The Politics of Injury: Debilitation and the Right to Maim at the EU Border

Thom Davies, Arshad Isakjee, Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Borders are sites of mass injury. This article questions the necro-consensus that has emerged within migration studies, and explores the political role that less-than-deadly violence plays at contemporary borders. By withholding from outright killing, and thus avoiding the optics of public scrutiny, EU states are deploying a carefully calibrated politics of injury designed to control racialised groups through debilitation. The injuries produced through this border regime—typified by illegal ‘pushbacks’ and deplorable camp conditions—exist beneath a threshold of liberal acceptability. In short, EU states routinely deny the right to asylum by imposing the ‘right to maim’ (Puar 2017). This article draws upon long-term research along the ‘Balkan Route’ in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, including interviews with medics, activists, EU officials, and people on the move, as well as analysis of a large border violence database. We argue that mass injury has become a politically tolerated form of violence that perversely provides the EU with the illusory conceit of humanitarian “care”. In dialogue with postcolonial scholarship that has questioned the centrality of death within biopolitics, we assert the importance of interrogating not only the necropolitical logics of migration policy (i.e death), but also the politics of non-lethal violence: the strategic and attenuated delivery of injury, maiming, and incapacitation that shapes contemporary borders. Contributing to geographies of violence and critical border studies, we suggest that greater attention is needed towards less-than-deadly harms that underpin contemporary political geographies.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages29
Early online date12 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

© 2024 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (


  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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