Resistance Through Acting: Ambivalent Practices of the No Border Musical

Emma Söderman

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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In a context of deportability and bordering practices, this thesis asks questions regarding possibilities and limitations of resistance through community theatre. It sets out from a participatory ethnographic exploration of the working process and performance of the No Border Musical.
The No Border Musical was created in 2011–2013 in the city of Malmö in southern Sweden. It was initiated by people linked to the local migrant rights movement in the city. About half the participants had applied for asylum in Sweden as unaccompanied minors. When faced with an expulsion order, they had come into contact with the local migrant rights movement and, at a later stage, the musical initiative. A majority of the rest of the ensemble was politically involved in changing the overall system of migration control and in giving support to undocumented individuals. The approximately two-year period of working and performing together was permeated by consequences and experiences of borders, deportability, asylum processes, while also aiming to practice and stage visions of a world where a passport would not determine one’s status in the world.
Through a participatory ethnographic study, the contingency and ambivalence of resistance through community theatre in a context marked by bordering practices and deportability is analysed. Some of the actors performed publicly on stage, despite residing as undocumented and an everyday life permeated by fear of being detected by the police and subsequently deported from Sweden. Simultaneously, although aiming to contest borders, the border also cut through the musical group, not least in relation to differences in regard to risks inherent in participating in and performing with the musical. Precarious living conditions due to deportability had consequences in terms of the conditions for participating in the musical.
The tension between wanting to dismantle categorisations put into force by the state and international institutions such as the EU, but also experiencing a need to adjust to the consequences of these (for example, practices to avoid police controls) was present in both the working process and visible in the performance of the musical. Categorisations, such as citizen/non-citizen, white/non-white, adult/youngster and documented/undocumented were simultaneously reproduced and contested.
The musical performance staged consequences and experiences of migration control, while also performing possibilities of a world without borders. The staging of migration control had a realist strand to it and could be understood as feeding into narratives of deservingness as well as reproducing a victimisation of refugeeness. At the same time, privileges of mobility were made visible and criticised in the performance, and undocumented characters displayed rebellious resistance towards the system of migration control.
By combining an in-depth ethnographic exploration of the working process with an analysis of the performance as well as the experiences of performing together, this thesis argues that these processes (of performing and working together) may be understood as ambivalent commoning. It is ambivalent since the very processes of what is referred to as commoning were simultaneously intersected by bordering practices as well as by a distribution of roles and power stemming from different positions in terms of deportability. The thesis points to the importance of relationship-building and continuity in this context and conceptualises these as politics of translation. This not only encapsulates translating between different languages but also between different experiences and positions in regard to the subjects addressed, in this case deportability, asylum processes and borders. The analysis of the No Border Musical sharply exposes the inherent ambivalences and incompleteness of acting in an unjust world, whilst also hoping to inspire further engagement and resistance.
Translated title of the contributionMotstånd genom teater : Ambivalenta praktiker i No Border Musical 
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • School of Social Work
  • Meeuwisse, Anna, Supervisor
  • Lundberg, Anna , Assistant supervisor, External person
Award date2019 Sept 20
Place of PublicationLund
ISBN (Print)978-91-89604-63-6
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Aug 26

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2019-09-20
Time: 10.00
Place: Socialhögskolan, room SH 128, Allhelgona kyrkogata 8, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Anderson, Bridget
Title: Professor
Affiliation: University of Bristol

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Work

Free keywords

  • deportability
  • commoning
  • community theatre
  • activism
  • irregular migration


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