Academic journal article New Formations

Archipelago of Risk: Uncertainty, Borders and Migration Detention Systems

Academic journal article New Formations

Archipelago of Risk: Uncertainty, Borders and Migration Detention Systems

Article excerpt

I INTRODUCTION

The pivotal argument in this essay is that contemporary analytics of risk are preoccupied with incorporating uncertainty--a concept which Knight defined as uninsurable risk (1)--into formulations of risk, and that this necessarily gives rise to complex, archipelagic systems of simultaneously abstract (or mathematical) and physical dimensions. In spatio-temporal terms, the archipelagic is neither the vast expanse of a continental mass from which parts of the coastline break off to form islands from time to time, nor islands ('isolated-lands') that are yet to sort themselves into continents, but the non-uniform clustering of processes and spatio-temporal variations. (2) I begin with this brief definition of the archipelago, and a nod toward Foucault's discussion of the 'carceral archipelago' that, by comparison, will serve as an index of how systems of confinement and risk analytics have changed. (3) I give an outline of the risk archipelago's function, its historical and technical scope, conditions of possibility and method; go on to illustrate this by way of a contrasting Foucault's 'carceral archipelago' with current migration detention systems (in this instance, the IDN); and in so doing address some key implications for theories of risk (and uncertainty). Chief among the latter are analyses of risk that have on occasion been described as realist versus constructionist theories of risk; (4) that is, on the one hand theories that explain the prominence and ubiquity of risk (and uncertainty) as a consequence of globalisation (understood as the diminution of the nation-state and its border controls), the rise of techno-science, and the decline of those ostensible traditions (such as the gendered division of labour and the family) on which industrial production depended upon for its reproduction; (5) and, on the other, theories that, contrariwise, argue that the existence and conglomeration of diverse categories of risk does not imply a determinate ordering amenable to a theory of risk analytics, or that, more broadly, assemblages are not determined. (6)

Migration detention, as with imprisonment in many countries, is increasingly organised through combinations of government, non-government and corporate agencies. In these cases, it often involves billions of dollars in complex economic processes, and is progressively or wholly outsourced to a range of contractors. (7) Unlike prisons, and particularly in more recent years, migration detention has bundled together the legal exceptionalism of administrative detention with the history of quarantine laws and assumptions, along with a more recent emphasis on national security doctrines of preemption. (8) This is not to suggest that legal or policy frameworks governing the classification and treatment of refugees, asylum seekers or migration have become irrelevant, although each of these fields has become securitised--in both the military and financial senses of that term. (9) Here I place particular emphasis on the changing legal-economic form of contracts, which have reshaped the organisational systems of migration detention and are thus deserving of a greater degree of critical attention, especially inasmuch as the integral function of contracts is to price and apportion risk to the contracting parties. (10) Outsourcing has enhanced the risk-shifting and profit-generating capacities of systems turned, as I argue elsewhere, toward imagined threats and speculative financial gains, of which highly-charged, racialised constructions of undocumented migration and pre-emptive detention serve as powerful conduits. (11) LiPuma and Lee's criticisms of a naturalist understanding of risk is, I think, a crucial part of this discussion, and their brief linking of the rise of the derivative to the spread of outsourcing contracts is a key insight; (12) but it is overshadowed by a debatable theory of globalisation that overlooks the ways in which, among other things, the delineating function of borders is logically and organisationally prior to 'connectivity' and persists as its condition. …

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