‘Stuck in the Middle’: Waiting and Uncertainty in Immigration Detention

16 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2014

See all articles by Sarah Turnbull

Sarah Turnbull

University of Oxford - Border Criminologies

Date Written: 2014


A defining feature of immigration detention in the United Kingdom is its indeterminacy; that is, there are no statutory constraints on the length of time an individual can be detained. As such, detention is uncertain and unpredictable; it may last a few hours or a few days, or weeks, months, and even years. Consequently, the lived experience of detention is one of waiting: waiting to know both when and how detention will end (i.e. release to the community or expulsion from the country). The denial of liberty and the conditions of confinement present additional challenges for detainees, as they must contend with significant limits to their agency as they await the decisions of a variety of other actors. Waiting has been conceptualised as an exercise of power, one that manipulates others’ time. Although it is a common human experience, for immigration detainees, the lived experience of waiting in the uncertain and unpredictable context of detention is especially challenging. Passing time in immigration detention raises important questions about affect, identity, agency, and resistance within this unique quasi-penal space. This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork within immigration removal centres in the UK to explore the lived experiences of waiting.

Keywords: immigration detention, waiting, ethnography, uncertainty

Suggested Citation

Turnbull, Sarah, ‘Stuck in the Middle’: Waiting and Uncertainty in Immigration Detention (2014). Criminal Justice, Borders and Citizenship Research Paper No. 2540549, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2540549 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2540549

Sarah Turnbull (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Border Criminologies ( email )

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Oxford, OX1 3UQ
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