Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry
Image: Multiple generated faces using FaceMachine, Randallbritten, 2014

Coding Intensive Movement with Technologies of Visibility: Alien Affects

Michael Lechuga
The University of Texas at El Paso

First online: July 1, 2017


This is an essay about how alienhood is made. Alienhood is a material, affective, and political condition of that is manufactured by the State’s technologies of visibility. Immigration control in the US relies on enhanced technologies of perception to surveil the intensive movement differences (alien affects) of migrants to control their extensive movements—their flow. Alien affects are the micro-flows of intensity that when cast upon the surface of the State, glimmer with difference, augmenting the ways alien migrant bodies move into and across the surfaces of US statehood. This makes the process of alienation a political process that involves governance of migrating bodies through a multitude of technologies aimed at surveilling and controlling both citizen communities and non-citizen communities. This essay explores the relationship between extensive movement and intensive movement and what this relationship means in the context of affect studies. It also describes how State power is expressed through layers of articulable and visible expression that is distributed across landscapes of US statehood to control the flows of the bodies. Lastly, the essay invites those invested in affect studies to find more links between the fields of rhetoric and affect studies, to study the technological production of alienhood in our societies of control, and to consider what adopting a movement politics can offer that ascribing to an identity politics may not.


Alien Affects, Rhetorical Materialism, Migration Control, Technologies of Visibility, Movement

Those living along the border between México and the United States (US) might never see a physical, 2,000-mile long wall between the two nations. If there is a border wall, it will likely be a virtual wall. I say this for two reasons: first, the US has invested tens of billions of dollars in the latest surveillance technologies over the last three decades, to create a network of sensing devices to track the movements of migrants across that border (Office of the Inspector General, 2005; US Customs and Border Protection, 2015a). These include seismic sensors buried in the desert, infrared cameras mounted on Hum-Vs and Predator Drones, and biometric face scanners at ports of entry. With most of that technology already in place, a physical wall that spans 2,000 miles seems both redundant and unrealistic.

Second, deporting all migrants unauthorized to be in the country and building an impenetrable wall would have detrimental effects on the nation’s economy. One study estimates that deporting all the undocumented migrants in the US would cost the government nearly $5 trillion in lost Gross Domestic Product (GPD), and an additional $900 billion in lost revenue in the form of tax and interest payments over 10 years (Edwards & Ortega, 2016). On the other hand, capturing migrants into cycles of control—like migrant apprehension, detention, deportation, and others (often operated by private contractors)—benefits the US both economically and politically. After migrants enter the landscape of citizenship without authorization, they are driven into exploitative labor or get swept into the State’s (anti-)migration apparatus where they are scooped up, held in stagnating detention centers, then flushed out through deportation. The State’s technologies of visibility, like drone surveillance, biometric databases, and the ‘virtual border’, make the intensive and extensive movements of migrants moving into and through our landscapes of citizenship more sensible, thus making migrants more vulnerable.

These movements, alien affects, are not inherent to any body. They are a product of state power expressed through a network of technological surveillance apparatuses cast onto a body and set upon the backdrop of dominant State-flows traversing a national terrain. Migration control in the US relies on enhanced technologies of perception to surveil the intensive movements of migrants, in order to more closely control their extensive movements. In other words, the process of alienation is a political process that involves governance of bodies through a multitude of technologies aimed at surveilling and controlling both migrant communities and citizen communities. The State asserts its power in this way to shape a terrain that cuts the flows of alien migrant bodies from the flow of citizenship in our society of control. In this essay, I explore the relationship between extensive movement and intensive movement, and what this relationship means in the context of affect studies. I describe how State power is expressed through layers of articulable and visible expression that is distributed across landscapes of US statehood, to control the flows of the bodies within its territory. The final section makes a case for studying the technological production of alienhood in our societies of control, and considers a movement politics (in lieu of an identity politics) that addresses difference through a lens of mobility and affect.

