Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Reading The Crimmigrant Other from a Distant Corner of Europe



Time to read

5 Minutes

Guest post by José A. Brandariz, University of A Coruna, Spain. This is the third post of Border Criminologies Book Discussion Week on The Crimmigrant Other: Migration and Penal Power

The Crimmigrant Other, Katja Franko’s most recent book, is a most valuable piece of scholarship, which provides extremely insightful viewpoints to reflect on the relation between migration and penality. The book is a major milestone in Franko’s academic endeavour to unveil the varied and distinctive ways in which global north criminal justice systems deal with noncitizen populations. In this sense, it further elaborates pivotal notions, such as ‘bordered penality’ and ‘abnormal justice’ laid out by Franko in her previous work.

Moreover, The Crimmigrant Other is a critical hallmark in the criminology of mobility and border criminology field, which despite its recent emergence is already enriched by a significant number of compelling contributions. In the framework of this body of literature, it masterfully presents and develops the main border criminology theses, some of which deserve to be particularly highlighted.

In broadening their analytical gaze on penal power, both Franko and other border criminology scholars overcome criminology’s narrow domestic boundaries to address the increasingly global and centrifugal nature of crime control agendas. In contrast to age-old punitive institutions such as the prison apparatus, bordered penality inherently involves various national jurisdictions. In its novel global capacity that extends the effect of sentencing practices beyond national borders, the penal system is increasingly aimed at both strengthening national sovereignty and policing membership and identity.

Additionally, in elaborating the notion of ‘abnormal justice’, both Franko and other authors stress that the penal sub-system crafted for noncitizen groups develops an exclusive model to treat these populations, which has an impact on the operation of every criminal justice agency and on every phase of criminal adjudication and sentencing procedures. Such a turn stands in stark contrast to long consolidated penal welfarism schemes, and is ultimately leading to the division of the criminal justice system into two sub-systems, separated by membership criteria.

Furthermore, both Franko and other border criminology literature make an inspiring contribution to academic debates on punitiveness. In developing their amplified perspective on the penal power, they argue that the scale and intensity of migration enforcement measures should be taken into consideration to provide an accurate assessment on state punitiveness. By adopting such a theoretical lens, this body of scholarship underlines that certain penal systems, especially those of Northern European states, are revealed as much less tolerant, welfarist, and humanitarian than it is generally assumed.

In short, The Crimmigrant Other showcases many insights which will steer bordered penality debates in the years to come. These conversations should bring forth cross-national perspectives on the bordered dimensions of penal power. Having read the book from a distant corner of Europe, it helped me to better frame, in a comparative fashion, a number of still unsolved dilemmas in the criminology of mobility.

Franko insightfully points out that there are ‘numerous national variations of bordered penality and crimmigration control’. In this regard, I wonder how Northern is the Northern penal state she and others have recently theorised? In other words, are critical traits of the punitive model under analysis characterising crimmigration changes all across Europe?

There are good reasons to embrace a strict concept of the Northern penal state, applying this notion only to a handful of Scandinavian, and more generally Northern European jurisdictions. Although the insertion of significant contingents of noncitizens into European criminal justice systems is undoubtedly cementing exclusive penal strategies, in many European countries this change should be placed in a continuum, in which native penal populations are being increasingly targeted too. In other words, in the majority of European jurisdictions penal welfarism practices have been partly abandoned, for both citizens and – especially – foreign nationals. In addition, it is disputable whether across Europe this xenophobic penality is prevailingly fuelled by welfare concerns. Immigration has sparked a variety of public fears and collective anxieties, focusing on its impact on the job market, welfare benefits, crime and disorder, terrorism, culture, and national identity. In fact, Eurobarometer surveys show that public opinion on immigration varies greatly across Europe . Consequently, welfare concerns do not seem to be paramount in many European countries, especially in those lacking long-lived and wide-ranging social welfare systems. By contrast, crime, terrorism, and national identity issues appear to rank particularly high for wide swathes of the European public.    

In addition, The Crimmigrant Other leads one to reflect upon a couple of notions which are frequently used in the book. In this regard, I wonder how post-colonial and how racially driven are crimmigration strategies currently spreading across Europe?

As far as post-colonial traits are concerned, it is evident that Europe’s international relations are largely framed in neo-colonial terms, and that European states treat global south newcomers as neo-colonial subjects. However, beyond these macro-structural viewpoints, a question arises as to what extent the post-colonial lens may be equally useful to depict punitive practices in European countries featuring long – albeit diverse – colonial histories, in European nations lacking a colonial past, and in European jurisdictions such as Malta and Finland, which were colonies themselves until not so long ago? Furthermore, I am doubtful about the extent to which the post-colonial gaze may contribute to scrutinise the markedly different and changing ways in which former colonial populations are coercively treated in countries as diverse in this regard as the former European empires.

Regarding race, van der Woude recently pointed out that, in contrast to US scholars, European researchers normally give preference to citizenship, ethnicity, and culture – rather than race – in grasping crimmigration phenomena. In my view, that is a sensible theoretical perspective. Evidently, racial stratifications underpin punitive strategies across Europe, especially those targeting the Roma people. In fact, if any racialisation impetus is changing bordered penality continent-wide, it is the increasing focus of Western European penal apparatuses on Eastern European crimmigrant others. However, race is just one catalyst, among others, of crimmigration arrangements. Actually, bordered penality revolves around the deportation machine, which is dependent on citizenship more than on any other determinant.

Franko concludes that ‘the position of the crimmigrant other forces us to come to grips with many layers of othering’. Indeed, race and post-coloniality, together with class, gender, ethnicity, and citizenship may be understood as interlocked and relatively malleable power configurations and political projects conditioning stratifications of belonging and alterity, membership categories, and ultimately crimmigration arrangements. This perspective assists in grasping the diverse European bordered penality landscape, in which former colonial subjects are particularly targeted in some countries, whilst they are granted privileged status in others. In the same vein, this viewpoint may help to elucidate why whiteness and blackness appear to be stable categories in certain places and times, whereas in others they are fluid notions, as well as why EU national denizens have been turned into priority targets of immigration enforcement policies. The Crimmigrant Other significantly contributes to reenergise these and related debates. Researchers have much to gain from paying close attention to its findings and arguments to frame eventual cross-national conversations in border criminology.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Brandariz, J. A. (2020). Reading The Crimmigrant Other from a Distant Corner of Europe. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2020/09/reading-0 [date]

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