo, projeta-se uma ordem, através das palavras, baseada em um pensamento construído ao longo dos períodos de colonização europeia. Seus resquícios se acumulam e formam camadas que se desvelam nas narrativas jornalísticas e nas fronteiras. Ambas nos servem como metáfora e materialização dos conflitos e das relações de poder que impõe ao migrante e ao refugiado a condição do diferente, do “outro”. Queremos propor que há uma narrativa na/de fronteira no jornalismo que contribui para a produção de sentido no processo migratório que enseja pensar apenas por um dos lados da fronteira. Nesse cenário fronteiriço, pensá-lo sob o aspecto de uma colonização do futuro pelas palavras nos impõe o desafio de entender que o jornalismo também é construtor de um tempo inventado narrativamente. Para este trabalho, foram analisados textos do jornal brasileiro Folha de São Paulo publicados entre setembro e dezembro de 2015, momento em que houve um maior aprofundamento dos debates acerca do refúgio na Europa. O recorte para a análise seguiu a partir das palavras refugiados, fronteiras e controle.

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DOI: 10.17231/comsoc.38(2020).2599
Submitted: 15/04/2020 - Accepted: 13/07/2020

Texto integral


1Terms such as “refugees” and “illegal migrants” have been used as categories widely adopted by the media, especially by journalism, to condense or group within the same spectrum the subjects forced to move due to conflicts, wars, persecutions and situations of social vulnerability. Such labels are adopted to refer to individuals in the European border with Turkey, in the Mediterranean, or the Mexico-United States border. Concurrently, in characterizing this label permeated by people seeking survival, a debate on the necessity of order and security arises in the countries with the potential to welcome these individuals. With such bias, these journalistic narratives emulate rocks over the already existing border walls, concealing the borders as potential crossing-points.

2Unfolding this argument, we believe that these kinds of narratives are built upon a journalistic trait related to the efforts to discipline the gaze to the events as they are presented, simultaneously, in terms of visibility and surveillance (Gomes, 2009). In this vein, it is possible to identify the dominant reiteration of words and expressions that connote fear and insecurity concerning those attempting to cross borders while suggesting a sense of colonization of the future (Giddens, 2002; Gomes, 2004). By colonization of the future by the word, we mean to reflect upon the reiteration of narratives that result in the actualization of power relations engendered in a different historical moment, and that are yet, corroborated, maintained and have potential to extend themselves in time.

3For such a narrative that we describe as colonization of the future, we suggest the identification of the imbrication of the European colonial past which is unveiled in the echoes propagated by the press. To untangle the journalistic field, where journalism and its fonts dispute the production of meaning, with an eye towards the borders in times of migration and refuge, implicates in questioning how the remnants of European colonization are catalysed towards ordering of world-views. In this context, the border that holds refugees and migrants in the margins is hereafter adopted as a metaphor and a materialization of the conflicts and power-relations presented by the colonial difference (Mignolo, 2005).

4In this regard, to colonize the future through narratives is a process of ordering the world according to a bias forged in the colonial times. Hereafter, considering concepts of colonization of the future and colonial difference, we problematize the power relations imbricated in the journalistic productions during the forced displacement in Europe in 2015. More specifically, we shall tackle the period between September and December in the same year. We argue that there is a narrative in/of the border in journalism that contributes for the meaning production in the migratory process and provokes one-sided thinking, where the migrant and the refugee are perceived as subjects who disturb the status quo.

From the remnants of colonization to a society of control

5The asymmetric power relations developed on the borders and other spaces of control is intensified when the media, and journalism, as the object of this study, reiterate narratives which aim to order the world according to a consolidated world-view. Therefore, we wish to reflect about the narratives which take place in spaces of contention as a consequence of the migratory flux of displaced individuals who left their homes and their countries to seek asylum in a different territory while facing walls, fences, and an apparatus of control that preventing them from moving forward.

  • 1 The report Global trends: forced displacement in 2018, from the United Nations agency for refugees (...)
  • 2 In 2015, Syria and Afghanistan were, respectively, the two countries responsible for the greatest n (...)

6Amidst the over 70 million forcibly displaced people in the second decade of the 21st century those people who landed at the European borders received special attention from the media coverage from 2015 onwards1, Brazilian media included. These are people from African countries, or the Middle East, especially from Syria, and from Asia, territories that were either colonized or suffered the intervention of Euro American superpowers over the last couple of decades, as the case of Iraq and Afghanistan2.

  • 3 According to Mignolo, “from the beginning of the sixteenth century, with the triple concurrence of (...)

