Professor Imogen Tyler
Plenary lecture for BSA 2017, Cities, Mobilities, Space and Place Stream
‘If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word “citizenship” means.’ Theresa May, 15th October 2016.
‘If you fail to make a voluntary departure, a separate decision may be made at a later date to enforce your removal.’ British Home Office Rejection of Residency Letter, 2017.
Since the Brexit referendum result on June 23rd 2016, newspapers have been filled with stories about EU nationals who are long term residents of the UK, often married to and parents of UK citizens, and who, on application for citizenship, have been told to leave the country. These newspaper stories have tended to feature middle-class EU nationals and are often written from a position of unchecked privilege, in seeming disbelief that (white) Europeans might be (or become) subject to Britain’s deeply illiberal immigration regime; the same racist “detention and deportation factory”, that has terrorized, incarcerated and ejected black, brown, non-European bodies for decades. Nevertheless, the extension of these punitive regimes to EU residents vividly illustrates the extent to which, ‘Brexit means Brexit means go home’ (Piacentini 2016). If the fate of the estimated 800,000 EU citizens in Britain remains uncertain, what we can say with certainty is that Brexit marks the emergence of a more authoritarian, nationalistic form of government in Britain. We are beginning to find out precisely what citizenship means, as Theresa May put it. One of the central characteristics of post-Brexit Britain is the ‘ever-intensifying magnitude of deportation’ as a practice of sovereign power (Peutz and De Genova, 2010: 7). As a mechanism of government, deportation functions symbolically as a “tough” demonstration of sovereignty, and is used in policy as a means of crafting politically useful divisions between citizens and non-citizens. Crucially, deportation doesn’t seek only to redistribute people along the lines of citizenship to allotted national spaces; indeed, its primary aim has been to make people deportable in order, for example, to better incorporate them within the state as placid, exploitable and precarious labour (see De Genova 2010). Deportation also functions to demarcate the limits of state protection, and is employed as a threat and warning in order to manage citizens “at home”. Indeed, as this paper details, deportation regimes are as involved in the production of “disposable subjects” within the state as with the policing of migrant lives.
This paper develops and extends insights from the critical literature on deportation regimes to consider the emerging landscape of post-Brexit British Society. It focuses throughout on Theresa May, and what her promotion from deportation-enthusiast Home Secretary to ‘Protectionist’ Brexit Prime-Minister signals, in terms of the increasing centrality of deportability as a mode of government and mechanism of social control over both citizen and non-citizen populations. It is the argument of this paper that thinking with and through deportation can further sociologists’ understanding of the relationship between the precarity of migrant lives and the intensification of ‘legalised expulsions’ “at home” (Walters, 2002). To this end, it tracks the relationship between deportability and ‘disposability’ (see Khanna, 2009) by examining how ‘post-welfare’ policies increasingly involve internal displacements and expulsions: from state-led practices of gentrification which expel social housing tenants from affluent cities, to punitive welfare-regimes which immobilise disabled peoples within their homes (Peck, 2009). By emphasizing the dual axis of deportability and disposability this paper seeks to address the intertwined classed and racialized character of emergent authoritarian neoliberal state forms.