Alien Bodies, Migrant Movements, and Coding Control

Alienhood is a material, affective, and political condition of national non-belonging signaling difference to those moving with and against dominant flows on landscapes of relation. Alien affects are the felt intensities of magnitude, differences between a citizen body and a transnational migrant body that are illuminated by the State’s technologies of visibility, as bodies move through the physical, social, and economic landscapes of the nation.1 This essay is a description of the relationship between extensive and intensive movements of migrant bodies and the technologies of visibility used by the State to surveil them and code them as alien. Here, the term alien is both a political and an economic expression. In the political sense, the alien is the barbaric, foreign Other that lives beyond the walls of the polis (Nail 2015, p.52). It emerges as a nationalist figure; it is the opposite of a citizen. In an economic sense, the alien is capital’s exploited laborer. Thinking about today’s low-wage, unauthorized migrants from México, Central America, and Asia living in the US, the political and economic contexts of alienhood are one and the same.

Alien Affects

Alien affects are intensive movements of national difference that shimmer on an individual body as it encounters the State’s technologies of visibility on a national plane. They are perceivable tonal differences—like an accent, a glance, or maybe just a feeling that something is off—that vary from the dominant flows of citizenship circulating throughout the terrain of the State. They shape the relationships among bodies moving through those terrains. In the US, for example, the aural alien affects that are noticeable in non-native American English speakers to Native American English speakers is off. The tonal differences in a non-native speaker’s voice signals national difference in the listener and likely shapes the relationships between native and non-native language speakers. This example demonstrates how intensive movements (like vocal variations) can affect extensive movements (how foreigners might move through a community depending on how welcoming they are to foreigners).

For Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987), extensive movement is what we generally conceive of today as movement; it is movement from one place to another over a given span of distance and over time: “[It] designates the relative character of a body considered as ‘one,’ and which goes from point to point” (p. 381). This type of movement, movement as we classically understand it, is usually divided from the realm of the intensive mostly because it constitutes the realm of the perceivable (and eventually measurable) (De Landa, 2002). Extensive movement is locomotion; it is movement from point A to point B.

Intensive movement, what Deleuze and Guattari call speed (velocity), on the other hand, is that felt qualitative difference that “constitutes the absolute character of a body ” (author’s emphasis, 1988, p. 381). Speed is intensive; it is qualitative movement; it is vibrational, affective, and always in-becoming. Unlike the external logic of “the one,” it is the internal logic of relationality and deindividuation (Manning, 2007 & 2011). A body perceives intensive movement by “feel[ing] that the quality perceived analyses itself into repeated and successive vibrations, bound together by an inner continuity” (Bergson 1911, p. 269). Felt intensive movement always occurs as a sense of qualitative difference; it is active and continuous change (Bergson, 1911). Intensive movement is qualitative change or tone; it is a shift in the intensity of a felt affect. Migrants’ extensive movement is typically the focus of migrant control in public discourse, in border crossing for example.

However, the figure of the transnational migrant is simultaneously a nomadic body that is moving from fixed point to point, and also a national figure “affect[ing] an intensive or qualitative social movement of the whole of society … the figure of the migrant is a socially constitutive power. It is the subjective figure that allows society to move and change” (Nail 2015, p. 13). One study recently discussed how fewer white babies were born in the US (49.8%), than babies that “racial or ethnic minorities” (50.2%). For many (in white communities), this number signals a societal shift and creates anxiety over foreigners (Cohn, 2016). Studies like this one demonstrate Nail’s point that the migrants body and its intensive movements affect the relationships of those in a national landscape.

Intensive and extensive movements are not separate types of movements; they are parts of the same universe of flow that are only sensed on different criteria—qualitatively and quantifiably. After all, being “is an intensive quality, as if each one of us were defined by a kind of complex of intensities which refers to her/his essence, and also of relations which regulate the extended parts, the extensive parts” (Deleuze 1978, p. 12). The relations of bodies and their extensive mobility in each landscape affect and are affected by the complex of felt intensities attached to each body. This is key in making sense of how the relationship between intensive and extensive might be governed. Should those operating today’s control societies develop an ability to modulate any or all the intensities that make up a body’s complex of intensities, they may very well be able to shape the extensive movements of bodies. Most everyone has a unique complex of intensive movements that are perceived differently in different landscapes (Brennan, 2004). If it benefits a society (of control) to control the extensive movements of the bodies that are moving through the national landscapes, then those societies might begin policing the intensive movements of those bodies.

