Vol. 25 No. 1 (January 2015) pp. 6-7

CARCERAL SPACES: MOBILITY AND AGENCY IN IMPRISONMENT AND MIGRANT DETENTION by Dominique Moran, Nick Gill and Deirdre Conlon (eds.). Vermont: Ashgate Publishing, 2013. 250 pp. Hardback $110.86, ISBN: 978-1409442684.

Reviewed by Dagmar Soennecken, School of Public Policy and Administration, York University, Toronto, Canada. E-mail:

CARCERAL SPACES is the product of a series of themed conference panels of the Association of American Geographers and the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers. It brings together migration scholars interested in deportation and detention with those studying imprisonment to examine both of these ‘carceral spaces’ through a highly interdisciplinary and innovative lens, mainly drawing from criminology and human geography.

In the introduction, the editors argue that we should view imprisonment and migrant detention not as separate, if related, practices but in fact as overlapping systems of “holding human beings without consent” through “spatial practices of confinement” (p. 1) that require interrogation and dialogue. Many chapters draw from governmentality theory or Agamben’s work on camps and ‘bare life,’ further emphasizing a common theoretical orientation. Moreover, the volume is divided into two main sections – “mobility” and “space and agency.” Each part is also framed by a separate introduction, written by a leading scholar. These two introductions add further, persuasive evidence to the meta argument of the volume– namely that we should consider rather disparate phenomena (examples to follow shortly) as instances of similar, problematic issues - from the ‘tactics’ at play between the powerful and the weak (p. 128) to the perpetual struggle to maintain one’s identify and selfhood (p. 129) in these carceral spaces. In addition, the last chapter functions as a conclusion to the volume, although this is not clear enough from the formal organization in the table of contents (the concluding chapter looks like it is just another contribution to part II).

While I appreciated this extra effort at positioning the volume well from a theoretical perspective, it would have been much more helpful if the individual authors had also been asked to position their contributions in line with the interdisciplinary “pitch” championed in the linking chapters. This would have increased the cohesiveness of the volume substantially. As it stands, the fit of individual chapters to the central message is quite inconsistent, in some cases tenuous.

What the comparativist in me had the most trouble with is the lack of justification for the dizzying breadth of countries and issues covered in each of the two sections. Carceral practices in both Western advanced industrialized societies (the US, UK, Ireland, France and Romania – the latter an EU member since 2007) and countries with somewhat more questionable human rights records (Russia, Colombia) are covered. Issues discussed, range from hunger strikes among asylum seekers in Irish detention facilities and the role of inmate labor in electronic recycling in the U.S., to the representation of criminals and the spectacle of punishment in British TV comedies. Can we really generalize across these spaces at the theoretical level without explicitly talking about the characteristics of the case studies they are drawn from? If yes, what does this say about the expansion or contraction of carceral spaces across countries? Is there a global trend? Does it really not matter what state (‘space’) we examine? This could have been clarified. Along the same lines, although the conclusion highlights the role of agency, it is hard to imagine that the opportunities for resistance would not vary substantially across the issues and spaces covered. [*6] Finally, a large number of the chapters were written on carceral practices in the U.S. - a clear outlier, at least with respect to incarceration rates, so it would have been helpful if its position vis-à-vis that of the other countries in the volume had been critically interrogated for that reason alone.

For law and courts readers interested in migration and imprisonment from a human geography angle, this wide-ranging book has many interesting case study ‘nuggets’ and a wealth of theoretically interesting angles to offer, although regrettably, law and courts related themes do not figure very prominently.

© Copyright 2015 by the author, Dagmar Soennecken.