Accepted Paper:

Abjects into subjects: games of control and eesistance in a retention centre for deported foreigners in contemporary France  


Nicolas Fischer (Centre d'étude du droit et des institutions pénales)

Paper short abstract:

Based on a series of observations of a French “Retention centre” where deported foreigners are being confined, this contribution will try to address both the everyday “government” of the detainees, and the way they may subvert those forms of control, thus turning their “abject” condition into a potentially alternative form of political subjectivity.

Paper long abstract:

Based on a series of observations conducted in a French "Retention centre" where expelled foreigners await their removal, this presentation will emphasize the tension between two contradictory dynamics. First, retention centres are repressive places, where the "deportability" of foreigners is continuously materialised by the direct and physical grip of state force. However, those centres simultaneously remain places where both confinement and deportation can be contested through official or informal canals, thus enabling "abject" detainees to claim for themselves alternative forms of political subjectivity.

The contribution will first focus on the specific regime of "government of the detainees" inside the retention centre, and the way it daily reproduces the "deportable" condition of the inmates through coercive and non-coercive techniques. It will then address the ways in which detained foreigners may challenge those forms of control, by adapting their strategies of subversion to the centre's organisation. We shall focus on their use of the ambiguous status of NGO representatives - officially included in the "retention staff", but who remain non-state actors giving an opportunity of contact with the media or Human Rights advocates outside. But contentious detainees may as well create "sanctuarized" spaces inside the centre itself, by making their own body "undeportable" through self-inflicted violence, or even trying to create a public space for collective protest. The conclusion shall seek to evaluate the impact of this turning of "abject" individuals into real "subjects".

Panel W043
Alien confinement in Europe: field perspectives