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Carceral Geographies and Histories: Detention, Displacement, Deportation

Panel XII-29, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, November 5 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
This panel offers an interdisciplinary conversation about the production of carcerality in prison and border regimes in the SWANA region and its diasporas. It explores the colonial carceral logics and structures that have shaped criminal in/justice and migration systems across multiple geographies and historical time periods. Our papers take both a long historical view to consider the coloniality of detention/displacement regimes, and a contemporary ethnographic view to explore how these carceral practices continue to follow displaced peoples from the SWANA region across multiple migration journeys and political engagements. Together, these papers aim to answer the organizing question of the panel: How can we widen our understanding of prisons and borders, detention and displacement, through centering the carceral as a set of material, temporal, affective, discursive, and technocratic power structures that racialize and criminalize certain bodies/lives? In response to this question, our panel features research that interrogates how carcerality finds expression in a range of colonial and neo-colonial practices and transnational geographies, and in relation to race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, and citizenship. The panel features a range of national, transnational, and disciplinary perspectives that allow us to see convergences and contradictions in the conceptualization of carcerality across the region and beyond, instead of assuming it is a shared system and experience that defines the region. We thus aim to raise questions about carcerality in relation to different imprisoned and displaced populations, broadly defined, such as political prisoners, queer and trans refugees, and Afghan refugees and their families. We also explore multiple sites of carcerality, such as colonial prisons and administrative internment regimes, modern policing mandates that regulate prisoners’ lives after their release, maritime regions where migrants encounter externalized borders, and resettlement countries where refugees are assumed to have reached safety and freedom. In this way, this panel constellates historical ‘pass systems’ and ‘native’ penitentiaries with contemporary regimes of deportation, offshore and onshore detention centers, increasingly mobile policing and surveillance technologies, and bureaucratic processes that render migrant inclusion temporary and conditional. Finally - and crucially - our papers are methodologically informed by incarcerated experiences and calls for abolition, including historical and ongoing forms of political art and activism, solidarity-building, and resistance generated from carceral spaces to challenge processes of containment and invisibilization.
  • This contribution considers colonial prisons as an entrée into scholarly and public conversations about incarceration, racial profiling, discriminatory policing, and abolition, that contest the idea that prisons produce social stability. It focuses on the relations between policing and carceral practices in Tunisia under French colonial rule with those in France itself as an example of the interrelationship between colonialism and modernity in Europe and North Africa. Until the mid-nineteenth century, imprisonment in Tunisia had been a temporary measure while awaiting trial or the payment of a debt but was not a punishment itself. Local officials began to exercise greater authority over incarceration in the 1860s and 1870s as part of broader processes of legal reform and codification. French occupation and legal restructuring not only built upon these initiatives but became entangled with efforts to assert suzerainty over other European settlers and the criminalization of political dissent. The occupation and colonization of Tunisia coincided with an era of parliamentary rule in the metropole where the rights of French citizens were defined in opposition to foreigners while resting upon the denial of rights in the colonies. By the 1920s, not only had French officials established a regime of surveillance over nationalist political activism in Tunisia, but the Paris police adopted colonialist logics of racial difference in the formation of separate police forces targeting the North African community in Paris as inherently criminal. How did racial hierarchies of the colonial order and racialized strategies of policing, arrests, and detentions, inform contemporary methods of policing in France?
  • This paper will present facets of a larger project tracing genealogies of ‘border criminality’ in Algeria from annexation into the French metropole (1848) to the present day. It seeks to contextualize and demystify the current state-enforced lethality of trans-Saharan and trans-Mediterranean crossings through a long diachronic view. The main contention of the larger project is that the deployment of deterritorialized/externalized policing and carceral apparatuses for the purpose of surveilling, controlling, racializing, and criminalizing the ‘undesirable’ mobility of certain (Black, brown, racially Muslim) subjects is not an invention of neoliberal orders under globalization. Rather, to better understand contemporary border regimes, we must attend to the coloniality and racializing effect of intensified punitive and carceral controls surrounding presumed ‘disorderly’ or ‘dangerous’ mobility. At the same time, my hope is to broaden historiographic attention to multiplicities of carceral logics, including not only modes of confinement (imprisonment, detention, internment, house arrests) but also myriad forms of displacement (deportation, punitive relocation, labour camps, and convict colonies, to name a few). Within the scope of this larger project, this paper engages with state archives of the colonial mobility policing regime and pass-system in Algeria, which reached its height during the period from 1881 to 1914. My research objects are a set of penal, judicial, and bureaucratic instruments either created or codified during this period – including land sequestration, identity papers, passports, travel permits, house arrests, vagrancy laws, administrative detention, and relegation (deportation). Under this system, ‘native’ subjects were obliged to carry a passport, travel permit, or work permit to leave their own arrondissement, and to register with the mayor’s office of any municipality they entered for longer than a day; they were forbidden to camp ‘illegally’ on non-Frenchified (privatized) land or to ‘give asylum’ to individuals traveling without permits. Travel outside Algeria, particularly for religious pilgrimage, was a privilege reserved only for ‘good,’ compliant subjects. At the same time, this archive hardly reproduces colonial imaginaries of mastery and control; indeed, it is a record largely generated by autochtonous resistance and defiance, to the constant frustration of colonial law-makers and enforcers. It is these acts of Algerian resistance, counter-veillance, non-cooperation, knowing silence, and feigned and real ignorance of ‘the law’ that informs my approach to these archives.
