The Worker as Revenant: Imagining Embodied Labor in Contemporary Visualizations of Migration

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This paper examines a series of visual representations of illegalized migration in order to consider how they respond to the presence of labor within global systems of economic exchange. Through an examination of the aesthetic qualities of these images it suggests that the worker’s body is repeatedly represented as a kind of specter or ghost. The paper considers how far this depiction is a product of the technical limitations on imaging migrants as they covertly pass across national borders and also how far it is a result of the bureaucratic restriction upon the attempts to record such images. It concludes that while these images partly demonstrate the forms of power that are exercised in policing the border they also question some of the key assumptions that sit at the heart of neoliberal trading regimes. In particular, the paper indicates how the separation of labor and freight, which command quite different treatment in narratives of market freedom, is undermined by the visual blending of the workers body with cargo. In reading these images through the figure of the ghost, the paper argues that the commoditization of labor power is made explicit by the reappearance of embodied labor in the spaces for traded goods. In such a way, these images implicitly re-articulate the Marxist critique of the commodity’s fetish-like character by highlighting the invisibilities that this involves.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalSocial Text
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2012

Bibliographical note

© 2012 Duke University Press


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