7Considering that the bodies of migrants who seek refuge in Europe come from formerly colonized countries, especially in Africa, or which suffered strong political and economic interference, such as the Middle Eastern countries, we evoke Mignolo (2005, p. 36) and Quijano (2002, p. 4), for whom the remnants of European colonization, inaugurated by the colonial/modernity with the 16th century “Atlantic commercial circuit”, is perpetuated in what they describe as “colonial difference” or “coloniality of power”, respectively3. Such concepts can be understood as an attempt to subordinate subjects according to a racial/cultural classification designed by those in power, be it political, economic or epistemic power, in which the notion of time and modernity are instrumental for the permanence of the gap separating Europe from their former colonies. According to Mignolo (2017, p. 8), “the logic of coloniality (...) went through successive and cumulative stages presented positively in the rhetoric of modernity: specifically, in the terms salvation, progress, development, modernization, and democracy”. In this process, the linear time emerges as to distinguish societies that had overcome stages of progress from those lagging behind, according to the rhetoric of modernity. Referring to Europe as an adventurer that spread its power across the globe, the sociologist Zigmunt Bauman (2006) emphasised that at the end of the 20th century its concluded mission

proved to be the global spread of a compulsive, obsessive and addictive urge for ordering and reordering (codename: modernization), and an irresistible pressure to downgrade and demote the past and current modes of living and of gaining a living by stripping them of their survival value and life-enhancing capacity (codename: economic progress). (Bauman, 2006, p. 21)

8In this light, for Bauman (2006), contrasting with European modernization, are the “modernity latecomers”, which produced the populational leftovers and, consequently, refugees. As the “unforeseen consequence (...) of the success of the European global enterprise”:

hundreds of thousands of people are chased away from their homes, murdered, or forced to run for their lives away from their ravaged and devastated countries. Perhaps the most thriving industry in the lands of the latecomers (deviously and deceitfully dubbed ‘developing countries’) is the mass production of refugees. (Bauman, 2006, pp. 23-24)

  • 4 The concept of colonial difference, as proposed by Mignolo, is discussed by the author in an interv (...)

9A characteristic of coloniality is the stratification, based upon criteria that attributes a fixed position to “the other”. In doing so, it establishes its differences and its stages within an invented time, which “accounts for one of the foundational elements of the current power standard, the basic and universal social classification of the planet around the notion of race” (Quijano, 2002, p. 4). In other words, “the coloniality of power is the axis that still organizes colonial difference” (Mignolo, 2005, p. 36) and turns it into “values and hierarchies: racial and patriarchal on the one hand, and geopolitical, on the other”, as Mignolo underlines (quoted in Gallas, 2013)4.

  • 5 The notion of “capitalist world system” is outlined by Grosfoguel (2007), building upon Wallernstei (...)

10Along these lines, the border fences imposed to the refugees and migrants are tools of the coloniality of power and colonial difference, since the reason for their existence is to separate, and ultimately, serve the purpose of underlying the distinction from those on the other side. Agreeing with Grosfoguel (2007) in his analysis of the division in the international labour force in the capitalist world-system5, we are interested in a reflection on the expansion of such system as based in a hierarchy which is also based in racial discrimination, be it biological, as defended between the 15th and 19th centuries, or cultural. According to Grossfoguel, the post World War II period presents a shift in the global racial/colonial discourse in which the argument on genetic inferiority of the “other” enters into a crisis and is replaced by cultural racism. Such “other” is then framed by a set of characteristics that are less related to their genetic traits than to their ethnic origins. Cultural racism now becomes part of the new geo-culture of the capitalist world-system that floats over subjects once colonized. Grosfoguel (2007, p. 11) argues that the notion of cultural racism presumes that metropolitan culture is different from that of the ethnic minorities, a difference perceived in an absolute and essentialist fashion. The author also adds that cultural racism is always articulated with the discourses of poverty, labour market opportunities and marginalization.

11As suggested by Grosfoguel (2007, p. 13), the migrants’ bodies are tied to the structures of the capitalist world-system and remain colonized due to their subordinated position in relation to the metropolitan labour and their ongoing stereotyped representation in the Euro/American imaginary. Those are the very same bodies of the forcibly displaced and refugees who share the mainstay of cultural racism and of a linear conception of time, as invented by modernity. Therefore, to think about forced migration and asylum-seeking, one perceives the aggravation of the asymmetries in the power relations in which coloniality of power and cultural racism are evidenced by the rigid border control apparatus and by what Mbembe (2018) describes as an enclosure society.

