Embodied borders: The biopolitics of alternatives to immigration detention — ASN Events

Embodied borders: The biopolitics of alternatives to immigration detention (14220)

Robyn C. Sampson 1
  1. Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, VIC, Australia

Despite prophesies that the rise of globalisation would mark the end of the nation-state, the state has remained a vital institution when it comes to transnational human migration. Rather than leading to a deterritorialised world in which state borders are dismantled and human migration deregulated, globalisation has instead resulted in border controls being reasserted as a crucial instantiation of sovereign authority. This paper will analyse a subtle yet significant development in state bordering practices identified during recent field work into alternatives to immigration detention. Key policies that fall under the rubric of ‘alternatives to detention’ highlight subtle yet substantial changes to the ways in which the territory of the nation is conceived of and defended by governments. I draw attention to an emerging practice in Australia, Belgium and Hong Kong in which immigration detention is no longer solely a site of confinement but is also interpreted as a legal status which permits the individual migrant to reside in the community with freedom of movement while a migration issue is resolved. I argue that through this status individuals carry the border with them into the community of the nation.

The term embodied borders is proposed to encapsulate this (re)location of the border on to the bodies of migrants who are physically present but legally absent from the territory. In the paper I contend that the regulated use of this official non-presence highlights a departure from the traditional territory-sovereignty nexus. I discuss the embodied border in light of biopolitical theory which decouples the sovereign act of bordering from the site of territory. I find bordering policies, while exclusionary, do not result in a homogenous form of exception produced by sovereign authority alone. Rather, bordering involves dynamic and responsive forms of differentiation being lawfully produced and enacted in specific contexts by multiple actors. The exceptional nature of contemporary borders is thus both confirmed and renegotiated to account for alternatives to detention that blend exclusionary and inclusionary mechanisms according to the individual and their case.