  • Between 2001 and 2019, asylum seekers from Afghanistan have constituted a majority of boat arrivals to Australian shores. Fleeing the political turmoil in Afghanistan brought on by the War on Terror, asylum seekers met punitive border policies upon reaching Australia, being sent to offshore detention centers on the islands of Manus and Nauru, with a majority eventually being resettled on the Australian mainland. In 2012, however, the Australian government intensified this policy—any boat arrival would not only be detained, but they would never be resettled in Australia and could be held in detention indefinitely. For the first wave of Afghans who had been resettled, witnessing their family members live through inhumane conditions from afar was tragic but also politically galvanizing. Many formed advocacy organizations that joined the movement to end offshore detention and advocate for immigration policy reform, while others found ways to expedite their family members’ individual asylum claims as they experienced the fragmentation and erosion of their family relations. This paper is a preliminary discursive and historical analysis of the intimate effects of carceral border policies on Afghan diasporic political consciousness. It examines how recently resettled Afghan refugees’ separation from their families shaped the political questions they ask about border control, carcerality, war, and Australian neo-colonialism. The paper is interested in how witnessing carcerality operate from afar generates critical reflections on refuge and the aftermath of war. It asks what does it mean to experience refuge in a place that participates in both imperial war and neo-colonial forms of extraction through carceral economies of border-making in the South Pacific? By turning to the affective and the intimate, the paper seeks to extend the geography of where carceral logics begin and end and how the personal becomes political for Afghan Australians. This paper aims to lay the groundwork for a long-term ethnographic project on refugee rights activism in the Afghan Australian diaspora during the Global War on Terror.
  • If we approach prison as a temporal category, how does that bring new insights into our understanding of carcerality? Drawing on human rights’ reports, prison literature, public testimonies, and interviews with former prisoners and their families in Tunisia, this paper focuses on Tunisian political prisoners who were incarcerated between 1960 and 2010. The paper challenges the delimited, material conception of the prison by exploring the temporal experience of incarceration that often continues beyond time in prison. I focus on “administrative control” (raqāba idāriyya)— a police practice where former prisoners are placed under forced surveillance after their release for a period that can range from a few months to an indefinite number of years, requiring them to report to particular police stations multiple times a day, in the process purposefully disrupting their ability to maintain employment and sustain housing. Through the lens of temporality, surveillance studies, theories of incarceration, and borders, I examine incarceration in its physical, social, and temporal dimensions as it extends beyond the prison walls. I ask: How does “administrative control” in the aftermath of time in prison redefine how we conceptualize incarceration? One aim of this project is to investigate the particularity of the modern prison experience for Tunisian political prisoners in comparison to other carceral regimes in the region. Beyond the Tunisian context, the paper also seeks to challenge the trauma framework that has come to dominate how we conceptualize post-prison experiences, and to rethink them through the prism of carceral, state logics and their policing of former prisoners’ temporal lives.
  • This paper centers on Iranian and Kurdish LGBTQ refugee accounts to analyze the carceral logics and structures that follow displaced populations across multiple points in their migration journeys. Based on ethnographic research and activist community engagements in Turkey (2014-2020) and Canada (2022-2023), I examine how racialized queer and trans refugees navigate ever-growing policing, securitization and surveillance technologies, criminalization, detention, and deportation in their everyday lives. Exploring carcerality in these seemingly separate geographies helps me to offer a more expansive notion of the carceral, which transgresses nation-state borders and is not necessarily contained in physical spaces like prisons, detention centers, and refugee camps. In the first half of my talk, I focus on ‘refugee waiting’ in Turkey, where refugees from neighboring countries spend many years waiting for refugee resettlement in another country in the Global North. By exploring the spatial, temporal, and affective production of carcerality in Turkey, I discuss how the constant threat of detention and deportation serves to govern refugees’ bodies, mobilities, and labor. In the second half, I discuss how refugees continue to face carceral power structures after being resettled in Canada, where they are assumed to have reached safety and freedom. By following the story of a politically-engaged trans-identified refugee, I discuss how refugees are disproportionally subjected to surveillance technologies and detention and deportation regimes not only due to their non-normative genders and sexualities (LGBTQ+) and precarious legal status (refugee) but also because of their fight against ongoing colonial violence in Canada, which includes their involvement in local political groups, such as de-fund the police and land-back collectives, as well as their rejection of citizenship, itself a colonial enterprise. Tracing this carceral continuum, I discuss 1) how carcerality uses similar colonial, racialized, and patriarchal logics to systematically target racialized and gendered across multiple time-spaces, and 2) how precarious legal status, gender non-normativity, and radical political praxis construct refugees as threatening and criminalized figures who need to be controlled, disciplined, and demobilized through carceral containment and punishment mechanisms.