Ines Hasselberg is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Criminology (2013-2016) and project leader for “The Postcolonial Prison: Citizenship, Punishment and Mobility” at the Faculty of Law in Oxford University. Hasselberg is also a PhD in Anthropology and a book author. Her most recent book, Enduring Uncertainty, about the deportation process as it is felt and understood by those subjected to it, brings light to a topic of growing importance.
How did you become interested in the migration problem?
Is there a story or an inspirational person behind your research choice?
I’m afraid there isn’t a particular person or story behind my interest in migration. Once I decided to do a PhD I started looking for possible topics of research. I knew the PhD would be long and could be quite lonely during the writing periods so I wanted to choose a topic that I would find interesting but also that I would be passionate about – something that would drive me and encourage me to move along when things got tough. By chance I came across the topic of deportation which I was finding hard to understand – how could people who had lived all their lives in a given country be forcefully removed to another country that they barely knew? Surely that what was not possible. But as I researched the subject to put together my application to doctoral programmes I realised both that this was a practice that was expanding at a fast rate, in particular in the global north, and that there was barely any academic studies on it.
Is there a specific fact that sparkled the research
resembled in your last book Enduring Uncertainty?
Personal circumstances really. Initially my PhD project was designed to look at the experiences of youth deported from the USA to Cape Verde. Yet, as the time for fieldwork approached it turned out to not be possible for me to go to Cape Verde for such a long period of time (on account of personal reasons). So I had to change my project. I wanted to keep my focus on deportation policies so I turned the gaze of the research to the experience of facing deportation – instead of looking at what happens after you are deported. This allowed to conduct fieldwork in the UK and complete my PhD.
What were the biggest surprises during
your research for the book?
Well, one surprise was how hard fieldwork was. I expected it to be difficult, but experiencing it is of course something different. It was hard and frustrating and sad. For one year I spent my days running around London, trying to reach people who were facing deportation from the UK. As I spent time with them and their families, deportation was no longer an abstract concept but rather a brutal reality. The stories I was told were sad and emotionally charged, and it took me some time to learn how to deal with it all. But I guess the biggest surprise was realising that the larger part of the deportable people that I spoke with was in favour of deportation policies. I had just assumed they would be against it, but in fact they just contest that these were being applied to them in particular. You see, most people that I interviewed for this research had their lives well established in the UK. For them deportation was a legitimate way to deal with foreigners who commit serious offences – and by serious offences most were referring to murder, rape, paedophilia, terrorism and so on. They just did not find deportation legitimate when applied to them in particular, who had been long in the country and were convicted of what they saw as small petty crimes. Their spouses too had to deal with conflicting beliefs that were hard to reconcile – on the one hand they believed that (foreign) people who commit crimes should lose their right to be in the country but on the other hand they also believed that their children should have the right to grow up with their dad. It was all very difficult.
As the project leader for The Postcolonial Prison: Citizenship, Punishment and Mobility in Oxford University, what are the biggest problems that you are facing on a daily basis?
The Postcolonial Prison, is part of larger project led by Prof Mary Bosworth and funded by the European Research Council. The project is composed of three subprojects – the Postcolonial Prison being one of these. Another of the subprojects, focused on immigration detention and matters of home and belonging is led by my colleague Dr Sarah Turnbull. So I’m not really on my own. Even though the Postcolonial Prison is being carried out by me, being part of a research team means that I can always count on the support and advice of Mary and Sarah, and I’ve been learning a lot from them. Having said that, I don’t think there are any particular challenges that I face daily. The challenges of this project have been changing as the research process moves along. Put shortly, the Postcolonial Prison examines what the increasing number of foreign-national prisoners in Europe may tell us of the role of the prison in carving out national identity. I started in 2013, and the major challenge then was to get access to prison facilities in the UK and Portugal – the two sites of research. Working in different jurisdictions meant that I got different levels of access to the filed sites and as such ended up with two sets of data that are more different than I first expected – this is quite a challenge when you’re doing comparative research, but nothing than can’t be addressed. Or so I hope. I recently wrote a short piece on this issue for the Border Criminologies blog. Thinking of it actually, I guess the one challenge that I face on a daily basis is balancing work and family life and making sure that I do my best at both fronts. In this regard my biggest success in the past three years was learning to enjoy my weekends guilt-free, or put differently, learning to not work during the weekend.
Your case studies are from Portugal, Wales and England.
Could these results be extrapolated to the rest of the Western World Countries?
England & Wales and Portugal appeared as good sites for comparative research because both have strong colonial legacies and very similar profiles in their foreign-national populations in prison, and yet they have different levels of immigration enforcement. But the idea of this comparative study is not really to extrapolate results to other countries but rather to better understand how experiences of punishment and belonging intersect with citizenship. Every country has its own policies with regards to migration, criminal justice and citizenship/naturalisation, so it is unlikely that results can be extrapolated across jurisdictions. What is important here is to understand that how these different policies interact within a particular jurisdiction will affect how punishment and membership to society are experienced and thought of. What the project is seeking to emphasise is that in today’s world of increased mobility we must take citizenship into account when examining practices of punishment, or the criminal justice system at large for that matter.
According to your findings are these societies biased towards certain nationalities?
If so, do you believe there is a possible solution for this problem
in the near future, as for example integration programs?
I mentioned before that England & Wales and Portugal have similar profiles in their foreign-national prisoner populations – this is reflected in the fact that in each of these two jurisdictions the bulk of the foreign prisoner population originates from their former colonies. So in Portugal you will find the large part of foreigners in prison are citizens from Cape Verde, Angola, Guine-Bissau, Brazil and so on. In England & Wales this is replicated to the former colonies of the UK: you find that the foreign-prison population is mostly composed of citizens from the Caribbean nations, South East Asia and former African colonial territories. This is not coincidence, but rather a reflection of the historical legacy of colonialism and the resultant histories of migration, social exclusion and racial discrimination.
At this point, as I am still analyzing my data, I will refrain from commenting on possible solutions.
Which researchers and/or articles you rely on the most for your work?
Mary Bosworth and Sarah Turnbull are my main sounding board, and I also rely greatly on their work. Other researchers whose work I rely on include Nicholas de Genova, Susan Bibler Coutin, Mathew Gibney, Bridget Anderson, Natalie Peutz, Tania Golash-Boza, Nando Sigona, Melanie Griffiths, Marie-Benedicte Dembour, Heike Drotbohm, Emma Kaufman, Miguel Moniz, Juliet Stumpf, Sarah Willen… and really so many others. This field of studies has greatly expanded since I first started and new work is coming out frequently. I recently read the work of Nancy Hiemstra, which was really fascinating. So now I wonder whether I should have named anyone in the first place, as I’m sure I left out others whose work has also been influential to me…
PaperHive would like to ask you: If the reader had only 5 minutes,
what specific pages or sections should they definitely read to gain insight into your research?
If the reader only has about 5 minutes I would suggest that s/he reads the Preface to the book (and eventually the first couple of pages from the Introduction). The preface to the book is an email sent to me by one of my research participants. It is very powerful and describes really well what is like to live with the uncertainty of deportation. Alternatively, they can read this post recently published by Allegra.Lab where I’ve included and contextualised that email, and provided a short insight to the book’s contents and arguments.