Post by Dr Sanja Milivojevic, Research Fellow in Criminology at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia and Associate Director of Border Criminologies. Her research interests are borders and mobility, human trafficking, security technologies and surveillance, gender and victimisation, and international criminal justice and human rights. She is on Twitter @smilivojevic

Review of Crime Prevention, Migration Control and Surveillance Practices: Welfare Bureaucracy as Mobility Deterrent by Veronika Nagy (Routledge 2018)

Technology is increasingly becoming the keyword in contemporary border scholarship. Articles, chapters, and books that attempt to unpack the many links between technology and contemporary border regimes are bourgeoning in both the Global North and the Global South. The focus on the technology-border nexus in public policy and traditional media is also growing exponentially. The recent and ongoing drama of Brexit saw technological borders as a potential solution for the Northern Ireland “backstop” political conundrum – the UK-Ireland border. Nevertheless, inquiries that focus on technology-based monitoring and digitised surveillance of “undesired” citizens – in particular, ethnic migrants such as European Roma – in the welfare systems of migration destination countries are not that common. This book is a timely contribution that aims to fill this gap.

Over eight chapters, Veronika Nagy dissects current EU welfare policies and exposes the underlying asymmetries of digital surveillance (p. 1) – surveillance practices that disproportionately target “passive” and “unproductive” citizens of the Union. The book offers rich theoretical insights and analysis that sheds light on the origins, key processes, and ideology that underpins such practices. One of Nagy’s key arguments is that in today’s European societies – what she refers to as ‘panoptic virtual societies’ – ‘population control is shifting from traditional policing methods to internal financial monitoring of suspected migrants’ (p. 2). Throughout the book, she reveals how financial monitoring and benefit cuts by social service providers act as a mobility enforcer that excludes unwanted migrants, in particular, European Roma in the United Kingdom. As such, she contends that migration control has invaded the domain of welfare policies and that we should examine the financial modalities of migration management at least as much as “traditional” border control measures like border patrolling. The book, however, does not only map discriminatory policies and practices in the UK and the EU; it also maps resistance strategies and techniques of people who are the target of such financially-focused border control interventions. 

In the book, the author offers a comprehensive review of the relevant literature, particularly from critical surveillance studies, border criminologies, and minority studies. In her analysis of contemporary welfare bordering practices, Nagy draws on a range of theoretical frameworks, from Foucault’s governmentality and Bigo’s “ban-opticon”, to Aas and Bosworth’s “the funnel of exclusion”. Importantly, she coins her own theoretical concept “welfare ban-opticon” – a system of mobility control by which social service providers screen and exclude those deemed unproductive, according to the standards of neoliberal capitalism (p. 6 and throughout the book). 

Chapter 3 offers a background of the history, mobility, securitisation and criminalisation of European Roma. To examine her unique subject of research and answer her research questions Nagy employed a qualitative ethnographic methodological approach. Indeed, the amount of data collected for the book is both vast and plentiful. Empirical evidence supports the author's arguments: interviews, fieldwork/participant observations, and “shadowing and lurking” (p. 49) among NGOs working with Roma in the UK support the author’s inquiry. However, it is my impression that the analysis chapters could include more original data. Chapter 4 reviews welfare policies in contemporary Europe through a focus on three core welfare processes: creating a homogenous category of the welfare recipient which is largely a process of defining an Other; mandating or inciting the poor to take responsibility for their own welfare, a process that social scientists call “responsibilisation”; and ultimately, discriminating against the targeted groups (p. 55). In this chapter, the author also demystifies the realities of so-called “welfare tourism”, and explores the fundamental role welfare policies play in contemporary immigration discourses. Nagy maps the often-chaotic changes in the UK welfare system and successfully argues that producing such changes in this manner is in its own right a potent migration control mechanism. She also points out that these three welfare processes ‘increase the dangers of unfair treatment through methods of social sorting’ (p. 70).

Chapter 5 focuses on the role of “invisible players” – ‘intermediaries involved with, working for, or writing about Roma migrants’ (p. 76) in European welfare systems. This chapter provides much-needed accounts of gatekeepers and helpers and exposes narratives that, Nagy argues, further emphasise the Otherness and socio-economic marginality of European Roma, as well as the artificial nature of the concept of European Roma itself. The chapter also focuses on the "commodification of humanitarianism", and ethical and practical challenges activists, outreach workers, and interpreters face in their work.

Chapters 6 and 7 provide, I argue, the most significant contributions of this volume, as they reveal and explore resistance strategies used by Roma in countering discriminating, technology-based welfare policies. The chapter’s exposition of the richness of the Roma’s lived experiences, their skilful navigation of the system, and the many hoops they must jump through builds a complex picture of the survival and agency of, and the deception and brutality endured by Roma as they become targets of such policies. It is here that I think Nagy could use more rich, empirical data to further support her arguments. The examples she provides in the chapters are outstanding, and yet, they leave the reader wanting to hear more from the key actors themselves. Further, Nagy could tease out the notion of the welfare ban-opticon more in these segments of the book in advance of her full exposition of it in the book’s conclusion.

Overall, Crime Prevention, Migration Control and Surveillance Practices is an excellent read for anyone looking to unpack some fundamental complexities in a rather messy and under-researched welfare-migration-technology world. While located in the UK, the book applies to a range of localities in Europe and beyond. It provides the reader with a clear and unequivocal overview of critical issues and policy developments and brings the realities of lived experiences of those subjected to such policies to the very fore of the discussion. As such, the book is a welcome contribution to the growing fields of border criminologies and critical surveillance studies and will benefit policy-makers, academics, postgraduate students, NGO workers, and indeed everyone else interested in this fundamental yet often marginalised topic. 

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Milivojevic, S. (2019). Book Review: Crime Prevention, Migration Control and Surveillance Practices: Welfare Bureaucracy as Mobility Deterrent. Available at: (Accessed [date])