The State apparatus in the US today is heavily invested in both strengthening dominant national (cultural, economic, and even genetic) flows, and capturing migrant flows into cycles of violence, exploitation, and expulsion. Those bodies that easily move with dominant national flows have low-magnitude intensive movements. In comparison to dominant intensive flows—like light skin color (a visual intensity of light waves), American English accent (an aural intensity of sound waves), and other qualitative cues—these bodies do not vary from the norm. There is nothing in their complexes of intensities that is resistant to the dominant flows of the US; they are low-magnitude in relation to desired State flows. Those with high-magnitude intensive movements, on the other hand, project intensive difference when cast upon the landscape of dominant US American flows. These intensities are high-magnitude because they are noticeably incongruent with the dominant felt intensities that populate a nation. For example, cues like a person’s skin color, eye color, face shape, accent, smell, posture, gate, or even touch can signal alienhood to others. These qualitative intensities of national non-belonging that are perceived in political terrains of relation are alien affects.

The process of producing alien affects is a movement-centered political division. Those with low-magnitude intensive movements easily move (extensively) through national landscapes—across highways, over borders, in and out of public view—with little to no resistance. On the contrary, bodies with high-magnitude intensive movement are unable to easily move through cities or cross international borders without at least some resistance from State agents. Sherriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, AZ, for example, was a proponent of racial profiling law AZ SB 1070 which allowed state law enforcement to stop and arrest individual who looked Mexican, regardless of her or his citizenship (Santos 2016). On an interpersonal level, we can see how the perception of alien affects by some in the US leads to the rejection and mistreatment of migrants in their own community. In 2014, when Alabama passed HB 56—also known as the “self-deportation” bill—many migrants reported that they were being ignored, shamed, or even verbally assaulted by members of their communities for simply being migrants (Lechuga 2015). Collectively, these expressions can drive migrants away from unfriendly spaces and into the shadows of society.

At the State level, migrant groups remain the most vulnerable to control; those with alien affects are likely to be captured in cycles of economic exploitation, targeted and apprehended by law-enforcement, placed in detention, and flushed out through deportation infrastructure. The State can multiply its social, economic, and political power through the capture, exploitation, and expulsion of low-skilled, low-wage labor—mostly from México, Central America, and Asia: “When societies desire change or expansion, they may harness the mobility of the migrant in the form of slavery, militarism, incarceration, and waged labor in order to help them expand” (Nail 2015, p. 14). The corporatized State uses this group of expendable bodies to fill seasonal, low-skill labor demands, to meet the quotas set for migrant detention and deportation infrastructure, and to serve as a political scapegoat for the rightists.

To power the anti-migrant flows, the State relies on bordering apparatuses like ports of entry, highway checkpoints, racial profiling, biometric databases, and others to drive those with alien affects into exploitation and removal. These processes are materially shaping a national terrain in the US to divide citizens from aliens: “The internal vocation of state politics is the unification of aims and the organization of those aspirations into a unique spatiotemporal whole” (Manning 2007, p. 62). Bodies of migrants, citizens, and others are plugged into systems of relation that are distributed throughout the landscapes of the State for the purposes of placing migrant bodies into apparatuses that maximize the state’s political power over them. Bodies shimmering with alien affects flow across landscapes of citizenship differently than low-magnitude bodies. By producing (illuminating and coding) more highly-intense aliens, the State’s widespread migrant surveillance systems unevenly contour landscapes of citizenship and further shape the movements of migrants moving through them. The techno-militarized state apparatuses of surveillance, apprehension, and removal are distributed across the spatiotemporal landscapes that make up the spaces of citizenship in the US—both at the border between México and the US and the throughout the national landscape—to produce these highly intensive aliens.