12As Mbembe (2018, p. 53) underlines, we live in a society where “security state conceives identity and the individual movement (including its citizens) as sources of danger and risk”. In the European anti-migratory context, he notes that “entire categories of the population are indexed and subjected to various forms of racial categorization that transform the immigrant (legal or illegal) into an essential category of difference”, which for Mbembe is “cultural or religious or linguistic. It is seen as inscribed in the very body of the migrant subject, visible on somatic, physiognomic, and even genetic levels”.

13Following Mbembe (2018, p. 54), these configurations and categorizations are a reflex of the contemporary world “deeply shaped and conditioned by the ancestral forms of religious, legal, and political life built around fences, enclosures, walls, camps, circles, and, above all, borders”. Let us return to Bauman (2006) for whom such kind of control operation is has a centripetal character albeit not very common in Europe is in line with a policy that seeks to avoid the “modernity latecomers”:

for the time being, Europe and its overseas offspring, outposts (like the United States or Australia) seem to look for an answer to their unfamiliar problems in similarly unfamiliar policies hardly ever practised in European history; policies inward-rather than outward-looking, centripetal rather than centrifugal, implosive rather than explosive – like retrenchment, falling back upon themselves, building fences equipped with a network of X-ray machines and closed-circuit television cameras, putting more officials inside immigration booths and more border guards outside, tightening the nets of immigration and naturalization law, keeping refugees in closely guarded and isolated camps and stopping the others before they have a chance to claim refugee or asylum-seeker status – in short, sealing their own domains against the crowds knocking at the doors while doing pretty little, if anything at all, to relieve such pressure by removing its causes. (Bauman, 2006, pp. 24-25)

14Opposing such a model, migrations present a resistance to the atavisms that insist in remaining and producing a body will only become more visible and whose existence is discomforting as it is face to face with those who invented it as undesirable. Facing those who attributed to this body the condition of controllable, excludable, expellable and eradicable.  Such a body, from the migrant or refugee, that is now discomforting, alludes to another body, that which Hannah Arendt (2016, p. 293) identified in 1940, in Europe corroded by the war. Observing that minorities such as the Jews, became outcasts of the Nation-State, Arendt points out that the process of European integration initiated by the French revolution was over: “no one else can be included. In fact, we now have the reverse process: the sum of great human masses and its downgrade as outcasts”.

15Such a frame can be redesigned within the same system over which the cultural and identitary bonds, as well as Nation-State, present themselves as vectors guiding integrations and flow of people. Thus, we wish to extend Arendt’s argument to the migrant crisis whose subjects are the current outcasts of Europe. If such a distinction does not simply appear due to the contemporary migratory flux, it is indeed underlined and actualized in the context of the historical process. The conflicted encounter between migrants forced to abandon their homes and the countries which could welcome them somatise the outcome of colonial and decolonial relations in African and Middle Eastern countries subjugated to the European policy of exploitation for those territories and populations.

16The European blockade and the restrict policies for migration control since the departure in their countries of origin emerge as the spectrum of European colonizer memory, more specifically, it is that memory which raises the debate on the so-called migrant crisis since the crossing of the Mediterranean implicates in the influx of people that bring with themselves black and Arab bodies in their territories. Territories that were once tainted by colonial looting. The Mediterranean and its borders progressively become places of memory (Nora, 1993) in the symbolic and material senses, as crossing, remembrance and cemetery.

17Borrowing Nora’s notion of places of memory (1993, p. 12), as places which are, “above all remnants”, we shall broaden such understanding in the claim that it is from the remnants from the colonization that the migratory influx arises. Homi Bhabha (1998, p. 26) raised attention to such debate saying that “the Western metropolis shall confront its post-colonial history told by the influx of migrants and post-war refugees, as an indigenous narrative or [a narrative] internal to its national identity”. In other words, it is possible to say that migrants and refugees are a constitutive part of Europe. The heritage of looting and colonialism now returns sheltered in the bodies of those who throw themselves in the Mediterranean or the borders of Turkey and Greece.

18In this regard, the cultural/racial origin of the displaced reflects in the treatment provided in the European borders. Colonial difference and coloniality of power still reorder and justify the retrenchment to those migrants’ movement. Thereby, the migrant crisis casts light on the shadows of relations violently forged throughout the past four centuries.

The event and the disruption of the established order

  • 6 The Greece–Turkey border became a spot for demonstrations of this kind. The news cover shelters bur (...)

