The Ordered and the Bordered Society: Migration Control, Citizenship, and the Northern Penal State

Katja Franko Aas1


Any analysis of punishment is intrinsically connected to the issue of the state as the main agent of criminalization. Most accounts of punishment concentrate on the ‘internal organs’ of the state: its mechanisms of social control, the agents and processes behind the criminalization process, the legal and philosophical rationalities, the penalties and their institutional make-up. In those cases where attention has been turned outwards, across the border, and into the international domain, scholars have been predominantly interested in international criminal law, human rights, and transitional justice. The intention of this chapter is to look closer into this established partition between the domestic and the international in the studies of criminalization. Its objective is to bring the global into the domestic and vice versa, in order to situate what may appear as ‘internal punishment’ within the broader sphere of global geopolitical relations.

The main argument of the chapter is that contemporary practices of migration control disrupt traditional frames of understanding within criminal law and criminology. First, they demand a de-privileging of the national as the self-evident scale ofenquiry. An essential aspect ofthe globalizing condition has been its destabilizing qualities (Sassen 2008). National and local no longer appear as fixed categories but are shot through with transnational elements and marked by hybridity and movement. When entering the field of crime control, migration destabilizes some of the central categories and building blocks of the national penal domain.[1] [2] This chapter maps this process of destabilization and de-composition of the national as it pertains to the functioning of the (traditionally domestic) field of punishment and crime control. By doing so, the chapter is also an invitation to reflection on questions of scale when it comes to issues of criminalization and crime control. Scalar narratives and classifications can, as Moore (2008: 214) points out, ‘constrain or enable certain ways of seeing, thinking and acting’. This chapter suggests that the ‘ontological privilege’ (Held 2010) accorded to the national within studies of modern penality constrains critical analysis under conditions of intensified global mobility. For most of modernity the national frame has been and still is the natural ‘category of practice’ of domestic criminal justice systems, underpinning the imagery of homogenous, territorially bounded nation-states. The national order of things thus passes as the normal or natural order of things (Koshravi 2010: 2). However, while the national frame may seem to be a natural category of practice, this chapter suggests that the reification of the national scale as a ‘category of analysis’ (Moore 2008) can be a block against insight and prevent us from capturing the variety of processes and transformations taking place inside the national or beyond it.

The second disruption proposed in this chapter relates to space rather than scale. The chapter makes an argument for the importance of spatialization and geopolitical context as a key to understanding criminalization under conditions of globalization. By situating contemporary crime control within a broader context of international relations I show how global inequalities are inscribed into (domestic) crime control and criminalization patterns and how they in turn reinforce and reify these inequalities. The ‘disruptions’ created by transnational mobility offer a unique insight into the transformations of penality under conditions of globalization. They challenge us critically to re-examine the existing conceptual maps and vocabulary of the criminological landscape. By taking the border as our vantage point, this chapter aims to disassemble the existing topology in a conceptual and territorial sense, uncovering elements of the penal outside the traditional criminal justice institutions and beyond the confines of the Northern nation state. Borders and control of mobility enable us to examine two related aspects of the state and its sovereignty, which are, nevertheless, seldom seen together: its defence from outside intrusion (ie the defence of the border) and its internal consolidation and control (the traditional function of crime control and punishment). By doing so, this chapter asks: what are the social functions of punishment and criminal justice in a globalizing world?

The terms ‘penal’ and ‘penal state’ shall not be used to denote a particularly punitive nature of state practices and, as we shall see later, the argument will be made that the meaning of ‘penal’ becomes transformed to encompass novel phenomena and practices with punitive elements, which are (institutionally and conceptually) placed outside of the traditional domain of punishment, crime control, and criminal law.

  • [1] I am very grateful to Mary Bosworth, Sverre Flaatten, Lill Scherdin, and Leanne Weber for theirinsightful comments and to the European Research Council (StG 2010) for the financial support.Many thanks also to Helene I. Gundhus, Nicolay B. Johansen, Sigmund B. Mohn, KjerstiR. Stromnes, and Thomas Ugelvik for stimulating weekly discussions on the topics discussed in thechapter.
  • [2] The usual usage of the term ‘penal’ refers to a number of activities and practices of the state ‘relatingto, or involving punishment, penalties, or punitive institutions’ ().
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