In June 2015 Oxford University Press published Punish & Expel: Border Control, Nationalism, and the New Purpose of Prison by Emma Kaufman. The side cover of the book reads:

This book provides the first comprehensive account of the imprisonment of noncitizens in the United Kingdom. Based on a year of fieldwork in five men’s prisons, Punish & Expel: Border Control, Nationalism, and the New Purpose of Prison draws on extensive empirical data to contest the idea that prisons are domestic institutions. Punish & Expel takes readers inside citizenship classes and ‘all-foreign’ prisons, where the author documents the prison’s part in creating new notions of political membership. In seven vivid chapters, Punish & Expel links prisons to the history of British colonialism, the forces of globalisation, and the politics of race.

This post is not intended as a book review per se. Rather, Ines Hasselberg and Thomas Ugelvik each provide a frank and open commentary on what the book has meant to them. In particular they focus on Kaufman’s approach to the study of prison and border control and the importance of examining the increasing rates of foreign-nationals in prison across different jurisdictions. The commentaries are based on the participation of Ines and Thomas in the launch of this book earlier this year at the University of Oxford co-hosted by Border Criminologies and Oxford University Press. We hope this post encourages you to read Punish & Expel and appreciate its important contribution to a better understanding of border control, citizenship, and punishment.

Ethnography as Witnessing – Ines

In this commentary I won’t focus much on the findings and arguments of Punish & Expel. Instead, I discuss Kaufman’s approach to the study of foreign-nationals in prison. Kaufman makes the case that in order to understand prison we must look at power and daily life. Ethnography is her method of choice. But, she asks, can we really depict what prisons are about based on objective observation? And in discussing this question matters of positionality, subjectivity, and reflexivity are addressed in depth. Kaufman’s approach to taking ethnography as an act of witnessing is a way to underline the subjectivity of the speaker. Ever present in the book are the emotional, sensory, and embodied experiences of punishment and incarceration―not only of the prisoners but also of others who work in the prison and of Kaufman herself. In fact, I quite admire her frank and honest discussion of her role and position as a criminologist, an ethnographer, a white young woman, a foreigner. She vividly describes moments when she was welcomed, included, and valued, but also moments where she was excluded, uncertain of how to act, or accused of ill doing. The relevance of taking ethnography as witnessing reinforces the need to move away from trying to seek the truth in informants’ narratives to focus on the informants themselves. What exactly does this mean? What becomes important isn’t so much whether incidents of violence or racism or abuse did occur as described by informants but rather why these elements take such predominance in their accounts. Related here is Kaufman’s encouraging of criminologists to adopt a more phenomenological approach to prison because, as she so well argues, emotion and senses are intrinsically related to power in general and punishment in particular.

I was expecting this book to be of interest mostly to those of us who are especially interested in matters of border control. But in fact the scope of the book extends far beyond the walls of the prison and the borders of the nation. Race, gender, citizenship, and identity aren’t confined to specific sections of the text but rather are constant elements that cross through all chapters and arguments. Punish & Expel sets forward a new way of studying and understanding prison. In short, this book is empirically rich, analytically strong, and innovative. And to top it off the book is beautifully written: sophisticated yet clear and so engaging!

The Prison as the Border – Thomas

Two years ago I found myself writing a chapter entitled ‘The Incarceration of Foreigners in European Prisons’ (published here). The biggest challenge then was that there was barely any literature or data on which to draw upon. I quickly found Kalmthout, van der Meulen, and Dünkel’s encyclopaedic Foreigners in European Prisons―a two volume anthology from 2007, which collected descriptive chapters on a large number of European countries. There was also a small number of studies focussing on specific aspects of the experiences of foreign-nationals in prison―health care, language problems, immigration concerns, and so on. These studies were of course useful, but they didn’t provide for the kind of extended in-depth analysis I’d hoped to find. Frankly, it was startling how little we knew at the time about foreign-nationals in prison, the challenges they experience, and the challenges they represent. In particular, little attention was paid to the way foreign-national prisoners may be seen as part of a larger framework of new forms of social control. Foreign-national prisoners was an under-researched area; a knowledge ‘blind spot.’ Until Punish & Expel came along.

Thomas Ugelvik and Emma Kaufman, University of Oxford, June 2015 (Photo: Brandy Cochrane)

One of the reasons for the lack of attention is of course that criminology―and also criminal law―has been almost exclusively oriented towards the nation-state. We have taken the nation-state as the default contextual frame for our analyses. This has been a particularly salient problem within the subfield of prion sociology. Despite the emergence of a body of writing on borders and migration control, Kaufman argues, mainstream prison sociology remains more or less bound to the nation-state, yet important international and global developments are making this methodological nationalism, this nation-state centred myopia, untenable.

As any prison researcher can tell you, prison populations have grown in most European countries over the last few decades. Simultaneously, the profile of the prison populations has changed considerably in many jurisdictions. According to figures made public by the International Centre for Prison Studies (and if we limit ourselves to the EU 28 countries) almost 19% of the prison populations combined, or more than 117,000 prisoners, are currently foreign-nationals. And the number is growing.

The increase of foreigners in European prisons has been compared with the over-representation of black in US prisons. From one perspective, prisons have a major role in the production of a vulnerable and exploitable workforce. This is especially true when, according to Mary Bosworth, ‘the absence of citizenship enables harsher and longer punishments.’ What has been called a process of the ‘hyper-criminalization of immigrants,’ and in particular of so-called third country immigrants, plays an important role here and the prison may be seen as a core institution of border control.

Border control is now a part of the everyday work of prison staff. Kaufman shows that the prison today is, in a sense, part of the border. She documents this development, in all its nitty-gritty empirical detail with reference to England and Wales. She shows that even the use of word ‘foreigner’ isn’t straightforward. There is often a considerable overlap between the categories of ‘foreign-national prisoner’ and ‘ethnic minority prisoner.’ The two categories are often confused with citizens of ethnic minority backgrounds being categorized as foreigners, and white (‘European’) foreigners being mistakenly identified as citizens. In fact, Kaufman shows precisely how the effort to find foreigners in prison often relies on racialized assumptions about what constitutes ‘Britishness’ and ‘foreignness’: if you look foreign (meaning an ethnic minority), you’re treated as a foreigner and may, among other things, become liable to deportation. As one of Kaufman’s interviewees puts it: ‘If you're black, you're going back.’

Punish & Expel is a timely, interesting, and important work. And even though it has in one stroke made my literature review totally out of date, I strongly welcome it and warmly recommend it.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Hasselberg, I and Ugelvik, T. (2015) Book Commentary: Punish & Expel: Border Control, Nationalism, and the New Purpose of Prison. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2015/12/book-commentary (Accessed [date]).