Van Gennep Meets Ontological (In)Security: A Processual Approach to Ontological Security in Migration

Orit Gazit*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


This article utilizes van Gennep's neglected theory of territorial passages to answer two key questions in the study of ontological security (OS) in migration. First, why do the members of the receiving society lose their perceived sense of OS in face of a mass of strangers arriving at their gates? Second, how, if at all, do they attempt to reconstitute it while incorporating the strangers into their world? Following the recent call within OS studies in international relations (IR) to spell out the social mechanisms that facilitate the anxiety and uncertainty of the agents, I use the case of the German societal response to the 2015 refugee crisis to demonstrate that van Gennep's classical approach, far from being structural and functionalist, offers an advanced, power-informed, and processual perspective for uncovering a possible sociosymbolic mechanism behind the perceived "losing" and "re-finding" of OS in migratory encounters. The article delineates the principles of a "thick" approach to OS in migration, explains how van Gennep's theory adds to this approach, and highlights the ultimate unattainability of OS as an essentialist category that is either "present" or "absent" throughout the migratory encounter. It concludes by discussing the added value of van Gennep's theory to the study of OS in the contemporary global milieu of the "age of migration."

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)572-597
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Studies Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association.


  • German refugee crisis
  • Van Gennep
  • guardians of the threshold
  • migration
  • ontological security
  • sanctity
  • territorial passage
  • the stranger
  • transition


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