From the Field is Border Criminologies’ ‘mini-post’ series featuring news from researchers currently in the field. In this instalment, Border Criminologies researcher Sarah Turnbull provides an update on her current fieldwork.

As part of my research project, Home and Away: Gender, Nation, Deportation, I’m currently undertaking research at Yarl’s Wood IRC, which is located in Twinwoods Business Park next to the village of Milton Ernest in Bedfordshire. This is my second research site after Campsfield House IRC. The aim of my research is to garner a better understanding of the experiences of immigration detention while examining issues around ‘home’ and belonging.

The environs of Twinwoods Business Park (Image: S. Turnbull)

Yarl’s Wood is predominantly a centre for detaining female foreign nationals, yet also has a family unit for married couples and couples with adult children and a short-stay unit for male detainees. Operated by Serco, Yarl’s Wood has recently been in the news over allegations of sexual abuse.

Starting at this new research site provides an opportunity to learn how different detention centres operate. Moving from a male population at Campsfield House to a largely female population at Yarl’s Wood also enables exploration of how gender―in its intersection with other aspects of identity―shapes experiences of detention, as well as the regimes and activities provided at the different IRCs. As a female researcher, this site offers unique experiences to all-male centres. For example, during my first week at Yarl's Wood, twice staff mistook me for a detainee, perhaps because of my casual attire but also raising interesting questions about race given that I'm 'white' in a highly racialised space of confinement. In addition, as a female researcher in a women's detention centre, there may be additional opportunities to speak with those who are detained in less public spaces of the detention centre, such as the women's rooms.

Once fieldwork at Yarl's Wood concludes, I’ll be starting fieldwork at third detention centre to examine the same themes.

Click here  to read more about Sarah’s postdoctoral research and the larger ERC-funded research project led by Mary Bosworth.

See also other mini-posts from the series From the Field: