The Business of Immigration Detention: Events and Conference Programme

Conference Programme:

The Business of Immigration Detention: Activisms, Resistances, Critical Interventions.

Lancaster University, January 22-23 2015

Sponsored by the ESRC, the North West DTC and the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe)


5.30-6.30pm  Public Lecture: Professor Alison Mountz, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada.

‘”The business of detention, the death of asylum and the life of activism.”

Chair: Dr Imogen Tyler

Venue: Marcus Merriman LT, Bowland North

7-8pm                   Public Performance: Ice&Fire

‘Asylum Monologues’

Venue: Chaplaincy Centre, Lancaster University

After the Ice&Fire performance the WAST choir will sing and there will be a wine reception and vegetarian buffet in the Chaplaincy Centre along with a book stall (Blackwells).


Lancaster University FASS building rooms 2/3, 5pm (building 21 on campus map)

9-9.30am    Registration with tea/coffee

9.30–10      Welcome

Professor John Urry, Director of CeMoRe

Dr Imogen Tyler, conference organiser

WAST choir sing to open the event

10-12.30     Activisms in and around detention

Chair: Professor Anne-Marie Fortier

20 min presentations followed by roundtable discussion:

Christine Bacon, Artistic Director of Ice & Fire

‘Using Human Rights Performance to Inspire Action’

WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together)

Women Asylum Seekers in Greater Manchester, sharing their experiences and their campaigning work, in particular the current “ Shut Down Yarl’s Wood campaign“.

Pa Modou Bojang (Prince) from MaMa

Talk about experiences of immigration system and detention and activism with Liverpool Migrant Artists: Mutual aid.

Eiri Ohtani, Detention Forum.

‘How immigration detention “works”‘

John Grayson, activist and Independent Researcher SYMAAG.

‘How to use housing to hurt people – ‘soft detention’ in G4S asylum housing’

12.30-1.30pm      LUNCH (provided a hot lunch and drinks)

1.30-3.30    Research as Resistance

Dr Celia Roberts

20 min presentations followed by roundtable discussion

Professor Alice Bloch, Manchester University.

‘Living “illegality”: Multiple exclusions and uncertainties’.

Dr Alex Hall, York University.

‘Borderwatch: Cultures of Immigration, Detention and Control’

Dr Maja Sager, Lancaster University / Lund University.

‘A continuum of constraints. Migrants’ experiences of constrained mobility and community building in the UK’.

Professor Gillian Whitlock, University of Queensland.

‘The Hospitality of Cyberspace’

Dr Sarah Turnbull, University of Oxford

Methodological and Ethical Challenges of Studying Immigration Detention’

3.30–4pm             COFFEE BREAK and cakes provided

4-5.30       Closing Keynote. Dr Jenna Loyd, University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

‘The business of detention and wages of innocence: Ending detention without exception’

Chair: Professor Lucy Suchman



 Professor Alison Mountz, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada.

‘The business of detention, the death of asylum, and the life of activism’

Jan 22, 5.30-6.30pm

This talk explores contemporary landscapes of asylum through the lens of offshore border enforcement and the detention of migrants and asylum-seekers on islands. There and elsewhere, the death of asylum and the business of detention unfold in concert. The paper draws on research on Australia’s Christmas Island, Italy’s Lampedusa, and US Pacific islands of Guam and Saipan. These sites are used to inhibit human migration and paths to asylum. The islands serve as material platforms for detention, where isolating forces engulf people, creating islands within islands. They also serve as key nodes in transnational activist networks designed to counter the isolation of remote detention. The death of asylum is contested by the life of activism.

Dr Jenna Loyd, University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

‘The business of detention and wages of innocence: Ending detention without exception’

Jan 23, 4-5.30pm 

The categories that activists and advocates use to contest detention, deportation, and imprisonment can reproduce the very systems we’re trying to confront. This talk considers how claims of innocence (“we’re not criminals”) or respectability (“asylum seekers or immigrants don’t deserve to be detained”) shore up carceral logics: that there is some criminal or law-breaker, and that they deserve to be locked up. In discussing efforts to move beyond walls and cages in the United States, I focus on the role of anti-Black racism in constructions of guilt and innocence, victim and aggressor that uphold carceral citizenship. What wages do we (as organizers, as aggrieved and grieving communities, as advocates) expect from these terms, who may never claim them, and what else might be done?

