Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Book Discussion Week: Author’s Response



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4 Minutes

Post by Katja Franko. Katja is Professor of Criminology at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, University of Oslo. This is the final post of Border Criminologies Book Discussion Week on Katja's book The Crimmigrant Other: Migration and Penal Power.  

I am deeply grateful to Border Criminologies for hosting this book discussion week and to Lucia Zedner, Ana Aliverti, José Angel Brandariz and René van Swaaningen for the careful reading of my book. It is a privilege to be read so thoroughly by such wonderful scholars, especially at a time that seems to favor faster and shorter communication formats than books. It is difficult to address in such limited space all the valuable points brought up by the reviewers, so I will limit my response to three major themes: the concept of the “crimmigrant other”, the tension between abstraction and contextual precision and, finally, the question of race.

Let me start though with an honest admission that, for several reasons, this has been a very difficult book to write. One of the reasons is that migration is a difficult subject to research and talk about not least because of the politically and emotionally charged nature of the field. Words matter and the “crimmigrant other” is a potentially dangerous concept. There is, therefore, much merit in Lucia Zedner’s observation that by writing about it one unwittingly risks strengthening the public association between immigration and crime. This risk has been on my mind throughout the writing process. The reasons why I, after all, decided on using it is because of a belief that the drawbacks of not doing so might be even greater. The association of immigration and criminality is rarely systematically addressed by academic scholars. It is thus often left to the popular and political discourse to shape it as they please. While migrants get tainted by these muddy discussions, scholarly debates often do little more than condemn the association. Instead of saying that this is not a question that we should be asking, this book asks instead: What are the questions that we should be asking? Its argument is that scholarly debate should move beyond the usual framing of the question: “Are migrants more/less criminal than citizens?” to “How is immigrant criminality constructed through a myriad of social and bureaucratic practices?” These issues deserve scholarly attention and criminology as a discipline has an important job to do here. The book’s subject matter - the social construction of criminality – has been a long-standing interest for criminology and sociology of deviance. Therefore, although risking getting dirty by the muddy debates surrounding the subject, and losing purity and elevated nature of language, the ambition behind the book has been not to shy away and to address these difficult  issues directly. Whether its contribution outweighs the risk is probably up to the reader to decide.

The other important issue raised by the reviewers is the question of national variation and the tension between empirical precision and the abstract nature of concepts such as bordered penality and the crimmigrant other. This is a challenge inherent in any project that wishes to combine empirical findings and conceptual innovation. In many ways, the tension is an inherent part of our work and, therefore, not solvable. In the book, the first two chapters focus on theoretical synthesis and conceptual issues, while chapters three and four offer a richer empirical account of the situation in Norway and at the EU’s external borders. While the empirically richer passages may be more interesting to read, the value of conceptual development lies in the possibilities of addressing stability – over time and geographical dimensions. The field of migration is marked by the shifting nature of migratory movements. This is particularly visible in these days where governments have been able to radically reduce cross-border movement. In terms of deportation numbers, for example, the situation in Norway is quite different today than what it was four years ago. The value of developing theoretical and conceptual aspects lies in the hope that they might be useful beyond their immediate context. They should be thus read as contributions to an on-going scholarly conversation rather than descriptions of how things are in other contexts.

The question of context is also raised by Brandariz in terms of what is a Northern state in the European context. This is a very relevant point. European states have widely diverging histories in terms of their imperial and colonial pasts and racial and ethnic composition. Northern states, as a rule, use a myriad of penal and other technologies to transfer their burdens of unwanted migration on other states. The concept of the Northern state is an expression of inequality. This inequality is differently played out between, for example, Norway and Afghanistan or between Italy and Libya, and demands a comparative analysis. The book also outlines a split running through Europe, where the West uses penal power over Eastern European citizens to manage its unease with European integration.

I partly agree with Aliverti’s question about how abnormal is really abnormal justice: for people of color it may always have been normal. However, this observation may be more relevant in the Anglo-American contexts than for example in Scandinavian countries. The question of “which context are we talking about” is therefore crucial. The relationship between migration and penal power is shaped by several layers of inequalities related among other to class, race, citizenship, ethnicity and gender. In the book, I talk about the crimmigrant other as a conundrum, which challenges our established scholarly perspectives. These interlocking inequalities certainly demand that we pay further attention to issues of intersectionality, which is certainly something I intend to work on in the future.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Franko, K. (2020). Book Discussion Week: Author’s Response. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2020/09/book-discussion [date]

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