International Political Sociology 11, No. 1 (March 1, 2017): 21-38

24 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2018

Date Written: March 1, 2017


Using a combination of migration studies, political sociology, and policy studies, this paper explores the contradictions and violence of immigration detention, its architectures, and its audiences. The concept of ‘detention-as-spectacle’ is developed to make sense of detention’s hypervisible and obscured manifestations in the European Union. We focus particularly on two case studies, the United Kingdom and Malta, which occupy different geopolitical positions within the EU. Detention-as-spectacle demonstrates that detention is less related to deterrence and security than to displaying sovereign enforcement, control, and power. A central aspect of the sovereign spectacle is detention’s purported ability to order and even halt ‘crises’ of irregular immigration, while simultaneously creating and reinforcing these crises. The paper concludes by examining recent disruptions to the spectacle, and their implications.

Keywords: immigration detention; migration crisis; spectacle; European politics; Malta; United Kingdom; islands; Fortress Europe; asylum policies

Suggested Citation

Silverman, Stephanie J. and Mainwaring, Cetta, Detention-as-Spectacle (March 1, 2017). International Political Sociology 11, No. 1 (March 1, 2017): 21-38 , Available at SSRN:

Stephanie J. Silverman (Contact Author)

Centre for Refugee Studies ( email )

4700 Keele St.
York Lanes
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

Cetta Mainwaring

University of Glasgow

School of Social & Political Sciences
Adam Smith Building
Glasgow, Scotland G12 8RS
United Kingdom

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics