European states rely heavily on commercial aviation to put their deportation and immigration enforcement programmes into effect. Yet the ways in which regimes of aviation interact with deportation  are relatively under-researched by migration scholars. Whereas systems of immigration detention are, rightly, a focus of critical research, and while the post-deportation experience of returnees is quickly emerging as a new research field, the entanglement of deportation with planes, pilots, crews, airlines, aviation laws, airspace and much else pertaining to systems of transport has been somewhat overlooked. This presentation argues that the fundamental rights monitoring of so-called return flights offers a valuable source of data about this deportation/aviation nexus – a nexus I call air deportation. The paper focuses on flight inspection reporting in the UK, which is conducted under the auspices of HM Inspector of Prisons. Treating these reports as an archive, the paper will make three arguments about inspection. First, inspection merits attention in its own right since it concerns the politics of visibility that structures deportation. Second, a critical and contrapuntal reading of inspection reports is necessary, precisely because of this politics of visibility. Third, just as Marx saw factory inspection as a form of knowledge that could help him better understand the closed space of the Victorian factory, flight inspection can be a resource for a better understanding of power and resistance within air deportation.


william walters
William Walters holds the FPA Research Excellence Chair (2019-22) at Carleton University, Ottawa. His main research interests are secrecy and security, borders and migration, mobility and politics, and infrastructure and power. Forthcoming publications include the monograph State Secrecy and Security: Refiguring the Covert Imaginary (Routledge) and the co-edited book Viapolitics: Borders, Migration and the Power of Locomotion (Duke University Press). He is currently the principal investigator on The Air Deportation Project, a multi-country inquiry (funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) into the aerial geographies of forced removal and expulsion in and from Europe.

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