Post by Luke de Noronha, a DPhil student in Anthropology at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research examines the deportation of ex-offenders from the UK to Jamaica, exploring the lives of deportees in Jamaica as well as their friends and families who remain in the UK. Luke is on Twitter @LukeEdeNoronha.

Review of Enduring Uncertainty: Deportation, Punishment and Everyday Life by Ines Hasselberg (Berghahn Books, 2016)

Enduring Uncertainty is a rich ethnographic account of deportation. Deportation is a process that begins long before anyone actually gets on a plane. Hasselberg provides a vivid account of a specific, although often protracted, stage in deportation proceedings: when the state is seeking to deport an individual, but is not yet able to remove them because they are appealing through the courts. Hasselberg focuses on those who are facing deportation after a criminal conviction, a group that the British government has employed drastic measures to contain, manage, and expel. She speaks to those facing deportation, as well as to their loved ones, parents or partners. As Hasselberg notes, deportation is not conceived by those it affects as a return home, but as exile from the UK. How people deal with the threat of that exile, both practically and emotionally, is the theme of this powerful ethnography. Through foregrounding the perspectives of those living these policies, this book gives a deeply unsettling account of what deportation does to people.

In the introduction, Hasselberg offers a fascinating discussion on ‘finding the field’, which is of wider importance to the study of border control. Deportation is difficult to study. When people are in prison or immigration detention, it can be hard to gain research access. When people are no longer incarcerated, often on bail, they are spread around the country. They are unlikely – compared with other categories of migrants, such as refugees – to interact with NGOs, and so they are hard to find. Dispersed, worn out, and untrusting, people facing deportation are not easy to locate.

Hasselberg explains how she worked through these problems. She struggled to find gatekeepers who would introduce her to those facing deportation, and snowballing methods simply didn’t work. So she decided to go to specific sites where prospective informants were likely to go. She spent lots of time in immigration tribunals and met most of her research participants in these hearings. It is precisely because Hasselberg spent so much time in immigration tribunals that she offers something wholly new. While she may have hoped to meet participants through gatekeepers and snowballing, the fact that she had to spend hours observing immigration hearings lends her project originality. The ethnographic reflections on the tribunal process are incredibly rich.  She also went to reporting centres – where people with insecure immigration statuses go to sign in with the authorities – and spoke to people in the queue.

The ethnographic material from immigration hearings, and from talking to people about the legal process, is presented in chapter 2: ‘Living the law’. For me, the most fascinating part was the ways in which people try to translate their life and their relationships into ‘a case’, as the court requires. People begin to think of their family life as a human right, rather than simply a set of lived relationships. People become well versed in the law, in the language and abstraction of it all, and yet they still read judges for signs of warmth and understanding.

Another interesting finding was that most people prioritised being listened to by the judges. Feeling like they had been heard was more important to most people than the actual decision itself. Hasselberg asks, ‘how do people feel about judges, about the legal process, about the court, and giving evidence?’ When people’s complex lives are transformed into legal arguments in deportation hearings, how do they navigate all of it, and how does it shift their perceptions of justice?

In the chapter entitled ‘Surveillance and Control’, Hasselberg discusses detention and reporting. When the British government declares it will deport ‘foreign criminals’, we might imagine that non-citizens are removed when they finish their sentences. It is rarely this easy, and this chapter is about the in-between: about the forms of state surveillance and control exercised on people who have served their sentence, but have not yet been removed. In this period, people are usually stripped of their right to work. And they must sign on at a local reporting centre or police station. When they sign on, they know they may be detained, and many are detained at different stages in their tortuous legal journey. People appeal, sign on, get detained, get released, appeal, sign on, etc. This chapter offers rich ethnographic material on the experience of signing on, of being detained, and of fearing being detained. All of these processes wear people down, render them anxious, uncertain, unable to progress. Detention and reporting are the technologies through which people are surveilled and controlled. They mean that people simply don’t know and cannot control the things that are of greatest significance to them.

The next chapter explores how the threat of deportation impacts on people’s everyday lives and explores some of the strategies people devise to cope with it. There is a discussion of the different ways in which people respond to this intense stress. The vignettes in this chapter are especially moving, as people vent their frustration, anger, and fear. In this chapter, the reader gets a feel for the profound emotional toll of these policies. I was struck by the voices of family members in this chapter, and we are reminded that deportation is not simply about the individual facing removal.  The stress and anxiety is not borne by the individual alone, but by partners, parents, wives, and children.

In the last substantive chapter, Hasselberg examines ‘Compliance and Resistance’. She explores the disjuncture between the narratives of people facing deportation, and those of NGO and activist organisations working on anti-deportation campaigns. Ultimately, foreign offenders don’t always make the same kinds of arguments as these organisations, and nor do they seek visibility through protest and campaigning. They seem all too aware that public sympathy might not be on their side, and they usually don’t disagree with deportation policies per se, only the way they are employed in their particular case. Hasselberg goes on to make the interesting argument that people resist through compliance. Through enduring the difficult conditions imposed by the state – worklessness, reporting, detention – people resist the idea that they are dangerous rule-breakers. By complying, they resist what they think Home Office policies are intended to do: wear them down so that they either commit crime, or leave the country of their own accord. Perhaps paradoxically, when people sign on regularly, and comply with the difficult demands of the Home Office, they resist their removal and the idea that they are dangerous criminals.

Enduring Uncertainty is a powerful, insightful and important ethnography. It provides an excellent account of the frustrations and challenges for those who are appealing their deportation, and facing intense forms of state surveillance and control. This is an important stage in the deportation corridor (a term Hasselberg coined more recently with Heike Drotbohm), which has not really been explored. It is well written, and accessible to undergraduates, postgraduates, and the general reader. It is relevant to those studying law (and lawyers), criminology, anthropology, sociology and political sciences, and is a real interdisciplinary text.

Any comments about this post? Get in touch with us! Send us an email, or post a comment here or on Facebook. You can also tweet us.


How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

de Noronha, L. (2017) Book Review: Enduring Uncertainty: Deportation Punishment and Everyday Life. Available at: (Accessed [date]).