Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Identity Matters in Research



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3 Minutes

Here at Border Criminologies we’ve been talking a lot about embodiment. Perhaps that’s not surprising since much of our work concerns the confinement of particular bodies, their mobility, and their inability to move. Last week, in our post on ethnography as embodied research, we discussed how our own bodies as white, female, pregnant, are implicated in our research. We considered the effect of who we are, what we look like, the languages we speak, and our presentation of self on our capacity for building trust and conducting research.

In this post we want to broaden the discussion to consider the implications of race, gender, sexuality, ability, and class for exploring migration control in general, both in terms of the practitioners and in terms of analytical categories of analysis. What is the relationship between this field of inquiry and longer traditions of feminist and critical race theory? Why are so many (prominent) scholars in this field white? Does that matter?

Border control, particularly in its intersections with criminal justice techniques, has recast citizenship as a form of governance. Non-citizens are subject to increased scrutiny and intervention while citizens must constantly prove their eligibility for the enhanced protections their legal status now guarantees. Such developments have been particularly skewed towards black and minority ethnic communities who find themselves subject to new forms of policing in the search for suspected terrorists, asylum seekers, and undocumented workers. For these communities, longstanding and more recent fears about the ‘enemy within’ intersect with and amplify concerns about ‘external threats’ raising questions about belonging and entitlements even for long-term residents and citizens. In the broader context of globalisation and mass migration, contemporary practices of border control are reconstituting national identities, and circuits of inclusion and exclusion, along particular gender, racial, ethnic, and cultural lines.

Under these circumstances, it’s surprising and somewhat disconcerting that so little of the burgeoning, interdisciplinary work concerned with migration control in criminology explicitly addresses race or ethnicity, while much of the criminological literature on race and ethnicity remains similarly uninterested in citizenship. Such oversights are all the more perplexing given the long historical connections between these matters.

Though the scale of mobility is new, much of the population on the move has been present for some generations. In Britain, for instance, there have been prior moral panics about immigrants and crime and over assimilation and Britishness. Critical race scholarship in criminology has productively focused on the role of the police in defining a racialised group membership. Years of research demonstrate how black and ethnic minority men are subject to intrusive policing practices that implicitly and explicitly define them as not belonging, undeserving, and potentially dangerous.

Why then is this literature so rarely drawn upon in accounts of migration control?

In his epilogue to the new edited collection, The Borders of Punishment, Ben Bowling, who has long worked on issues of race and policing, asserts that “[o]ne of the key goals of a research agenda in this area should be to explore the intersection between ‘race’, political economy, and the coercive powers of the state in the new and hybrid forms that are growing up in the nexus between crime and immigration control.” We might ask other questions too, such as: How does gender, in its intersections with other social relations of power, play into notions of national belonging? How might experiences of gender contrast with or enable claims about nationality and hyperdiversity? How are these aspects of subjectivity interrelated in conditions of mass mobility?

In this line of questioning we ought to make room for others. Who is best placed to investigate migration control? How might we include more voices? Does the race, gender, and class of the researcher have any relevance? In what ways does whiteness or other forms of privilege work to shape research agendas and research access? How might we encourage more diversity?

It can feel difficult to ask these kinds of questions. The academy is deeply invested in the idea that rigor overcomes identity. However, as at least within criminology, this is a relatively new field of scholarship, we have an opportunity to ‘think differently,’ and talk about subjectivity, power, and research. We hope this post encourages dialogue on these important issues. Please post a comment here, email us, or post on our Facebook page. You can also tweet us.


How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Border Criminologies (2013) Identity Matters in Research. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/identity-matters-in-research/ (Accessed [date]).

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