19The enclosure described by Mbembe (2018) is corroborated by Rogério Haesbaert (2009) who reflects about the control society where one lives behind territorial contentions, especially against migrants. Along with this train of thought, Nation-States use their apparatus of control to regulate migratory movements in the name of security and xenophobia6. In the same direction, media narratives have a central role in such a debate, given that it is through them that these conflicts are unveiled to the public. Nonetheless, if it is necessary to problematize the power relations fomenting anti-migratory policies, on the other hand, one must consider the role of media, especially journalism, within the asymmetric relations of power and representation.

20With that in mind, we evoke Mayra Gomes (2009) who observes that journalism is an apparatus of disciplinary control where the visibility of the events is designed from a certain point of view that attempts to discipline the look. In this process, a series of grades would emerge valuing events responsible for the disorder. With one stroke this movement raises the visibility and surveils.

Before any given selection, we ask ourselves what is important and for whom it is so. The importance, not only implicates in choice, or the choice according to the way it is presented from a given time and location, serves as a guideline for what is pointed out as the truth of what is brought into visibility. Admitting that the importance is not the fact itself, but its implication in the institutionalized network, any investigation, any surveillance, outlines the horizon to be experienced looking for law and order and, therefore, is disciplined within the subject of its search. (Gomes, 2009, p. 2)

  • 7 A search for the term “refugees” in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo between 2011, when t (...)
  • 8 Within six years (2014-2020), at least 20 thousand people died in the Mediterranean crossing, accor (...)

21For Gomes, journalism “points out themes that shall be privileged, in other words, the themes to which its public shall pay attention. Its reports announce, implicitly, what is relevant in the reader’s lives” (2009, p. 2). In this regard, it is relevant to underline that the topic of asylum-seeking appears more often in the news as it lands more intensely in Europe in 20157. In that year, roughly four thousand people either died or disappeared in the Mediterranean (UNCHR, 2016)8. Death and the flux of ships and thousands of people towards the continent drove the European to adopt measures such as the distribution of migrants and refugees to other countries in the region, spreading them beyond Italy and Greece, as well as implementing a stronger control over the borders (Georgiou & Zaborowski, 2017).

22Originally hosted in the developing countries, the humanitarian crisis had finally landed in Europe and, consequently, made it to the international news. In 2015 over a million asylum seekers crossed the European borders. In a comparison with other territories, Turkey alone had 2,5 million refugees. In contrast, Germany, the European country with the highest rates of requests for asylum, had 316 thousand refugees and 420 thousand people under analysis (UNHCR, 2016). Earlier on (in 2013), Pakistan had 1,6 thousand refugees a number slightly higher than that of refugees who crossed into Europe in 2015 and roughly the total of the absolute number of refugees in entire Europe in 2013 (1,7 million) (UNHCR, 2013, 2014). In 2014, three countries were on the top of the list with those with the greatest number of refugees: Turkey (1.587.374), Pakistan (1.505.525) e Lebanon (1.154.040) (UNHCR, 2015). Lebanon requires an extra note: in the year of 2015, out of 1.000 people, 183 were refugees. For the sake of comparison, still in 2015, other countries presented the following rate: out of a group of 1.000 people Jordan had 87 refugees; Turkey had 32; and in Sweden, number nine in the list of 10 countries with the highest number of refugees per capita, and the only European country in the list, this number falls to 17 (out of 1.000 people). Moreover, in 2015, the developing countries received 86% of the world’s refugees (UNHCR, 2016).

23Considering this dataset, we shall problematize the point when the “refugee crisis” or “migrant crisis” becomes an event from a journalistic standpoint. An event that is no longer situated in the invisibility of Africa and of certain Asian and Middle Eastern countries, which have been struggling for a few years with the forced displacement either as countries that receive or produce refugees. In the terms proposed here, the event is a perceived phenomenon which shall be interpreted and framed so that others to re-examine it. Therefore, the event is the configuration of disorder into order, it is the application of a gaze which provides meaning to certain phenomena. Charaudeau (2006, p. 100) says that the eventful (événementiel) process, or process of interpretation, happens through change, perception and signification of the phenomena, while the first condition is that “something shall cause a rupture in the established order, unbalancing the founding systems of such order”. Following this train of thought, Muniz Sodré (2012) claims that the event, when connected to the mediatic information, as discussed in this research,

is a clear and visible modality of fact dressing, therefore, it is a construction or a production of the real, crossed by representations of the vicissitudes of social life. In other words, is affected either for the, at times, paradoxical fragmentation of occurrences or for the conflicts around the hegemony of representations. (Sodré, 2012, pp. 36-37)

24The thousands of ships sailing from northern Africa to cross the Mediterranean and land in Europe, or the migrants and refugees flowing from Turkey to Greece caused the rupture in the European status quo and, consequently, to the media realm. Along these lines, by ordering the event, journalism used its filters to represent it. A practice that suggests a look that is inherent to its own socio-historical conditions. In this fashion, the journalistic narrative is embedded of paradox in organizing the chaos while its representations sustain gaps (Resende, 2017).

