Refugees, migrants, neither, both: Categorical fetishism and the politics of bounding in Europe’s ‘migration crisis’

Heaven Crawley, Dimitris Skleparis

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    547 Citations (Scopus)
    476 Downloads (Pure)


    The use of the categories ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ to differentiate between those on the move and the legitimacy, or otherwise, of their claims to international protection has featured strongly during Europe’s ‘migration crisis’ and has been used to justify policies of exclusion and containment. Drawing on interviews with 215 people who crossed the Mediterranean to Greece in 2015, our paper challenges this ‘categorical fetishism’, arguing that the dominant categories fail to capture adequately the complex relationship between political, social and economic drivers of migration or their shifting significance for individuals over time and space. As such it builds upon a substantial body of academic literature demonstrating a disjuncture between conceptual and policy categories and the lived experiences of those on the move. However, the paper is also critical of efforts to foreground or privilege ‘refugees’ over ‘migrants’ arguing that this reinforces rather than challenges the dichotomy’s faulty foundations. Rather those concerned about the use of categories to marginalise and exclude should explicitly engage with the politics of bounding, that is to say, the process by which categories are constructed, the purpose they serve and their consequences, in order to denaturalise their use as a mechanism to distinguish, divide and discriminate.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)48-64
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
    Issue number1
    Early online date6 Jul 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

    Bibliographical note

    Publisher Statement: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited


    • refugee
    • migrant
    • displacement
    • mixed flows
    • mixed motivations
    • categories
    • labelling
    • politics
    • boundaries
    • Europe
    • crisis

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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