Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders
Columbia University Press, New York, 2008. pp. xii, 450.
The most significant contribution of Adam McKeown's magnificent book, Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders, is its definitive assault on the presentist and empiricist tradition that pervades scholarship on migration across the disciplines. Working against this tradition, McKeown sets out to historicize and denaturalize those innocuous, innocent, mundane categories that serve as the stable assumptions and provide the ground for most migration analyses: assumptions of the existence of nationalized state borders; of clear definitions of the migrant, the immigrant, and the emigrant; of uncontested, pre-existing individuals; of dehistoricized migration bureaucracies; of unquestioned definitions of state sovereignty held to embody control over (im)migration; or of firm, unchanging distinctions between freedom and coercion. After reading this thoroughly researched and wide-ranging book, it will be impossible to proceed with migration (or, indeed, other) analysis secure in the comfort of stable categories.
Melancholy Order is organized as a deceptively simple inquiry: It seeks to historicize the striking international standardization of an institutional structure that currently governs the global migration regime. To do justice to this simple inquiry turns out to be an enormously complex task that leads McKeown to analyze migration in a range of different registers: as entangled in the making and remaking of international law; as a site for the production of modern individual identity; as embedded in the protocols and procedures of the bureaucratization of identity; as a key domain that shapes current, normative understandings of state borders; as the nexus for the standardization of what would count as the "international"; as formative to distinguishing such salient categories as "free" and "unfree" persons; as enmeshed in discourses of civilization, race, and colonialism; as a critical locus in (re)definitions of state sovereignty; one could go on. In McKeown's analysis, these seemingly disparate strands in the making of a certain international and global formation--that include as much its unquestioned socio-political or ideological verities as they do its institutional and bureaucratic structure--can be traced to the debates, contestations, and regulatory mechanisms that converge...