Identity and Ambivalence in Immigration Detention

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Date(s) - 10 Apr 2014
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

Room N302, Menzies Building, Monash University

Mary Bosworth, Reader in Criminology at the University of Oxford and Professor in Criminology, Monash University.

In this talk Mary will discuss themes from her forthcoming book, Inside Immigration Detention (OUP, 2014). Drawing on research conducted in 6 British immigration removal centres (IRCs) she will argue that detention centres confound many usual categories of analysis, defying neat explanation. Prison-like yet not penal, they are filled with people recognizable but foreign. They are overseen by uniformed custody officers who possess little power. Those who make the decisions are located elsewhere. As spaces in which foreign nationals may be held for indefinite periods of time, IRCs have no assured outcome or inherent purpose beyond providing secure housing. Neither staff nor detainees know how long a period of confinement will last, nor who will succeed in challenging their expulsion. In contrast to our usual expectations about risk and dangerousness, in detention it is those who are familiar who are difficult to govern, not those who are different. Staff find it hard to coerce women and men whom they recognize and with whom they connect. People are linked by aspirations, accents, and religion. They may share a history of migration, an ethnic background, a socio-economic class. Simply living in close quarters and interacting daily can bring people together. Detainees often struggle to make sense of their treatment. For them and for those who guard them, ‘citizenship’ is not always a sufficiently compelling mode of differentiation or justification of custody. Concentrating on staff accounts, Mary will explore the tensions felt by staff in managing detainees, suggesting that their ambivalence reveals an important line of critique of this practice.

Mary Bosworth is Reader in Criminology and Fellow of St Cross College at the University of Oxford and, concurrently, Professor of Criminology at Monash University, Australia. Dr Bosworth conducts research into the ways in which prisons and immigration detention centres uphold notions of race, gender and citizenship and how those who are confined negotiate their daily lives. Her research is international and comparative and has included work conducted in Paris, Britain, the USA and Australia. Dr Bosworth is currently conducting a national study of life in UK immigration detention centres. This project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the John Fell Fund and by the British Academy. She is also, with colleagues from Monash University, conducting research in Greek Immigration Detention Centres. Details of both of these projects can be found on the website She is the UK Editor-in-Chief of Theoretical Criminology and a member of the editorial boards of the British Journal of Criminology and Race & Justice.

RSVP to by Tuesday 8th April

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