Roundtable ‘Activisms in and around detention’

Jan 23, 10-12.30

 Christine Bacon, Ice & Fire

‘On using performance to raise public awareness of human rights issues about detention’

 WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together).

Women Asylum Seekers Together in Greater Manchester talking about their empowering self-help support group and their dynamic and brave campaigning work, in particular their current “Shut Down Yarl’s wood campaign”.

Pa Modou Bojang (Prince), MaMa (Migrant Artists: Mutual Aid).

Talk about experiences of immigration system and detention and activism with Liverpool Migrant Artists: Mutual aid.

Eiri Ohtani, Detention Forum.

‘How immigration detention “works”’

Despite some NGOs’ criticism of its devastating impact on immigrants’ lives, immigration detention continues to grow in size and scope. It asks why and how this most pressing human rights and civil liberty issue in the UK today remains largely unchallenged. The talk will also explore how immigration detention is differently framed by various actors in the field and identify contradictions observed in detention advocacy work which could generate potentially conflicting and confusing narratives.

John Grayson, activist and Independent Researcher SYMAAG.

‘How to use housing to hurt people – ‘soft detention’ in G4S asylum housing’

Since 2012 most asylum housing in the UK has been contracted to international security companies G4S and Serco. Neither company had any experience in providing social housing but both had extensive experience in the UK detention estate and international asylum markets.

Asylum housing tenants, researchers and StopG4S campaign groups have systematically exposed the appalling conditions in G4S contract areas in a series of reports and briefings for Parliamentary hearings and select committees.G4S has been fined for its negligence on the contracts and heavily censured and criticised by both the Home Affairs Committee and Public Accounts Committee.

G4S retains the asylum housing contract at present to 2017,but  resistance continues; now in a context of rising numbers of ‘dispersed’ asylum seekers, election racism and open hostility to asylum seekers in the media and on the streets.

Roundtable ‘Research as Resistance’

Jan 23, 1.30-3.0

 Professor Alice Bloch, Manchester University.

‘Living “illegality”: Multiple exclusions and uncertainties’

This paper will focus on undocumented migrants, who are not physically in detention, but live under the shadow of detention and deportation. Drawing on data from an ESRC funded project Undocumented Migrants, Ethnic Enclaves and Networks: Opportunities, Traps or Class Based Constructs? (ES/1037490/2) the juxtaposition between invisibility in relation to the state apparatus of internal border controls and the necessity of being visible in some contexts will be explored. The ways in which exclusions are experienced, managed and understood as constraints and choices in relation to being undocumented will be considered.

Dr Alex Hall, York University.

‘Borderwatch: Cultures of Immigration, Detention and Control’

This paper will discuss the acts of looking and watching that are inherent in the securitised detention centre. For staff working in the IRC, the modes of surveillance in which they are engaged tend to de-personalise and de-individualise the detained people under their control. The act of watching, and being watched, is constantly at stake in the everyday struggles between staff and detainees. Drawing on qualitative research among staff in a UK IRC, the talk will reflect on the experience of doing ethnography (itself a kind of surveillance) within IRC and the critical potential of other styles of visual practice in securitised environments.

Dr Maja Sager, Lancaster University / Lund University.

‘A continuum of constraints. Migrants’ experiences of constrained mobility and community building in the UK’.

This presentation is based on material from an ethnographic study with groups and networks organised by and for irregular migrants and asylum seekers in Manchester, UK. The paper draws on two recurring themes in the material: constrained mobility on the one hand and support practices on the other hand. I analyse how a set of legislative, administrative and social mechanisms in the British asylum reception system constrains mobility and hence effect isolation in the everyday life of migrants seeking asylum. I argue that these mechanisms entail a continuum of constrains running from inside the actual immigration detention centres to outside in the community. I also reflect upon the ways in which migration rights advocacy organisations respond to the conditions of constrained mobility and consider the significance of community building and mutual support in this context.

Professor Gillian Whitlock, University of Queensland.

