Interview with Ida Danewid by Caroline Breeden and Danai Avgeri

Q. Hi Ida, we’re excited for you to join us at the Debordering Futures Conference. Given your long-term engagement with migrant justice, racialisation, and the coloniality of borders, your name was quite naturally one of the first to drop on the table.

Thank you for inviting me! I’m very excited about the conference—it looks brilliant.

Q. Can you tell us about your intellectual trajectory from your landmark piece on White innocence in the Black Mediterranean to your remarkable new book Resisting Racial Capitalism: An Antipolitical Theory of Refusal?

I wrote ‘White innocence in the Black Mediterranean’ during the 3rd year of my PhD and it was the first article that I ever published—I remember being incredibly nervous about sending it out for peer review and it’s wonderful that it’s been so well-received.

In that article, I offered a critique of dominant ways of thinking about migrant justice and the way in which they tend to erase shared histories of empire, dispossession, and racial subjugation. Migrant justice here becomes a question of humanitarianism, hospitality, and charity—but not of reparations, historical accountability, and radical social change.

Since writing that piece, my work has taken me in essentially two different directions. First, I’ve become more interested in political economy and especially in anticolonial Marxism and the black radical tradition. This has pushed me into thinking more concretely about the relationship between racism, capitalism, and various forms of state violence, including borders as well as policing, incarceration, extractivism, and reproductive control.

Alongside this, I’ve also moved towards a more explicit focus on anti-statist histories of resistance, refusal, and abolition. Where “White Innocence in the Black Mediterranean” highlighted the pitfalls of hegemonic ways of thinking about justice and solidarity, my more recent work takes up these questions through an engagement with anticolonial anarchism and black radical struggles.

Q. You draw on a wide range of thinkers, scholars and literature. Who have been your key inspirations and interlocutors in your field of study and recent projects?

I love reading and find inspiration in lots of different things, not just in academic texts but also in literature, art, poetry, and music.

As the title of my book reveals, Cedric Robinson’s work on racial capitalism has been hugely important to me. I’ve learnt so much from his radical re-reading of the history of capitalism, as well as from his piercing critique of Western political theory and its preoccupation with questions of sovereignty, governance, and rulership. Robinson’s suggestion that there exists an alternative antipolitical tradition—marginalised and driven underground, but still very much alive—is central to my book.

C.L.R. James is someone else whose work has had a profound impact on my thinking, especially his critique of state capitalism and unwavering belief in struggles “from below”. Books like Facing Reality, The Black Jacobins, and the pamphlet “Every cook can govern” helped me think through some of the book’s key issues—sometimes in unruly ways that James himself might not have been entirely happy with!

I’ve also been very inspired by writers such as Saidiya Hartman, Jack Halberstam, Macarena Gómez-Bariss, Marquis Bey, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and Robyn Maynard. These are brilliant thinkers who, just like me, are interested in alternative registers of anarchism and utopian forms of worldmaking beyond capital and the state.

Q. While there are striking links between migration, race, colonialism and capitalism, these are often issues that are dealt with separately which fail to draw out the histories, continuities and connections between them. Can you tell us a bit more about how you emphasise these entanglements?

What we today refer to as ‘the border’ has its roots in a long line of mobility regimes which historically were designed to control the movement of the racial and colonial poor. It’s easy to forget that ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’ are not naturally existing categories but name a specific relation of difference imposed by the state.

Today’s global border regime is essentially a (post)colonial infrastructure of state violence which enables an ‘imperial mode of life’ for some through the containment, abandonment, and super-exploitation of others. By forcing people to live and work as ‘illegal’ migrants, borders create an underclass of precarious, vulnerable, and super-exploitable workers. This type of labour is central to contemporary capitalism: including in the agricultural sector (think of the many migrants who pick oranges, tomatoes, and other produce in southern Europe), care and domestic work, shipping and other types of logistics, construction work (most notoriously in the Gulf states, but not uncommon elsewhere), as well as the gig and platform economy.

Finally—and this goes back to the point that I was trying to make in ‘White Innocence in the Black Mediterranean’—why are people forced to migrate and leave their homes in the first instance? Contemporary forms of migration are often propelled by wider forces of extraction and expropriation caused by structural adjustment programs, land grabbing, climate change, military interventions, resource extraction, and/or climate change. These are necessarily stories of race, colonialism, and capitalism: as A. Sivanandan famously put it, “We are here because you were there”.

Q. In traditional discussions of capitalism, the primary focus is often placed on exploitation experienced by workers within waged labour. Can you share how the concept of racial capitalism expands or alters our understanding of oppression and the overarching dynamics of capitalism?

The concept of racial capitalism pushes us to decentre the focus on wage labour—and with that, the emphasis on the European (male) proletariat as the revolutionary class of history—and instead move towards an understanding of capitalism as a global system premised on racial and colonial forms of exploitation, expropriation, and extraction. As Robinson argues in Black Marxism, capitalism was never a revolutionary negation of feudalism (as Marx claimed) and there was never a clear progression from one mode of production to another. Instead, capitalism emerged from a European feudal order to produce a global system of accumulation premised on racial violence, hierarchy, and stratification.