Illuminating and Coding Alien Affects

The division of migrant flows from the dominant flows of citizenship occurs at the moment alien affects are sensed by those in relation to migrating bodies. So, the US State citizenship apparatus has heavily invested in technologies of visibility that make alien affects more easily sensed by others. For example, the ground sensors in the New Mexico desert and the infrared cameras attached to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) drones surveil the edges of the national terrain to detect the movements (both extensive and intensive) of migrants. Then, these movements are coded and digitally transmitted to border agents who become aware of the migrant movements. This usually results in the mobilization of other border agents who attempt to apprehend the migrants (Lechuga 2016, p. 156). The evolution of technologies of visibility for migration control—from the systems of lights in the 1980s and 1990s to today’s hi-tech network of border surveillance equipment—has allowed the State to more easily surveil the paths migrants take into the United States’ terrain, capture them, and channel them into violent cycles of control. After all, “visibility is a trap” (Foucault 1977, p. 200).

In discipline societies, technologies of visibility are just as vital to erecting diagrams of State power on the bodies within the institution as the institution itself (Chow, 2010; Deleuze, 1988).

Foucault associated the process of making-visible with an intensifying order of collectively enforced aggression against the human individual. Light … is theorised by Foucault not as a medium of emancipation but explicitly as a medium of entrapment: precisely as it enables one to be seen, it also enables one to be caught (Chow 2010, p. 67)

In Foucault’s disciplinary institution, for example, the subject of the prison or asylum is made visible to have a sensible body onto which the articulable archive of delinquency or psychosis gets layered. As Deleuze (1988) points out, the panoptic is a spatial logic that organizes bodies over the surfaces of control.

Articulable and visible State power is dispersed over open surfaces of statehood in today’s societies of control by diagrams of power, or systems of governing apparatuses: “Visibilities are not to be confused with elements that are visible, or more generally perceptible, such as qualities, things, objects, compounds of objects … visibilities are not forms of objects, nor even forms that would show up under light, but rather forms of luminosity which are created by the light itself and allow a thing or object to exist as a flash, sparkle or shimmer” (Deleuze 1988, p. 52). These apparatuses govern “the relations between forces (visible and articulable) unique to a particular formation, [they are] the distribution of the power to affect and the power to be affected” (Deleuze 1988, p. 72–73). However, where technologies of visibility that once illuminated bodies captured in the institutions of Foucault’s discipline society, they are now cast onto all the bodies freely (and not so freely), flowing through Deleuze’s societies of control.

By disbursing the technologies of visibility that make migrant bodies sensible to others, for example, the State can cast a layer of articulable anti-immigration law onto a body of a person who moves (both intensively and extensively) differently than other bodies in this landscape of citizenship. Technologies like floodlights, ground sensors, night vision, closed circuit television cameras, and even news cameras all produce a visible migrant body that is moving across the surface of citizenship, not necessarily confined within the institutions of State control (yet). In making migrants more visible through traditional and technologically advanced surveillance, bordering agents are often able to apprehend these migrants more easily, taking them off their nomadic extensive flow and corralling them into detention facilities, where they might sit for years without a trial, or worse, be deported with no chance to appeal for asylum (Martin & Yankay 2014). This process is not new, though; it has been the logic of migrant control for decades. With advancements in surveillance and biometric technologies, though, the State is now relying more and more on the coding of intensive alien affects to make them shimmer with alienhood.

Nearly all bodies are illuminated by the optical mechanisms of citizenship control that are mobilized throughout our national landscapes. Think, for example, about the more the 70 permanent Border Patrol checkpoints that are distributed throughout the US Southwest. In discipline societies, the apparatuses of enclosure “are first and foremost places of visibility dispersed in a form of exteriority, which refer back to an extrinsic function, that of setting apart and controlling” (Deleuze 1988, p. 60). Technologies of light in these apparatuses are used to surveil and control the entirety of the landscape of the State by illuminating those individuals visibly marked with alienhood—differing extensive and intensive movements. In control societies, while light is useful to illuminate extensive movement, coding illuminates intensive movement: “The digital language of control is made up of codes indicating whether access to some information should be allowed or denied” (Deleuze 1995, p. 180). This includes access to certain spaces on the surface of citizenship. Thus, technologies of visibility have evolved from a discipline logic lighting and capturing bodies, to a control logic that codes and modulates the flows of bodies. Alien migrants, for example, are now illuminated on national surfaces using technologies, like infrared cameras and/or facial recognition devices, that digitally code their alien affects as the emerge in the low-intensity flows of US statehood.

