chapter  2
18 Pages

‘These People Could Be Anyone’: Fear, Contempt (and Empathy) in a British Immigration Removal Centre

WithAlexandra Hall

Detention is proliferating as a governmental response to human mobility in the ‘war on

terror’. Theoretical engagements with spaces of detention and enclosure have been

influenced by Agamben’s work on the camp and the sovereign exception. Such a view

focuses on the abject ‘bare life’ that is produced by the sovereign decision. Drawing on

ethnographic fieldwork among staff at a UK immigration removal centre, the paper

makes the case for ‘going inside’ the detention centre. It examines the everyday life of

detention through the lens of emotion, with a focus on fear and contempt. Exploring these

emotions as forms of judgement or construal can unravel staff dispositions towards the

detainees, and can demonstrate the ways in which emotion shapes the treatment

the detainees receive. The paper argues for emotion as an analytical tool; in the case of

detention, it can supplement abstract accounts of ‘the camp’.