Paper short abstract:
Debates about immigration in Britain draw on ideas of risk and security. Using ethnography from a secure detention establishment, this paper argues that local groups use competing notions of risk in conflicts about immigrants, articulating class antagonism and uncertainty about the nation’s future.
Paper long abstract:
The idea that the world is somehow becoming a riskier place in new and unmanageable ways is often invoked in debates about the treatment of people who enter and remain in European countries illegally, especially following recent terrorist attacks. European state responses to ambiguous 'outsiders' include widespread administrative detention of those who cannot prove legal belonging. Governments gain political capital by proving mastery over national borders; political heads must roll when loss of control is revealed in periodic immigration scandals. In Britain, as elsewhere, the justification for restricting the freedom of 'threatening' outsiders is framed in terms of 'protection', 'security' and 'risk', but of whom, of what, and why? This paper draws on ethnographic data from a secure detention establishment in Britain to demonstrate that, for people on the ground, state detention strategies roundly fail to achieve security for citizens or state institutions. Rather than consider the undeniable existential insecurity experienced by the detainees, the paper focuses on ordinary Britons working at the centre. Local groups compete in moral wrangling about 'the truth' of the risk posed by unknown outsiders, and what is due to them. In everyday assertions of agency, competing ideas of risk and security are manifested, with the detainees as pawns. Local arguments about the failings of the state and 'other people' to take seriously the risks that Britain faces are revealed as articulations of uncertainty about the future of Britain and the English nation, and reformulations of deep-rooted class antagonisms. These issues cannot be downplayed; recent reports in the British press show that a fifth of those polled would consider voting for the right-wing British National Party. The paper argues that practices of detention crystallise tensions between security and risk, and discussions about securitisation at the grassroots are arguments about loyalty and belonging in a changing world.
Responses to insecurity: securitisation and its discontents