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"Subjectivity, Identity and Penal Power: Incarceration in a Global Age"

Final Report Summary - SUBJECTPENAL (Subjectivity, Identity and Penal Power: Incarceration in a Global Age)

Over the past two decades, governments around the world have increasingly criminalized migration violations and deployed police and prisons in the service of border control. They have opened a series of immigration detention centres built like prisons while devising additional consequences for foreigners who break the law. Such developments, which reach their apex in the mandatory deportation orders that now face many offenders born abroad, have not only blurred the boundaries between what were previously two distinct areas of law, but have significantly reshaped the punishment of foreigners, unhinging it from its criminal justice, territorial and temporal base. When individuals are given deportation orders as part of their criminal sentence, decisions made in local courts affect places and people far from where the crime was committed. In these cases, too, punishment reaches back into people’s lives and forward into their futures, as their past successes, children, hopes or aspirations are all disregarded in the name of border control.

In response to these developments, SUBJECTPENAL sought to develop new methodological and intellectual tools in understanding the global and transnational reach of penal power and to revitalize the literature on subjectivity and identity in criminology. It was guided by three research questions that were investigated in three distinct yet interrelated areas: penal theory, the contemporary prison, and the immigration detention centre. The research questions were: 1) What is the relationship between penal power and national identity? 2) How is that relationship gendered? 3) What do the experiences and views of those subject to penal power tell us about (the limits and nature of) state power in a global age?

Drawing together a variety of empirical research, conducted in detention centres, prisons and post-deportation, the research group has inspired the development of a new, interdisciplinary subfield of criminology, called 'Border Criminology' that has decisively placed the study of migration control within the discipline. We have also contributed to policy debates in Britain and Europe, and, through the project website, to the generation of knowledge on the international stage. SUBJECTPENAL has also experimented with visual methodologies, generating documentary photographs, working with deportees to do the same, and collaborating with an artist. Through such means the project has not only engaged with new audiences, but has also set out new ways of discussing the affective nature of border control and punishment. Such matters, go to the heart of understanding the new politics of exclusion, which is transforming all aspects of our societies, and, in the process, placing liberal values and, arguably democracy itself, at risk.