Disassembling the Camp: The Politics of Policing Exiles in Calais, France

115 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2018

Date Written: 2018


Since the demolition of the infamous Calais Jungle in October 2016, the French state has hardened its policies against informal exile encampments. A complex institutional system of official processing centres has been established, marking a shift towards greater control of exiles present in France informally. These centres have become non-negotiable ‘humanitarian’ spaces, and as such, legitimise the violent policing of exiles beyond the official system. This is most visible in Calais, where hundreds of exiles have continued to settle in the border zone in scattered encampments known as ‘jungles’, which the Police systematically seek to destroy. By undermining the establishment of material camps, the Police therefore enforce exile nomadism, and undermine their human rights.

Drawing on five months of ethnographic fieldwork in Calais in 2017-18, this thesis reveals how the disassembling and reassembling of the informal camp space play out in practice. It is an important contribution because although there has been rich debate on the ‘space of the camp’ among urban geographers in recent years, these have often taken the materiality of a camp space for granted. This thesis draws on assemblage theory and binary processes of ‘smoothing’ and ‘striating’ space to describe strategies by which informal camps in Calais are disassembled by the Police, and how these practices are challenged by exiles and grassroots humanitarians who strive to reassemble camps. To capture this dynamic, I propose and elaborate on the concept of the ‘contingent camp’ which looks at the camp not so much as a fixed place as an activity and process. It is the space inhabited by exiles but denied material consolidation – the space in a constant state of becoming and unbecoming.

This thesis contributes to important discussions about the right to the camp in an innovative way. Building on ground-level observation and analysis, it reveals how the emergence of contingent camp politics signals a transition from a humanitarian response to exiles to one driven by a logic of securitisation, in which structures of protection are turned on their head. This jeopardises relationships of trust between the exile and the state; a system that seeks to police and control inadvertently multiplies the number of people seeking autonomy and informal alternatives. More generally, this ground-level case study highlights deeply flawed contemporary policymaking in response to the ‘migrant crisis’, providing concrete illustrations of the effects of this falling away of the humanitarian logic in favour of securitisation.

Keywords: Calais jungle, ethnographic fieldwork, exile, policing, France, camp politics

Suggested Citation

Hagan, Maria, Disassembling the Camp: The Politics of Policing Exiles in Calais, France (2018). Criminal Justice, Borders and Citizenship Research Paper No. 3274536, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3274536 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3274536

Maria Hagan (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge ( email )

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

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