Marx did, of course, recognise that colonialism was central to the rise of capitalist social relations (what he calls “primitive accumulation”), but he regarded this as something which is separate from the actual process of capital accumulation. This is in contrast to scholars of racial capitalism who argue that so called ‘extra’-economic measures—be it colonial conquest, enclosures, dispossession, militarised trading, or enslavement—have never been confined to a pre-capitalist era that set the stage for ‘real’ capitalism: rather, racial and colonial violence have been, and continue to be, core features of capital accumulation.

These ideas have come to be closely associated with Cedric Robinson, but it’s important to point out that his work is very much indebted to a wider tradition of black and anticolonial intellectuals, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Oliver Cromwell Cox, Claudia Jones, C.L.R. James, Walter Rodney, and Lorraine Hansberry. There’s also a South African tradition, including anti-apartheid organisers and black radicals like Neville Alexander who were among the first to use the term racial capitalism.

Q. You compellingly unravel technologies of mobility control as distinctly racialised mechanisms that distinguish between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’. Can you expand on your thinking around how mobility control has historically evolved?

A. One thing that I really wanted to do in the book was to show that the contemporary policing of migration is part of a much longer history in which the capitalist state has always sought to control the movement of the displaced and the dispossessed. Take, for example, the vagrancy laws that were imposed on the European poor from the 14th century onwards, and which criminalised free movement with the goal of creating a disciplined and industrious workforce at the dawn of capitalism. Those people who refused to settle and take up wage-labour were deemed to be ‘undeserving’ and ‘unproductive’ and could be tortured, enslaved, and/or imprisoned in workhouses, monasteries, asylums, and other carceral institutions.

Vagrancy laws were widely used across the settler colonies to coerce indigenous populations into work and tie black people to the plantations after the abolition of slavery. A range of other types of mobility control were also used to dispossess and coerce the colonised, enslaved, and poor into work—here we can think of enslavement, forced migration, contracts of indenture, penal transportation, and the encomienda system. We might not recognise these as mobility restrictions, but that’s in part what they were.

The basic point is that the history of racial capitalism is a history of a series of unequal and racialized regimes of mobility. Whether through vagrancy legislation, schemes of indenture, or contemporary immigration restrictions, racialized control of movement has been central to ensure a steady supply of cheap, disposable, and super-exploitable labour.

Q. In Resisting Racial Capitalism, you highlight the explicitly active, ongoing role of the state in producing and maintaining the hierarchies that sustain the exploitative and extractive nature of capital. In doing so, you expose the limits of state-based models of justice and call for the need to consider what justice and freedom look like beyond the state. How does your work speak to the future of political imagination, horizons of the possible and potentials of thinking otherwise for those working to resist and refuse racial capitalism and the state?

We live in a time dominated by statist thinking: what we, with Mark Fisher, might call “capitalist state realism.” This is obvious, not just on the political Right (where themes of security, authority, and law and order are widespread), but also on parts of the Left where there’s a kind of romanticised nostalgia for a welfare state protected by national borders. For all the talk of the state withering away under neoliberal globalisation, ours is an era where the state has not only enhanced its coercive powers (its ability to deport, police, and so on), but where it has also usurped the political imagination.

In this context, my book is first and foremost an invitation to dream and imagine otherwise. If state violence is central to upholding and entrenching capitalism’s regimes of extraction and accumulation across the world—as anticolonial and black radical thought teaches us—then what might freedom mean without, and despite, the state?

In the book, I approach this question by drawing on Robinson’s work on antipolitics. For Robinson, the antipolitical names the various genres of life and worldmaking that exist on terms that are different from those secured by capital and the state: these are possibilities of organising society otherwise, which historically could be glimpsed in the stateless life of the Ila-Tonga (in today’s Zambia), the maroon communities scattered across the Americas, and the millenarianism of Europe’s medieval radical poverty movements, to mention but a few examples.

The concept of antipolitics thus pushes us in an anarchist direction: not to the classical anarchism of Bakunin, Kropotkin, or Goldman, but to a subterranean archive of refusal and ungovernability that emanates from anticolonial and black radical struggles. This is an alternative genre of anarchism which finds inspiration—not so much in the European Enlightenment and its ideas around rationalism, science, and universal history—but in the dreamworlds, jazz grooves, ancestral visions, and otherworldly poetics of the antipolitical margins.

In the book, I mobilise these ideas to theorise the antipolitical as a global struggle against racial capitalism and politics understood as hierarchy, rulership, and authoritarian power. By working through a broad array of cases and examples—from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the borderlands of Europe, the poisoned landscape of Ogoniland, and the queer lifeworlds of Delhi—I argue that there exists a motley crew of state evaders that refuse to reduce the struggle for freedom to a question of state capture or reform. Rejecting carcerality, deportations, settler occupation, cisheteropatriarchy, and the ongoing destruction of the planet, these communities practice an anarchism otherwise that seeks, not just better ways of being governed but, rather, what James Scott has called the art of not being governed at all.

As Jack Halberstam reminds us, “there is a wild beyond to the structures that we inhabit and that inhabit us”. In opening the door to the antipolitical, my book is one humble attempt to move us closer to that wild.

Resisting racial capitalism book cover


  • Caroline Breeden is a fourth-year PhD researcher in the Faculty of Education focusing on the politics of representation and figurations of statelessness across time, connecting histories of race and empire to Europe’s border regime.
  • Danai Avgeri is the lead convenor of the Debordering Futures Conference and an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography, researching the intersections between capitalist restructuring, social reproduction and racialised mobility control.



Tel: +44 1223 766886