As a locus of enunciation where struggles and power relations take place, journalism is hereafter understood as a cultural-discursive practice, subjected to changes through time/space where it is located. What is fixed in it are its discursive rules, strategies and techniques aiming the referentiality of what is narrated. From the vantage point of the narrative, however, a paradox is installed: the organization of quotidian chaos – a pressing task for the journalistic practice – does not guarantee a reliable representation. (Resende, 2017, p. 107)

25Thus, we believe that the so-called migrant crisis or the refugee crisis, spread around the globe and sprawled in multiple flows, is only configured as potential disorder and “comes to existence”, in the eyes of those who report it, when considered its points of departure and arrival. In the paradox of organizing and representing with gaps, the journalistic narrative inscribes itself as a disciplinary mechanism, a builder of times and of “existence”.

The word as ordering and colonization

26It is relevant to stress that the words, a journalist’s toolkit, are ideological signs (Bakhtin, 2010) and, by producing meaning, they expand. Thus, some words institute themselves as apparatuses that through repetition and reiteration are launched to justify thoughts stratified through remnants becoming “words of order”. As Mayra Gomes puts it:

initially, the already verbalized content can only install and fix itself through repetition, through a message that reiterates some of its signification. On the other hand, repetition, or redundancy as frequency, operates inert in the crystallization of self-created contents. In this way, communication and the message must function in two ways: the first distends itself, moves, and the second, redoubles itself; one inaugurates, the other eternalizes. The one that inaugurates can not be achieved out of nothingness, it is always, and yet, redundancy with its background ruble. It works as an edifice over ruins. The one that crystalizes, which reinaugurates the field is, in fact, what we consider to be word of order. (Gomes, 2004, pp. 85-86)

27Hence, the media exercise disciplinary power by presenting such “words of order” (Gomes, 2004, 2009, 2018). “Words of order” that help us organize the world, while the words adopted, in their repetition, maintain ourselves tied to paradigms and conceptions which are hardly overcome. Building upon Deleuze (words of order) and Foucault (disciplinary dispositive), Gomes points out that these are two paths which cross through language, as a framework for the discursive production, as well as for the internalization and reproduction of an ordering of daily life.

28Gomes (2018, pp. 41-42) underlines the importance of awareness of the recurrence of certain words often propagated by media “from the perspective of the disciplinary apparatus, that of the word as ordination”. The author also points that one shall “examine it [words] not only in the sterility of repetition, of reality experienced as exhaustion. We should take the opposite pathway: that of words as circumscription of a field, definition and ordination in a specific sense which is that of construction of reality and that, being educative, requires reiteration”. The word as an ideological sign contributes to creating a loop of reality that presents itself as shaped. We shall proceed with Gomes, who stresses that

a word is not simply a representation of reality or mere instrument of thought, either in linguistics or semiotics already demonstrate, proposing the notion of presentation of the real and that of a thought shaped by words. Thus, we are confronted with the demarcation operated by words, a frame upon which a segment opens-up imaginary constructions, social productions, mechanisms of production, and above all, the potential for discipline and control (Gomes, 2018, p. 42).

29Admitting a reality shaped words, we affirm that the repetition, beyond accumulating remnants, also insinuates that which is forthcoming, colonizes the future (Giddens, 2002; Gomes, 2004) in attempts to prevent disorder and risk. Notions such as repetition and colonization are grounded in the sliding flow of words and are domination tools. Through two similar perspectives overlap in the notion of colonization of the future. On the one hand, Gomes (2004) defines it as a speech act linked to a future that may come into being, or not, through repetition and fixation. On the other hand, Giddens (2002) claims that to prevent risks, society takes measures to shield itself against imminent threats.

30Along these lines, the spoken words control, discipline and aim to prevent disorder. Thus, we shall add that colonization of the future also indicates a certain entrapment of a temporality shaped in the past and whose rubble still rule the future. This temporality is intrinsically connected to human time, coined by language, by narrative (Ricoeur, 1994). We now return to Mignolo (2011) for whom the genesis of modernity marks not only the colonization of space but also of time, through the narration and construction of the past based in a linear temporality which opposes the modern from that which is not. For Mignolo (2011, p. 160), the colonization of time has taken place with modernity which established by the invention of other times, such as the Middle Ages and Antiquity and the cultural differences from the past were classified according to its proximity with modernity itself.

