Power is not as straightforward as it may look on the surface. Who holds the power within detention centres? What are the costs of exerting power? At first glance, a number of actors can be spotted as having power in this environment, such as case managers, directors of facilities, and, perhaps the most obvious, the staff within the facilities. However this power dynamic may be more complicated than it appears.
Arguing that staff negotiate for power within the system and at the cost of shared humanity, Professor Mary Bosworth presented recently at Monash University on her findings from within detention centres in the UK. The staff in facilities must mark a line between empathy and sympathy—defining sympathy as a negative trait denoting weakness and emotion and empathy as a positive trait denoting understanding and rationality with those detainees with whom they work.
Many of the staff, she found, felt for detainees as human beings during the course of their work, but the cost of being in touch with that was distress and discomfort for the workers. Instead the staff relied on “proceeding as required” and “following the contract” to get the work done, often using bureaucracy and paperwork as a barrier to those feelings.
“It is in the interaction between these different forms, that power and control in detention are rendered simultaneously more complete and precarious than in other custodial institutions.” We here at BOb found her work to be very insightful and congratulate Mary on her work going beyond the immigration-centres-as-prisons-only approach and reveal the nuances which might complicate this view.
Find out more about Mary and her work with The Border Observatory here and look for her new book which is due out this year.
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