Border Watch: Cultures of Immigration, Detention and Control (Student review)

February 28, 2013

Author: Alexandra Hall
Edition: First
Publisher: Pluto Press
Pages: 216
Price: £19.99
ISBN: 97807453235

Alexandra Hall’s book makes a valuable contribution to the interdisciplinary literature on immigration and security in her examination of the process of detention in the UK. Her ethnographic study of an anonymous detention centre presents an objective analysis of the behaviours, relationships and cultures of power that persist within the detention regime. It is this unbiased nature that enhances the book’s impact, as readers are free to discover the injustices of detention made apparent by her evidence.

Despite human rights protests, the significance of detention is rarely addressed by the media

Hall draws attention to the contentious nature of the UK immigration system and the amendments to detention policy since the birth of the War on Terror as part of the global acceleration of securitisation. She highlights the controversial powers for detaining people granted under the Terrorism Act 2000, including closed hearings and the use of insubstantial evidence. Despite the protests of human rights groups, the significance of detention is rarely addressed by the media, which means this book’s insight into the highly securitised and secretive operation of detention centres is even more valuable.

Border Watch analyses the detention regime through its officers’ professional and personal attitudes, thereby offering a unique and sharp focus on the nature of detainees’ experiences. Hall draws parallels between the inner workings of the regime and the wider context of national border security. The detention centre is the national border thickened and mutated; a space where the diminished state sovereignty is reaffirmed with a vengeance. Here, detainees are reduced to “bare life”: stripped of rights and identity as they await judgment, tainted with illegality and criminality and subject to the full force of the law without the protection of citizenship.

This dehumanising and differentiating process is part of the pre-emptive nature of detention, which is conceived as a supposedly logical process of securitisation and counterterrorism; it is this process that Hall argues must be critically examined. Her findings, although they are rooted in anthropology, will assist in arming the political science reader with a rich, unique command of the subject.

Border Watch is grounded with references to scholars including Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler, which helps to provide a strong theoretical analysis of the issues of migration and security that is both refreshing and unusual.

It is an imaginative and creative book that serves to represent, in an innovative way, the lived experience of people deemed “illegal”. Accessible and intuitive, it will lend itself to an array of disciplines while serving as fundamental reading for a deeper understanding of security issues.

Who is it for?
Anyone researching migration and/or security issues.

Structured and accessible.

Would you recommend it?
Yes, strongly.

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