31Transmuting the malleable term colonize, stripped of any connotation linked to action over the soil (Bosi, 2014) towards a reading that suggests action unfolded in time through narrative, we wish to incorporate it to the journalistic practices when filled with repetition and reiterations which cast its effects beyond the present time. In this case, unlike colonization of the time past, its effects are designed to rule a near future. To narrate present events is also to inscribe and project its potential effects admitting consequences in the status quo.

32Anthony Giddens (2002, p. 117), dealing with the consciousness of modern “high consequence risks” upon the colonization of the future conducts us to a permanent production of reality where the present must be constantly tamed to anticipate risks of any kind. Moreover, Giddens (2002, p. 117) asserts that risk refers to future events – linked to present practices – therefore the colonization of the future opens up new risk situations, some of which are institutionally orchestrated and that high consequence risks constitute a generalized segment “risk climate” characteristic of late modernity – which is defined by regular shifts in knowledge-claims as mediated by expert systems.

33Considering Giddens’ reasoning under the light of the migration crisis, border closure as a strategy to avoid migrant’s flow can be regarded as the imposition of a narrative that impacts the press and aims to avoid “high consequence risks”. It is the fabrication of an “official fear” (Bauman, 2006) which discretely implicates in a model of journalism as a mediator of a specialized system which embraces the self-appointed role of indicating that which is out of order while reiterating a long line of narratives.

34Some pieces of news illustrate that logic. During the second half of 2015, two events (and its consequences) might be connected to the spike in the number of publications on refugees in Europe at the newspaper Folha de São Paulo. The first event was the death of the Syrian child Alan Kurdi, whose body was found at the Turkish seashore in September 02. The second fact revolves around the bomb attack in Paris on November 06. Together, these events raised attention to the debate on the issue of asylum, and the reception of refugees, in Europe. While the first case mobilized the masses for involving a child seeking refuge from the Syrian war, in the second case the debates focused on the identity of those migrants seeking asylum in Europe (Georgiou & Zaborowski, 2017). In Brazil, between September and December, Folha de São Paulo published 310 texts which used the term “refugees” in its section dedicated to world news (Mundo). The number (310) corresponds to half of the sum of texts published in the entire year, although not all the texts dealt specifically with refuge in Europe.

35Throughout four months of publication, terms such as borders and control appeared 26 times concerning articles on refugees. Our search at Folha de São Paulo news portal was based on the following keywords: “refugees”, “border” and “control”. According to our understanding of colonization of the future, the piece “Refugiados e risco de ataques levam UE a rever controles de fronteira” (Refugees and risk of attacks make EU reconsider border control)9, published December 04, 2015, is emblematic as a contact point with prior articles which had projections on potential risks. In this piece, the remnants from the past are reinforced while it colonizes the future.

36In the title, the notions of “refugees” and “risk of attacks” justify the border control. Albeit holding different meanings, both ideas express a sense of danger. The article’s opening statement follows this reasoning and contributes to a disciplining of the look over refugees and terrorism as realms gravitating closely from one another, and thus, border security would be a measure to diminish threats.

Amidst the difficulties to control the intense flux of refugees and migrants and to the terrorist threat over the continent since the attacks in Paris, European Union (EU) initiated a debate on the issue of border control and the system of circulation among the countries in the bloc.

37The excerpt already suggests the reiteration of other publications, such as “Reação a ataques ameaça livre movimento de pessoas pela Europa” (Reaction to attacks threatens the flow of people around Europe) (November 21)10; “Suécia estabelece controle provisório de fronteiras para conter imigração” (Sweden establishes provisional board control to restrain immigration) (November 12)11; “Eslovênia começa a erguer cerca na fronteira para controlar fluxo” (Slovenia starts building a border fence to control the flow [of people]) (November 11)12; “Plano de cotas trava, e Europa cria barreiras à entrada de refugiados” (Quotas plan is stuck and Europe creates barriers against refugees entry) (September 14)13; “Hungria barra refugiados na véspera de elevar pena para imigração ilegal” (Hungary stops refugees in the eve of elevating illegal migration penalty) (September 14)14; “Alemanha decide restabelecer controle de fronteira ante onda de refugiados” (Facing refugee wave, Germany decides to reestablish border control) (September 13)15; “União Europeia planeja fundo de 1,8 bilhão para conter migrações” (European Union plans 1,8 billion plan to detain migrations) (September 08)16; “Crise de refugiados põe em xeque o espaço único europeu” (Refugees crisis jeopardizes single European space) (September 02)17.

