When Deterrence and Death Mitigation Fall Short: Fantasy and Fetishes as Gap-Fillers in Border Regulation

Law & Society Review, Vol. 42, p. 701, 2008

34 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2008 Last revised: 20 Jul 2011

See all articles by Mary D. Fan

Mary D. Fan

University of Washington School of Law


Drawing on fieldwork and political theory with Lacanian psychoanalytic influences, this article analyzes how fantasy and fetishes help sustain strategies shown to be no solution to U.S. border control problems. More than a decade after the official launch of the border control paradigm of ‘‘prevention through deterrence,’’ predicated on the assumption that ramping up walls, barriers, policing, and the human costs of border crossing would deter, there has been scant evidence of deterrence and much evidence of diversion of migrants to more dangerous crossing points where death rates have soared. Attempts to mitigate the cost to life have also proved ineffective but have persisted alongside the policy of diversion. The article is based on research in a region where the reality of diversion and death instead of deterrence was lived but where people still pursue projects of barrier-building and death mitigation that they know to be ineffective. The article analyzes how fantasy fuels action despite knowledge and occludes a traumatic element around which the symbolic order of border law is structured: the foundation of ‘‘good life’’ with its bounty of rights, privileges, and opportunity on the exclusion of basic life denuded of the entitlements that make the good life sweet. The article also examines how fetishes are used to cope with unrealized hopes and to diffuse the impact of the traumatic knowledge that good life is undergirded by the exclusion and even death of basic life.

Keywords: Border Law, Border Security, Migration, Immigration, Fantasy, Fetishism, Fetishes, Lacan, Zizek, Minutemen, Secure Fence Act of 2006

Suggested Citation

Fan, Mary, When Deterrence and Death Mitigation Fall Short: Fantasy and Fetishes as Gap-Fillers in Border Regulation. Law & Society Review, Vol. 42, p. 701, 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1139324

Mary Fan (Contact Author)

University of Washington School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98195
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.washington.edu/directory/Profile.aspx?ID=503

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