‘The Hospitality of Cyberspace’

In this talk I will consider the maritime voyages filmed and narrated by asylum seekers, where they become ‘producers’ of their own testimonial narratives that are then disseminated through both conventional and new media.  Social media offers new venues and opportunities for the dissemination of testimony generated by the asylum seekers, from within the boats, trucks and planes that transport them.  Much of the current writing on social activism and new media turns to the uprisings of the Arab Spring that was inspired and energized by new technologies and the dissemination of dissent. Asylum seekers are not citizens seeking democracy in the public spaces of their own homelands, to the contrary, they are stigmatised as the barbarians at the gates of ours, and as a threat to the security of the nation. However in their hands smartphones and social media enable new forms of testimonial narrative, from within spaces of detention. Can we speak of the hospitality of cyberspace on behalf of the dispossessed?’

Dr Sarah Turnbull, University of Oxford.

‘Methodological and Ethical Challenges of Studying Immigration Detention’

In this talk I will draw on my recently completed ethnographic fieldwork across four British immigration removal centres (IRCs) to discuss a range of methodological and ethical challenges I faced. IRCs are difficult sites to research because they are institutions characterised by constant flux, and conditions of radical uncertainty and vulnerability can make it difficult to build relationships of trust with participants. Tensions exist in maintaining research access while building a critique of current conditions and practice. This presentation explores these issues by drawing on my discussions with detained individuals about the value of research and the question of resistance to the practice of immigration detention.


Christine Bacon, Ice&Fire

Christine Bacon is Artistic Director of ice&fire, the only theatre company which places the human rights issues of the day at the core of their work. Before joining ice&fire, Christine completed an MSc in Forced Migration at the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University. Her thesis (subsequently published by the RSC as Working paper No.27) looked at how the privatisation of the detention estate in the UK had affected the evolution of the detention regime. At ice&fire, she oversees the coordination of Actors for Human Rights, a national actors network made up of over 700 professional actors that tours rehearsed readings of testimony-based plays such as Asylum Monologues (chronicling the experience of three individuals going through the UK’s asylum process) across the UK, with an explicit agenda of inspiring audiences to take personal action. Directly inspired by this work, a German Actors for Human Rights is now in operation, with over 200 German actors and musicians involved, touring their own version of Asylum Monologues. Christine will speak about her work in relation to the themes of the conference.


Alice Bloch

Alice Bloch is Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester. Recent publications include, Sans Papiers: The social and economic lives of undocumented migrants in the UK (Pluto Press with Nando Sigona and Roger Zetter). She has recently completed an ESRC funded study (2011-14), with Professor Sonia McKay from London Metropolitan University, ‘Undocumented Migrants, Ethnic Enclaves and Networks: Opportunities, traps or class-based constructs’ and is currently working on a project, ‘Children of refugees in Europe: Aspirations, social and economic lives, identity and transnational linkages’ with Milena Chimienti, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland and Professor Catherine Withol De Wenden Sciences Po Paris.

John Grayson

John Grayson is an independent researcher and adult educator. He was Senior Tutor for research at the Northern College for residential adult education until 2006 and taught Housing Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. He lives in Barnsley and is an activist and campaigner with SYMAAG (South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group, see John has published widely on anti-racist issues for the Institute for Race Relations news service; and on immigration issues, especially on privatisation and asylum housing. He has been involved with the transnational ‘Stop G4S’ activist network.


Alex Hall

Dr Alex Hall is a lecturer in Politics at the University of York. Her research focuses on the international securitisation of mobility and contemporary border politics in the west, drawing on interdisciplinary work from international relations, anthropology and critical security and border studies. She has conducted research into the everyday production and experience of security within immigration detention, and the rise of ‘smart’ e-border targeting systems in the UK and Europe. Alex is currently conducting research on the role of discretion within smart border targeting programmes, as a way of understanding the contemporary working of sovereign power at the border and the international governance of mobility.

Jenna Loyd

Dr Jenna Loyd is an Assistant Professor in Public Health Policy at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, as well as a prison and detention abolitionist activist. She is the author of Health Rights Are Civil Rights: Peace and Justice Activism in Los Angeles, 1963-1978 (2014) and co-editor of Beyond Walls and Cages: Prisons, Borders, and Global Crisis (2013). Beyond Walls and Cages takes an explicitly abolitionist and transnational political approach to issues of detention and forced imprisonment. Inspired by Jenna’s activist-scholarship, we are seeking to emulate the philosophy of Beyond Walls and Cages at this conference, with scholars, activists, artists, and the formally imprisoned speaking together form a range of disciplines, experiences and perspectives—from local struggles against immigration detention and strikes and protests against the privatisation of policing and prison-services, to trans-national networks which seek to expose and undo the increasing hold of global securities companies within the fabric of the state.