To make sense of coding, begin with the assumption that bodies are complexes of energy flows (Deleuze 1988; Massumi 2015). Bodies are culminations of waves and forces and frequencies: “The small-scale (in)dividuals populating the [control society] are themselves populated by coexisting metastable states” (Massumi 2015, p. 40). The “dividual” is no longer the product of an institutional mold or caste, like the graduate from school or a rehabilitated patient that emerges from the asylum, but is the amalgamation of myriad frequencies that are simultaneously in tune with innumerable flows within the economic, cultural, political, national, and other currents in the State (Deleuze 1995; Massumi 2015). Deleuze describes how bodies move through the innumerable flows of consumer-statehood as a kind of “surfing”, “undulat[ing], moving among a continuous range of different orbits” (Deleuze 1995, p. 180). Alien bodies, thus, are often coded as such through a specific affective “metastable state”—alien affect—made perceivable by technologies of State visibility (including visual media like news reporting). These technologies illuminate the alien affect, code the body as alien, and trap the body in an orbit around state apparatuses of control.

Take for example, the use of facial recognition software used at ports of entry. These facial scanners, installed by CBP in 2012, are keeping a digital database of thousands of migrants who regularly enter and leave the country (Sternstein 2015). This technology casts a light onto the face of the migrant then captures a digital image of the face. The image is coded using specific relationships between features of the person’s face—a series of intensive movements—and then stored in CPB databases to track the exit and reentry of migrants crossing US borders. Should a migrant be caught without authorization for entry, or be suspected of criminal activity, they can be detained or denied entry, even at US airports. This example shows how illuminating and coding the intensive movements of migrants allows the State to surveil and control their extensive movements. With advancements in technologies, like digital photography, digital video, data management, drone surveillance, and others, the State can more easily manufacture alienhood that has a lasting residual effect on those who encounter alien affects.

Aliens, both transnational and intergalactic extraterrestrials that are seen in Hollywood cinema, for example, are bodies with several foreign qualitative intensities (and many likely not so foreign). Migrant and extraterrestrial bodies shimmering with alien affects are noticeable on today’s landscapes of citizenship precisely because when they are cast upon the low-intensity national flow, the qualitative movements of intensity that are coded as alien are lit up by technologies of visibility. For example, border surveillance technology like infrared cameras and night vision are used by the US CBP along the border capture migrant aliens by focusing on their heat signature—intensive movements made apparent by the technology. These images, digitized and transmitted via the CPB data network are distributed to border agents who see the thermal reading and mobilize to apprehend potential unauthorized migrants. Since these are digital technologies, they rely on a digital coding to make sense of the data and mobilize a response. Thus, aliens are sensed by the technologies, coded as alien moving across national surfaces, and quickly apprehended and channeled into cycles of State violence. The improvements in bordering technology had been a “force multiplier” for the State (US Customs and Border Protection, 2015b).

We can see this process in the cinematic construction of alienhood as well. Technologies of visibility, both traditional (lights and cameras), and digital (CGI), make highly intense aliens visible on cinematic landscapes, then mobilize the military to capture and expel the alien. Elsewhere, I suggest that the process of making alien affects felt on geographical landscapes, cinematic landscapes, and many others relies on coding technologies of visibility (Lechuga 2016, p.104). On geographic surfaces, they illuminate both the extensive movements (nomadic in their trajectory), and code the intensive movements of migrants (alien affects), moving through border spaces. On screen, they give us enormous, grotesque, slimy, and dangerous extraterrestrial invaders with a combination of traditional cinematography (lighting), and CGI (coding). It should be no surprise that the same companies that are developing imaging technologies for the militarized border security apparatus are the same ones working with Hollywood to produce the highly intense images of extraterrestrial aliens in popular cinema.4 Over time and as the technologies of visibility improve, alienhood will likely become more intense, and the dominant flow of US nationhood will likely strengthen. The flows of resources and technologies between the State governing apparatuses, the military bordering apparatuses, cinematic apparatuses, and many others are also likely to strengthen, further modulating the flows of both visible and articulable power.