38In this vein, we believe that the discursive reiterations on the necessity of closing borders and the entrance of migrants and refugees appear in parallel with the association between these populations and potential risk. Such a debate is corroborated by the press when discussing these issues from the point of view of those who feel threatened and launches a narrative. In addition to that, the article “Refugiados e risco de ataques levam UE a rever controles de fronteira” (Refugees and risk of attacks lead the EU to review border control) keeps on emphasizing the risks posed to Europe, including the loss of mobility of its citizens.

The principle of a free flow of people through the countries in the (EU) bloc is jeopardized by the refugees and migrant crisis, who arrive in Europe fleeing from poverty and armed conflicts.

Over the past months, several countries, such as Hungary and Slovenia raised fences on its borders to control the flow of people.

39The reiteration of certain ideas is, in our opinion, an effect of power which victimize not only bodies of the subjects already affected by the conflicts they attempted to flee from but also their soul, in the Foucauldian sense of the term. Enduring trips that bring them closer to death, the exhaustion and the struggle for quotidian life could be the torment of a migrant´s body. In a sense, this process represents the power exercised over the migrant’s body, as the idea of being an undesirable body could also be the torment of its soul, neither of which are welcome in the territory. Many migrants depart for their journeys embodying the consciousness of such symbolic violence. A consciousness introduced not only when they face a border, but much earlier, in the repercussion of the news suggesting that they are the reason for chaos. In this sense, we march along with Foucault (2014) when claiming that

to say that the soul is an illusion or an ideological effect. On the contrary, it exists, it has a reality, it is produced permanently around, on, within, the body by the functioning of a power that is exercised on those that are punished - and, in a more general way, on those one supervises, trains and corrects, over madmen, children at home and school, the colonized, over those who are stuck at a machine and supervised for the rest of their lives. This is the historical reality of this soul, which, unlike the soul represented by Christian theology, is not born in sin and subject to punishment, but is born rather out of methods of punishment, supervision and constraint. This real, non-corporeal soul is not a substance; it is the element in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power and the reference of a certain type of knowledge, the machinery by which the power relations give rise to a possible corpus of knowledge, and knowledge extends and reinforces the effects of this power. (Foucault, 2014, pp. 32-33)

40The colonization of the future resorts on the maintenance of narratives as crystallized within the near future, it is to implement the effects of power in an attempt to rule over time, space and bodies. The apparatuses are both borders and words, which in through raise visibility through narratives while contributing to the surveillance of the “other”, that which is regarded as different. Adding to this argument, Mignolo (2011, p. 161) suggests that the differences in epistemologies and colonial difference did not end with the decolonization of Asia and Africa after World War II. Coloniality is still reproduced in global capitalism and the idea of “time” still nurtures the same imaginary responsible for the colonial difference. In discussing the colonization of the future, we aim to observe the reiteration of narratives that update power relations engendered in a previous historical moment and are yet corroborated and maintained in the present. Moreover, these narratives have the potential to extend themselves in time.

Concluding remarks

41Europe became a reference in the debate on the “migrant crisis” or “refugee crisis” due to the attention raised by the media on the border control operated over migrants at its borders. In this fashion, journalism has fulfilled the role of publicizing the events on border areas. Nevertheless, in this paper, we reflect upon the narratives built over remnants of a colonial gaze on the bodies seeking refuge. This process happens through reiteration and repetition of “words of order” which place migrants under surveillance and as a potential source of disorder. The migrant, as the “other” then, is identified as a threat and, therefore, is not welcome.

42Reiteration and repetition are anchored in a debate that emerges from the crumbs and remainings accumulated by the power relations between Europe and the countries from where the refugees depart. Both movements are an artifice to maintain time, especially the future, colonized, and space, under control. A space of/for “another” developed upon narratives traversed by colonialist memories. Narratives that re-producing geographies of power, invent previously configured spaces (Resende, 2014). Therefore, admitting that some sets of news emphasise a specific agenda, such as the outlining proximity between migrants and refugees, on one hand, and the border closure, fear and risk, on the other hand, a narrative on future time is built. A narrative that unveils the general guidelines of colonial differences, as highlighted by Mignolo.

43Naturally, journalism shall not intrude into the issue of border control, especially when it involves the lives of migrants seeking asylum and are prevented from reaching these territories. Nonetheless, in such a borderline scenario, thinking about the colonization of the future by words and “words of order” requires the understanding of journalism as the creator of temporality conceived narratively. In inventing such a time, journalism uses a backwards mirror, a mirror turned to the past. Its reflex illuminates only part of the environment, only one side of the border.

This research was funded by the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES/Brazil).

