The politics of pain in immigration detention

Mary Bosworth

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5 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper I draw on qualitative material from the first complete data set of the ‘Measure of the Quality of Life in Detention’ (MQLD) survey in the UK to reflect on its implication for understanding and challenging these sites. While similarities between immigration detention centres and prisons make it tempting to place the testimonies from people in detention within the framework of the ‘pains of imprisonment’, I propose an alternative reading of these first-hand accounts. Rather than approaching them as sociological statements of suffering, caused by the loss of liberty, I interpret them as political statements which, in turn, demand a political response. Immigration removal centres (IRCs), these people assert, are fundamentally at odds with key values of a liberal democracy. Those detained within them are not considered to be equal members of a shared community of value; rather, their incarceration marks them out symbolically and, quite practically, as outsiders to these ideas. The pain people describe illuminates the need for a new politics of detention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-323
Number of pages17
JournalPunishment & Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • distress
  • immigration detention
  • liberal democracy
  • pains of imprisonment
  • politics

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