Manufacturing alienhood is a political act. It is one way the State expresses its power over the surfaces of citizenship in the US. The State military-industrial-legal-cinematic (-and-probably-more) complex is distributing technologies of visibility to make alienhood more noticeable, to capture those with alien affects. The dominant national flows of citizenship in the US continue to intensify, evidenced by the election of an isolationist government, the increase in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, and the funding of a border wall (which I still think will be a digital wall). Much still must be done to illuminate just how violent and exploitative migrant control in the US has become.

This leads me to consider three trajectories for further research on migration in societies of control. First, technologies of visibility exist in a world also populated by mediated symbols. As demonstrated by Deleuze writing on Foucault, the articulable and visible (sensible), are one in the same expression of power. They are inseparable from each other. Ronald Greene’s rhetorical materialism, for example, offers those interested in the avenues between the two fields a way to conceptualize how rhetorical power is moved through governing apparatuses to subjugate and control bodies. This approach can map how power is “transformed, displaced, deployed and/or challenged by a particular governing apparatus … for the purpose of policing a population” (Greene 1998, p. 39). Rhetorical materialism, is “committed to mapping the ways bodies affect and are affected by rhetorical techniques and technologies [that] compose organizations of power” (Bost & Greene, 2011, p. 444). In this sense, by studying technologies of visibility, one might find ways that governing organizations compose themselves to enact State power.

Second, there is a material flow of resources, bodies, technologies, and other mechanisms that are being controlled to multiply State power. Studying alien affects—and other examples of the ways technologies of visibility are utilized to control bodies within State spaces—from an orientation toward affects studies, questions the ways our “dividuated” intensities are surveilled and controlled. By doing so, the State apparatuses can modulate the ways our bodies flow through spaces of statehood. By controlling those intensive movements of bodies, States can accelerate the mobility for some bodies on certain terrains of relation while making it difficult for others to easily move about. Making sense of the relationship between intensive and extensive movements can provide a great deal of insight to the ways bodies are controlled by the State. In addition to studying this relationship, scholarship is needed on the industrial influences on the governing apparatuses used by the State to modulate the flows of nationhood.

Finally, some bodies move differently than others. Many of those bodies in the US today move in ways that are not in rhythm with the State’s consumer, political, and social flows. Therefore, a study of citizenship control, alien affects, class division, gender discrimination, ableism, or other studies of political division should move away from an identity politics and toward, what I suggest is, a movement politics. While identity politics can often be a critical methodological approach that challenges the State, it often falls back onto an inclusion/exclusion dynamic. Identity politics can rely on the same political, social, and economic subjectivities that are constituted by State or corporate interests; meaning the State’s power still has primacy in its ability to subject a body in the first place, regardless of the relationship between those subjected groups. A movement politics, on the other hand, rejects in-group/out-group subjections of the State and focuses on making sense of the ways bodies’ intensive and extensive movements affect their mobility in landscapes of belonging. It activates identity politics with a quality of motion. It can make sense of how power is moved through us and we are moved by power to form “relationscapes” of division (Manning 2013, p.102). Movement politics understands that the cultural construction of identity is a culmination of our intensive and extensive movements. We are (becoming) who we are (becoming) because of how are we moving. In this sense, we are each migrants who are constantly moving from one place (or “metastable state”), to another.


1. The term I use, ‘alien affects’, is different from Sarah Ahmed’s (2010) notion of affect aliens. She describes an affect alien as one who’s affection resists the expected emotional communication for a given interaction. Like the kill joy, the affect alien makes others feel something other than what should be felt (Ahmed 2010). This differs from my discussion of alien affects for two main reasons. first, alien affects are shimmers that are produced by state technologies that are cast upon bodies. What is created is a set of affective intensities, when set upon the backdrop of dominant state flows, that shimmer with alienhood. Second, alien affects are made up of a few intensities within the multitude of a body’s multitude of intensities, while the affect alien is a subjectivity belonging to an individual.


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Michael Lechuga is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies and teach in the Masters of Leadership Studies program at the University of Texas at El Paso. He is a recent graduate of the University of Denver’s PhD in Communication Studies program, and his research interests are migration studies, alien studies, affects studies, rhetorical materialism, and movement studies.