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1 The report Global trends: forced displacement in 2018, from the United Nations agency for refugees (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR]), showed that over 70 million people were forcibly displaced in 2018, out of which 25,9 million were refugees (UNHCR, 2019). Three years earlier, in 2015, the annual report Global trends: forced displacement in 2015 pointed that the number of forcibly displaced individuals were as high as 65,3 million, 21,3 million of them were refugees (UNHCR, 2016).

2 In 2015, Syria and Afghanistan were, respectively, the two countries responsible for the greatest number of refugees. The Syrian civil war, broken in 2011 had as an outcome 4,9 million refugees while an estimate of 2,7 million Afghans had the refugee status (UNHCR, 2016).

3 According to Mignolo, “from the beginning of the sixteenth century, with the triple concurrence of the defeat of the Moors, the expulsion of the Jews, and European expansion across the Atlantic, Moors, Jews, and Amerindians (and, with time, African slaves as well) all became configured in the Western, Christian imaginary, as the difference (exteriority) in the interior of the imaginary” (Mignolo, 2005, p. 35).

4 The concept of colonial difference, as proposed by Mignolo, is discussed by the author in an interview to Luciano Gallas, published in 2013 by Revista do Instituto de Humanitas Unisinos On-line in Brazil (Gallas, 2013). The interview was published in Portuguese.

5 The notion of “capitalist world system” is outlined by Grosfoguel (2007), building upon Wallernstein (1979), and regards the international division of labour between centres, peripheries and semi-peripheries, implicating in different kinds of labour and political structures. In this system, the coercive forms of labour develop mainly in the peripheries (Wallernstein, 1979, quoted in Grosfoguel, 2007).

6 The Greece–Turkey border became a spot for demonstrations of this kind. The news cover shelters burned by Greek citizens and the use of police force against those on the opposite side of the border, as at the end of February and beginning of March 2020. See “Moradores gregos queimam centro de acolhida para impedir que refugiados o utilizem” (2020).

7 A search for the term “refugees” in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo between 2011, when the war in Syria started, and 2015 indicates a spike in the number of publications in the year of 2015. The numbers are as follows: 2011 -453; 2012 - 355; 2013 - 06; 2014 - 306; and 2015 - 527.

8 Within six years (2014-2020), at least 20 thousand people died in the Mediterranean crossing, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). See “Mais de 20 mil migrantes morreram em travessias no Mediterrâneo desde 2014” (2020).

9 The full article is available at

10 See

11 See

12 See

13 See

14 See

15 See

16 See

17 See

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Para citar este artigo

Referência do documento impresso

Fernando Resende e Fábio Ferreira Agra, «Refuge and colonization of the future: borders built by words»Comunicação e sociedade, 38 | 2020, 161-178.

Referência eletrónica

Fernando Resende e Fábio Ferreira Agra, «Refuge and colonization of the future: borders built by words»Comunicação e sociedade [Online], 38 | 2020, posto online no dia 23 dezembro 2020, consultado o 29 janeiro 2023. URL:

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Fernando Resende

Fernando Resende is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Media and Cultural Studies, at Fluminense Federal University (UFF). PhD at the University of São Paulo (USP), Master in Literary Studies (UFMG). Visiting Scholar (CNPq/2013) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS - University of London). Coordinator of TRAVESSIA – Centre of Global South Studies and Research (UFF). Visiting Professor at University of Perpignan, France (Erasmus/2014), National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico (UNAM/2016) and University of Tübingen, Germany (DAAD/2015/2017). He is a PQ/CNPq researcher with an emphasis on Communication Studies, conflict narratives and diasporic movements, dealing with issues related to journalism, discourse, narratives, culture, communication, otherness, conflicts, Global South, Africa and the Middle East.
Email: fernandoaresende1501[at]
Address: Departamento de Estudos Culturais e Mídia, Universidade Federal Fluminense. Niterói/Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

Fábio Ferreira Agra

Fábio Ferreira Agra is a PhD candidate in the Communications postgraduate programme at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). He holds a master in Humanities: Culture, Education and Languages by the Universidade Estadual do Sudoeste da Bahia (UESB) and a bachelor in Communications/Journalism (UESB). Visiting scholar in the project “Futures under Constructions” at the University of Tübingen (Germany, 2018/2020). Member of TRAVESSIA – Centre of Global South Studies and Research (UFF). Fabio researches journalism, narratives, borders migration and asylum.
Email: ff-agra[at]
Address: Programa de Pós-Graduação em Comunicação. Universidade Federal Fluminense. Niterói/RJ, Brasil

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Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior

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