Invasive Others: Toward a Contaminated World
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Invasive Others:
Toward a Contaminated World

contemporary media is full of imagery about invasive others. These Others take different forms, but perhaps the most recognizable are people, particularly those who are crossing borders, such as migrants and refugees. We regularly see images of people coming by the boatload from Syria or North Africa to land on European shores. Frontex, Europe's border patrol agency, sees these migrants as posing an "imminent danger" and uses cutting-edge technology to surveil and detect them. When caught, they are turned around at sea, or deported when they reach land. Considered invasives, they are kept in detention centers, or in camps on both sides of the Mediterranean.

Invasive others also cause concern in the area of ecology and conservation. In this case they are nonnative, or "alien," plants or animals that are extremely successful at adapting to (or taking over) their new habitats. Much energy and many resources have been directed at ridding ourselves of these invasives in order to protect native species and allow for a more biodiverse environment to flourish.

Pathogens are described today as the most serious type of invasive, crossing borders and boundaries at unanticipated speed and scale, and threatening pandemic-level infections. Notably, we use the political language of nation-states to discuss their containment. With Ebola, quarantine strategies involved the closure of national borders (Sierra Leone, Liberia), which many medical experts suggested did not make sense scientifically; here we see the containment of invasive pathogens getting mixed up with the containment of certain kinds of "invasive" people. [End Page xxi]

Finally, ideas can be understood as invasive. New surveillance technologies have been developed to control the spread of ideas understood as invasive—those understood as extremist or terrorist. Such technologies, piloted by Google, for instance, or by the United States government, now also threaten to invade private lives and spaces, as we have learned from WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden. In all of this, it is not clear who is allowed to disseminate ideas, and under what circumstances, or who or what is the most invasive idea or technology.

This issue of Social Research, based on a conference held April 20–21, 2016, at The New School, is grounded on the premise that while seemingly of different orders, invasive others—whether people, plants, pathogens, or ideas—are often described in similar ways, and patrolled and controlled through similar technologies, logics, and policies, and that these overlaps have real consequences. In the most basic sense, the idea of invasion in all these cases implies a metaphor of war and attendant processes of militarization, and helps to frame responses accordingly, i.e., one has to fight back. Of course, we ask when and how these orders influence one another and when they have their own logics, but broadening the frame to understand them together can help us understand the construction and management of Otherness in new ways.

In a world where the speed and scale of movement have changed, received notions of borders are being challenged and often dissolved—not just national borders but also borders between species, and borders between what used to be discrete social spaces. Jacob Silverman (this issue) calls this latter "context collapse," where suddenly, via social media, something that would have been said only to a friend is visible to the world, or where one's work and intimate lives combine, with new consequences. As part of the dissolution of borders and boundaries, things increasingly move as part of larger groupings or assemblages that include objects, capital, technologies, ideas, and other living beings. These other things have become more and more critical in how people move (or don't move), and it behooves us to take seriously how they influence and change the movement of others. [End Page xxii]

With new transborder flows, then, the languages and technologies of invasive others come to intersect and play on each other in significant new ways, working to produce new demarcations, divisions, and exclusions. The work of invasiveness is engaged in rendering a new "political," and it is doing so on multiple, intersecting fronts. If we are to create a world hospitable to those considered "Other...

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