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

Ettore Asoni Discussion

Call for papers.

To identify and expel. Historical and geographical perspectives on administrative detention.


Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Cagliari

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

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 centers? 

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 centers?
  • What is the role of private actors, and how do they affect the current spaces of internment?
  • 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 exclusion?
  • 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?



Deadlines and submissions


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. 

We intend to hold the conference in person at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Cagliari in Cagliari, Italy, on the 15th and 16th of July 2021. However, due to the current pandemic situations we cannot predict whether this will be possible, or we will have to move the conference to an online platform. We will keep the participants informed in a timely manner about this decision. Thank you for your understanding.