Anthropology in Immigration Law

In Beyond “Culture”: Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference, and within the vein of how one’s identity is tied to their home or a specific place, I found immigration to be interesting. Particularly as asked, how is the question of immigration policy affected by new conceptualizations of space as unbounded or identity as fluid? Gupta and Ferguson confront this in saying that “the identity of a place emerges by the intersection of its specific involvement in a system of hierarchically organized spaces with its cultural construction as a community or locality” (8). Thus it is a combination of their arrangement/order and functionality as a perceived community that give these spaces significance to us. Yet ever since the maps I initially learned geography on in elementary school, our world is divided, both ethnically and territorially. Without this as a reality, immigration wouldn’t be seen as so much as an encroachment or change but rather a byproduct of the fluidity. Though this above scenario is purely in theory, I think anthropological discourse in immigration policy could be vital. Beyond merely population shifts and trends, it could take a more intimate approach to the tribulations immigrants face as “others” or “alien”. From an anthropological perspective, the system we have to address immigration law might seem irrational because it takes a subject of circumstance and makes it black and white, guilty or innocent. In a world of economic globalization and transnational movement, we need to know their motivations behind moving, reasons for displacement, perceptions of self, and stigmas experienced based on their immigrant status, among more, before enacting meaningful legislation.


Empathy and Pity

In “The Boy on the Beach,” Charles Homans briefly questions an interesting contrast: empathy and pity. Referencing Nick Ut’s napalm girl as well as Kevin Carter’s Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture, he asserts that we do not feel empathy for these scenes. We cannot identify on any meaningful level with the experiences we view, and are thus unable to feel real compassion. Instead, we take the ostensibly condescending approach of feeling bad for someone. Pity to me evokes a quite different reaction, beyond just the distinction of having a negative connotation as opposed to a positive one. The emotions you feel are more that of recognition, extending only as far as unease at their tribulations. But as this implies, your removal from their suffering emphasizes the basic difference between acknowledging and enduring. This is precisely why Homans believes such anguish was expressed for young Aylan Kurdi. Just as he could imagine those tiny shoes or that tender posture belonging to his own son, I can identify with the setting, his innocence, clothes, and personally, his complexion. The emotions you feel when sharing in an experience with another person are more palpable because you are more engaged in their distress. And in doing so you move to their level of emotion, taking away the distance and anonymity associated with pity. Overall, the picture of the boy on the beach can actually evoke at once both pity and empathy. The former when placed in a greater political context that I experience only as far as articles and pictures, and latter as a young, individual, identifiable life that was lost far too soon.