Theses Doctoral

Waiting at the Border: Language, Labor, and Infrastructure in the Strait of Gibraltar

Bajalia, Audi George

Even as the numbers of migrants waiting in North Africa to continue their journeys to Europe continue to grow, the social and political consequences of this time spent “en route” remain marginal to conversations around migration across the Mediterranean. There is a focus on migrants’ movement through space, with emphasis on origin and destination, presumed to be Europe, but not much attention paid to the time in between. Rather than centering on how borders regulate, impede, and allow or not, migratory flow, and what happens when European borders are crossed, this dissertation focuses on another of the predominant phenomena to which borders give rise: waiting.

This dissertation emerges from the social worlds and subjective transformations that take place in and around the borderlands of the Strait of Gibraltar. These worlds include communities of West African migrants who have become immigrants in Morocco, Moroccan and Spanish day-laborers who work as commodity porters moving back and forth between Morocco and Spain, and activist and mutual aid networks that have emerged around the rapidly growing immigrant community in Tangier, Morocco.

Lives lived while waiting, whether in the city of Tangier among im/migrants or in the commodity warehouses that abut the border between Spanish Ceuta and Morocco, form consequential habits that sediment into social life and become fields for potential political claims grounded in communal sentiments. As such, this dissertation explores the consequences of these communal sentiments across the many borders of the Strait of Gibraltar, and draws on intensive fieldwork between 2017 and 2019 in the context of a decade of research in Tangier and Ceuta. It does so through a critical ethnographic analysis exploring the emergent languages, labors, and infrastructures of belonging and difference that emerge among immigrant and migrant communities in Tangier, Morocco and Ceuta, Spain. Theoretically, this dissertation builds from theories of metapragmatic discourse analysis, infrastructural flow and breakdown, and borderland political economies in order to emphasize the worlds emergent along these borders. When seen through the lens of waiting, understanding the growth and transformations of migratory dynamics and border politics in the region means paying more attention to this time spent “en route,” its consequences beyond just the regulation of access to spatial territories, and the categories of belonging and difference that emerge along the way.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Larkin, Brian
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2021