Steven Hirschler – COMPASS Housing: The asylum experience and modes of resilience


Event Date: 30 April 2014
The Institute of Advanced Study
Millburn House
Millburn Hill Road
University of Warwick Science Park

The Kent Law School presents:

The Public Life of Private Law

An ESRC Seminar Series

Seminar 4: Protest, Precarisation, Possibility

Increasingly, private law appears in the the government of unruly political movement and resistance – through the privatisation of public space and the designation of protest as trespass; through the contractualisation of public services and the discipline of labour; through the generation of private spheres where government power is deployed in unanticipated ways.  How should we characterise the experience of government through private law? What vulnerabilities does  private law highlight in those it governs? To what extent does private law confer overlooked capacities on troublesome actors, which can generate new strategies of resistance?

Steven HirschlerCOMPASS Housing: The asylum experience and modes of resilience

As current providers of asylum detention and removal services, G4S and Serco have established themselves as profiteers of migrant management while concurrently developing a reputation for poor handling of those in their care (Lewis & Taylor, 2012; Taylor, 2012). Upon learning that G4S was a preferred bidder to house asylum seekers under the UKBA’s COMPASS project, a Zimbabwean asylum seeker summed up a common anxiety, stating: ‘I do not want a prison guard as my landlord’ (quoted in Grayson, 2012).

In this presentation, I explore asylum housing as a form of biopolitical control, which is increasingly expressed as a form of diffuse power exerted by non-state actors in carrying out population management. However, I abandon the representation of asylum seekers as ‘homo sacer’, as this classification implies a lack of resistance, which asylum seekers have continually displayed a capacity for, such as an engagement in lip sewing as a form of protest (Edkins & Pin-Fat, 2005) or one mother’s public denunciation of the living conditions she and her daughter were exposed to in a G4S-managed hostel (Williams, 2013).

I begin the presentation with a review of literature covering the expansion of asylum detention practices in the UK, where private security firms have become the dominant provider of asylum services. This is followed up by a discussion of the experiences of asylum seekers within the custody of the firms tasked with their detention and deportation and the coordinated activist efforts to monitor the transition of asylum seekers into the COMPASS project. I continue with an empirical case study of asylum seekers’ experiences living within G4S housing in the North of England, which relies on a series of interviews with asylum seekers and volunteers working in the asylum service sector. I conclude with a theoretical statement on biopower, which positions resistance not in the hands of a ‘multitude’ as Hardt and Negri (2005) would suggest, but within the combined efforts of individual asylum seekers and small groups of concerted activists and volunteers.


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