CFP (Online Conference) To identify and expel. Historical and geographical perspectives on administrative detention.

Ettore Asoni Discussion

July 15th and 16th, 2021. University of Cagliari, Italy (Online)

In recent decades the administrative detention of “illegal” immigrants has spread
throughout the world as one of the main strategies to regulate migrations. From the perspective
of national governments detention is essential: how else could they identify or expel those who
lack a right to stay? It is only through the forced immobilization of people that these tasks
become possible. The results of this logic have been worrisome and dramatic. The detention and
confinement of non-citizen have turned into routine practices to facilitate the administration of
immigration. Conditions inside centers for removal or “hotspots” have been proven to be harsh
and horrible, and the current pandemic is having devastating effects on those who are detained or
held at borders.
Some scholars and observers have considered the growth of these practices as
exceptional: to their view, detention represents a radical departure from the rule of law and an
expression of authoritarianism and nationalism. But others point out that Western states have
always included forms of administrative control to manage “risky” subjects, and that detention
operates in accordance with these. According to them, detention represents a standard form of
confinement against those who are perceived as dangerous or problematic: with the relevant
difference that dangerousness appears to be directly linked to foreignness in this case.
Regardless of our personal position, we want to ask how the present state of detention
systems relates to previous and contemporary strategies to control “dangerous” populations. We
can’t deny that the confinement of “aliens” has a long and obscure history. The idea of creating
camps to confine, control, or even exterminate unwanted populations has been a terrible
paradigm of modernity in Europe and the United States. What can this history tell us about
immigration detention? Is the concentration camp a useful paradigm to analyze detention
Moreover, despite the links between past and present, it is undeniable that immigration
detention presents several new traits than these previous experiences. The process of detaining is
regulated by national and international law, and it operates on understandings of security and risk
that undergird contemporary strategies of governance. It is also becoming harder to identify the
“state” as a monolithic entity operating with full agency in the current scenario. Detention
systems resents the presence of NGOs and supranational organizations that are capable of
affecting their organization and structure in ways that complicate linear and national accounts.
And finally, the presence of private actors in managing and owning the centers represents
another important discontinuity with the past.
Following up from these reflections, the conference aims at finding the best instruments to
analyze the topic from historical and geographical perspectives. In order to achieve this goal, we
ask the following questions:

- Is the paradigm of the concentration camp still useful to analyze present detention
- What is the role of private actors, and how do they affect the current spaces of
- What is, and has been, the role of the nation state to control, identify, and remove
“dangerous” populations? What is the role of supranational organizations such as the EU
and how do they participate in the making of detention?
- How has the concept of citizenship influenced, and how does it reflect strategies of
- What kind of spaces are detention centers, hotspots, or refugee camps? How can space be
used to exclude?
- What have been the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic on immigration detention and on
the lives of those who are detained?


Deadline and submission
The conference will be held online on the 15th and 16th of July 2021.
Proposals of max 200 words are accepted both in English and Italian and should be sent
by April 10th to Ettore Asoni, San Diego State University ( and
Alessandro Pes, University of Cagliari ( Proposals will be selected by
April 18th.