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How to find us dr. M.E. (Marietta ) Messmer

dr. M.E. Messmer

Associate Professor of American Studies
dr. M.E. Messmer

  • Outsourcing and Offshoring: A Comparison between Current U.S. and EU Migration Policy Regimes. Both the U.S. and the EU have started to display a striking convergence in the management of irregular migration: (1) by further militarizing their (external) borders; (2) by initiating bilateral readmission agreements with neighboring states to safeguard their own national security interests; and (3) by outsourcing the control of migrant streams to countries of transit that become responsible for preventing Central American respectively sub-Saharan migrants from reaching the U.S.’s / EU’s external borders, and for sending these migrants back to their countries of origin.  In this context, we can observe that both the United States and the European Union have started to significantly extend their areas of political and legal influence beyond their own national borders. My goal in this project is to bring together border studies scholars who will analyze, in a comparative perspective, the complex effects that this reconceptualization and extraterritorialization of (legal and political) borders has on transit countries like Mexico, Turkey, Libya, Morocco, and Senegal, as well as on migrants that are trying to reach the U.S. or the EU via those countries.

  • Representations of Vulnerability: The Child Recruits of Central American Maras. This project analyzes the representation of Central American criminal gangs (in particular those involved in drug trafficking) in documentaries, films, and literature. Drawing on Judith Butler’s concepts of vulnerability and precarity, the project examines the effects of criminal gang activities on some of the most vulnerable segments of the population, especially child recruits. It asks to what extent representing vulnerability can have problematic effects (e.g. stigmatizing precarious subjects as helpless victims or disposable lives that become the targets of governmental anti-gang policies), and to what extent such representations can be enabling, allowing for the development of what Erinn Gilson has termed an ‘ethics of vulnerability’ that not only makes precarious lives visible but can also initiate political change by addressing some of the underlying socio-political problems (e.g. the corruption of state officials, the deterioration of the rule of law, or the weakening of institutions).                           
  • Queenpins, Empresses, and Godmothers: Women as Powerful Leaders in the Narco World. The widespread allure of narco-cultura has turned many kingpins into cultural heroes and celebrity-outlaws, yet until fairly recently, the drug business has been an almost all-male domain, with women reduced to subordinate roles such as drug user, mule, or narconovia (trophy woman on whom drug runners lavish expensive gifts), in this way highlighting “the notoriously sexist world of the drug cartels” (Harriet Surovell 3). Yet recent studies by, among others, Harriet Surovell, Jody Miller and Tammy Anderson have started to challenge this view by highlighting the fact that women increasingly tend to occupy more active and powerful roles in the narco-economy, in some cases even acquiring celebrity status. This project analyzes specific examples of the dominant roles played by narco-heroines in the inter-American drug business by focusing on interviews given by queenpins as well as on their representation in recent fictional and nonfictional accounts. I will concentrate in particular on Thelma Wright, who published her memoirs With Eyes from Both Sides – Living My Life in and Out of the Game after allegedly leaving the drug business in 2011, and Sandra Ávila Beltrán, one of Mexico’s most notorious drug leaders who gave a three-hour interview after her release from prison in 2015 and was celebrated in Los Tucanes de Tijuana’s corrido “Party in the Mountains.” Her life, moreover, is also said to have inspired Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s thriller The Queen of the South (2004). I will demonstrate how for these women, the position of social outlaw became a vehicle for female empowerment as their appropriation of violent macho postures enabled them to earn vast sums of money and acquire leadership positions, in this way creating radically transgressive gender roles in an environment otherwise dominated by hypermasculinity.
  • Children on the Move: Latin American Under-Age Migrants and Refugees in the Context of the U.S.’s National Security Regime. Situated at the intersection of border studies and mobility studies, this project is affiliated with the European Network for the Study of Minor Mobilities in the Americas ( It is interested in the ways in which institutions, technologies of governance, as well as legal discourses regulate the behavior and movement of specific groups of people and thus produce, shape, and prevent mobilities. I will focus in particular on contemporary examples of South and Central American under-age migrants and refugees who are trying to reach the U.S., are detained in the U.S. or get deported from the U.S., and the unique challenges, tensions, and ambivalences faced and posed by this group due to its heightened vulnerability. Child migration raises many social, legal, and political questions that differ fundamentally from the questions raised by adult migrants and refugees, and it can throw into striking relief the contradictions inherent in the U.S.'s current immigration and refugee regime, which is primariliy geared at adults.

    Drawing on concrete case studies on the basis of migrant and refugee narratives and interviews, this project will concentrate on the following aspects:

    • the contradictory nature of family-related national U.S. immigration policies that seemingly privilege family reunification while at the same time tearing apart mixed-status families or non-immediate relatives
    • immobilized DACA recipients and asylum applicants who are stuck in detention due to increased securitization measures, and the traumatizing effects this curtailed motility has on their cultural and psychological development
    • the extent to which under-age migrants and refugees are disproportionately affected by heightened forms of state surveillance and discourses of “crimmigration” (the merger of immigration and criminal law)
    • the extent to which deported “Dreamers” are stigmatized and lack social membership in both their country of choice as well as their country of origin, and the role that race, gender, and social class play in this context
    • the selectiveness of U.S. refugee policies (including arbitrary and inconsistent applications), which creates differential rights to mobility and thus reproduces inequality and exclusion
Last modified:05 September 2020 4.54 p.m.

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