Alison Mountz

Alison Mountz is professor of Geography and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada. Professor Mountz’s work explores the tension between the decisions, displacements, and desires that drive human migration and the policies and practices designed to manage migration. She is author of Seeking Asylum: Human Smuggling and Bureaucracy at the Border (2011) and leads the ‘Island Detention Project’

Pa Modou Bojang (Prince)

Pa Modou Bojang (Prince) is the Director of Kibaaro Radio, a journalist, writer and refugee. Prince is also a former immigration detainee and a founding member of Migrant Artists Mutual Aid, a Liverpool based activist organisation comprised of migrant and ‘citizen’ artists, poets, writers and performers.


Eiri Ohtani / Detention Forum

Eiri Ohtani is the Co-ordinator of the Detention Forum in the UK and an independent consultant in the voluntary sector. She has worked with migrants and asylum-seekers for over a decade. A graduate of LSE, she also holds postgraduate degrees from SOAS and Birkbeck, University of London.

The Detention Forum is a network of over 30 NGOs who are working on immigration detention issues. We are working together to build a momentum to question the legitimacy of immigration detention which has become such a normal part of the British immigration system. We are now a membership-based network, a collective of organisations who want to work together to challenge immigration detention. One of the aims of our work is to engage more politicians about this issue. We now host regular Parliamentary Network Meetings on immigration detention twice a year, have written joint letters to influence and individually lobbied local MPs to be more vocal about detention issues.


Maja Sager

Dr Maja Sager is a COFAS Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Gender Studies, Lund University and, between 2012 and 2015, a visiting researcher at the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, UK. Her PhD ‘Everyday Clandestinity: Experiences on the Margins of Citizenship and Migration Policies’ (2011) is based upon an ethnographic study with irregular migrants and migration rights activists and discusses how national belonging, citizenship and social organising are practiced and represented in the Swedish welfare state. Maja is currently undertaking her postdoctoral research with migrant activist groups in the UK, Sweden and Denmark.


Sarah Turnbull

Dr Sarah Turnbull is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. Her current research examines immigration detention and deportation with specific focus on issues of identity, home, and belonging in the context of multicultural, postcolonial Britain. For more information, please see

WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together),

Over the past year and a half WAST (Women Asylum Seekers Together) and MISOL (Manchester Migrant solidarity) with SAFETY4SISTERS have organized “SHUT DOWN YARL’S WOOD“ demonstrations and have taken over some of the main squares in Manchester to make our voices heard. These demonstrations and the ongoing fight to highlight the injustice of Yarl’s Wood is in the WAST (10 year) tradition of sharing our experiences, empowering and supporting each other, fighting for our rights, raising awareness about the issues that force women to seek international protection and the effects of the injustices of the UK immigration system.

The WAST choir has always been an important campaigning tool for the group as well as a self-healing positive, sociable and joyous part of the group. The asylum process is set up to be a dehumanizing, isolating and disempowering system for women and WAST, in particular the choir, helps reduce isolation, depression and other mental health problems but has most importantly given members the opportunity to share their amazing talents for singing and harmony with all those who hear them perform.

The latest work of WAST campaigning group is “Still We Rise” which is a performance of dance song, spoken word and drama, the stark realities of life, and the injustices faced, by women seeking sanctuary in the UK. It is written, produced and performed by members of WAST and MISOL, (many of whom have been locked up in Yarl’s Wood themselves) and directed by Magdalen Bartlett. The women of WAST & MISOL express their resilience and resistance to the ultimate inhumanity experienced within the asylum system at Yarl’s Wood detention centre.


Gillian Whitlock

Gillian Whitlock is a Professor at the University of Queensland, and her scholarly work focuses on life writing and postcolonialism, with an emphasis on contemporary writing. She is currently an ARC Professorial Fellow in the School. The ARC Fellowship (2010-2014) focuses on the archives of asylum seeker letters held in the Fryer Library at the University of Queensland. An interdisciplinary research team is now focusing on these archives and in June-July 2011 a special exhibition at the University of Queensland Art Museum, called ‘Living Archives’ and featuring the work of Professor Ross Gibson, will be on display in association with the research project. Gillian will be speaking at the conference about her work on maritime voyages filmed and narrated by asylum-seekers from within the boats, trucks and planes that transport them.

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