Exploring the Everyday of Immigration Detention



Time to read

3 Minutes

Post by Annika Lindberg, PhD Candidate, University of Bern. Annika is on Twitter @Elinannika. This is the first instalment of Border Criminologies’ themed series on ‘Exploring the everyday of immigration detention’, organised by Annika and Laura Rezzonico.

Immigration detention has become a normalised part of the deportation regime, and is one of many instruments used by states to discipline, control and deport ‘undesirable’ migrants from their territory. This blog series brings together insights on how these coercive practices are enforced and contested in the everyday of immigration detention, from the perspectives of detained migrants, detention staff, and third actors, including lawmakers or NGOs providing support and advice to detainees.

Photo: Annika Lindberg

We understand the ‘everyday’ as the mundane administrative practices by which detained subjects are produced and subjected to state power. The everyday includes the practices, experiences, and discourses of actors involved in immigration detention, as well as the temporal, material and architectural features of these carceral spaces. These acts and artefacts shape and condition each other, enabling the dehumanisation and criminalisation of migrants, but also opening spaces for resistance and contestation. Adding to the swiftly growing body of research on immigration detention practices and testimonies (including recent blog series edited by Mary Bosworth, and another by Karina Horsti, exploring bordering processes from the perspective of memory politics), this blog series aims to render some of the formal and informal (dys)functions of immigration detention visible, as well as critically discuss them.

The series brings together the work of seven graduate researchers, volunteers, and human rights activists, who share findings from their ethnographic research. It is one of the outcomes of a thematic panel organised at the 2017 NCCR Graduate Conference in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. The research spans a wide range of national contexts: Egypt, Israel, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, United Kingdom, and Denmark; thus identifying both variations and significant similarities in state practices aimed at deterring, disciplining, and excluding migrants. The contributions of this blog series highlight that the isolated ‘open’ detention centre in Israel, explored by Maayan Ravid, and the semi-open detention centres in Denmark earlier discussed by Annika Lindberg have in common their symbolic function that stigmatises and excludes ‘undesired’ migrants, with severe implications for those affected. Moreover, Maayan highlights the role of legal and bureaucratic discourse in justifying the punitive, criminalising practices of the Israeli state vis à vis asylum-seekers.

In Italy, the repressive nature of immigration detention is similarly downplayed by a ‘humanitarian logic’, which serves to legitimise detention in the eyes of the public. Francesca Esposito and Silvia Scirocchi show how detention staff and external actors navigate the tensions and dilemmas produced by these conflicting logics, and ask what it means to be ‘human’ within this system of confinement. In her contribution on immigration detention in Switzerland, Laura Rezzonico outlines in detail how processes of dehumanisation and (in)difference are put into practice and legitimised through material and administrative configurations that structure daily interactions – and the lack thereof – between prison officers and detainees.

Lars Breuls and Patrycja Pinkowska both address the opportunities and challenges of resistance in detention, albeit from different perspectives. Lars explores the tactics of resistance deployed by detainees to obstruct their final removal from immigration detention in Belgium. He suggests that undeportability can be understood as a tactic of opposition, as can detainees’ aspirations of returning to Europe after deportation. Indeed, detention is but one step of the deportation process, which might well continue with renewed attempts to reach Europe – time and again. Patrycja, in turn, problematizes such state-imposed definitions of ‘non-compliance’ among deportable migrants in the UK, and shows how this notion of resistance serves to justify indefinite detention and place the blame for these coercive practices on migrants themselves.

What all these posts have in common is that they conceive immigration detention not as disconnected from broader political and social structures, but as products and productive sites of bordering processes, which extend well beyond their confined space. Shedding light on how these processes play out in the everyday of immigration detention, we hope to add to our understanding not only of detention as such, but of the normalised and banal violence that characterises migration and border regimes more broadly, in Europe and beyond.

Any comments about this post? Get in touch with us! Send us an email, or post a comment here or on Facebook. You can also tweet us.


How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Lindberg, A. (2017) Exploring the everyday of immigration detention. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2017/11/exploring (Accessed [date]).

Found within

Detention centres; immigration detention; border control
Themed series


With the support of