Sammanfattning av publikation

Rodin, 2016 🔗

Biopolitics, Border Management and the Frame of Humanization of ‘Total Institutions’: Experiences and Representations of Swedish Immigrant Detention

Year: 2016

Type of text: Academic article

Published by: The Journal of Social Policy Studies

Language: English

Author: Lika Rodin

Pages: 16

Available at:

Short description of text 

The study addresses the phenomenon of immigrant detention within a framework of humanizing closed institutions and the contradictory perception of the Swedish detention system by different stakeholders, as either humanizing (the dominant discourse) or dehumanizing. Based on the Swedish documentary Förvaret (Detained) four categories of film characters and the relationships between them are examined and analyzed. 

Most important results

-‘Constant anxiety’ as a typical feature of the detention situation: ‘the   idea   of  crises    is  routinely present in  the   work of the detention staff. At any minute, someone can attempt to break out, react abnormally, or become unmanageable in other ways …  The  entire  environment incorporates a sense of a latent danger … Supervisors remain constantly in a state of suspicion   and   expectation of  deviance’ (p. 282).

– ‘As a means of managing the detainees and their own emotions, the staff may adapt a ’here-and-now’   approach that can be confusing for the detained whose life and thoughts unavoidably go beyond the premises of the establishment’ in this way ‘detainee-staff relationships appear unavoidably mediated and fragmented by the logic of immigration enforcement’ (p. 283).

– Rodin discusses the mechanisms by which individuals are shaped into ‘ideal detainees’: ‘Entering a closed ward, the individual becomes treated as a child: irrational, emotional, and with simple needs. In the detention centre, the supervisors address the inmates by their room numbers, which can be seen as  a rational practice with a dehumanizing effect. Individual personal space is restricted and continuously violated for security reasons’ (p. 285). 

– Rodin argues that the behaviour of the detention staff ‘mirrors the complex organizational mission of immigrant detention combining ‘efficiency/security/control’ and ‘care/social work’ (p. 286)  a contradiction she argues can be solved by the gendered division of labour, as shown in the documentary where ‘male characters are those most likely to be associated with the maintenance of the formal order, while women engage in social work’, further, she argues, the film shows ‘that supervisors – both men and women – do sporadically empathize and occasionally transgress their professional roles to address the needs of the detained. There is, however, always an organizationally guarded limit to this emotional involvement, and care can be turned into a means of control (p. 287).

– Rodin argues that the film should be recognized as a critique of biopolitical border regulation in the way ‘it demonstrates that attempts to improve the detention system and its practices along the lines of a more civic model are both fundamentally undermined by the contradictory nature of the confinement ideology and insufficient as long as the very legitimacy of detention as a part of border control remains uncontested’ (p. 275). Further ‘the documentary revealed that improvements in detention organization and practices towards a more humane model are fundamentally undermined by the contradictory nature of the confinement ideology and particularities of the detained population. Furthermore, they are insufficient as long as the very legitimacy of detention as a border management technology remains unquestioned […] Agamben’s own idea was to deconstruct the global biopolitical order of power and domination as a radical way of dealing with the camp […] This study widens the academic discussion on the issue of Swedish immigrant detention that has been dominated by concerns over the material and social-psychological conditions provided for the detained’ (p. 287).

Theoretical perspective/framework

Giorgio Agamben’s conception of biopolitics.


Structural semiotics. A semiotic squire was constructed to scrutinize representations of social relationships in a detention centre, relying on Goffman (1982) regarding the interactional order of a total  institution. 

Suggestions for further research

Exploration of  civil  society’s  response  to  the  recent  immigrant crises and the related policies.

Summarized by: Alva Nissen