‘A really hostile environment’: Adiaphorization, global policing and the crimmigration control system

Publication Date01 May 2020
Date01 May 2020
AuthorSophie Westenra,Ben Bowling
DOI10.1177/1362480618774034
SubjectArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/1362480618774034
Theoretical Criminology
2020, Vol. 24(2) 163 –183
© The Author(s) 2018
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DOI: 10.1177/1362480618774034
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‘A really hostile
environment’:
Adiaphorization,
global policing and the
crimmigration control system
Ben Bowling
King’s College London, UK
Sophie Westenra
King’s College London, UK
Abstract
This article examines institutional practices designed to control criminalized migrants
in the UK and advances three arguments. First, these practices have evolved, since the
early 1970s, into a bespoke ‘crimmigration control system’ distinct from the domestic
criminal justice system. Second, this system is directed exclusively at efficient exclusion
and control; through a process of adiaphorization, moral objections to the creation of
a ‘really hostile environment’ have been disabled. Third, the pursuit of the criminalized
immigrant—a globally recognized ‘folk devil’—provides a vital link between domestic
and global systems of policing, punishment and exclusion. The UK crimmigration control
system is an example of wider processes that are taking place in institutions concerned
with the control of suspect populations across the globe.
Keywords
Criminal, globalization, law, migration, policing, punishment
Corresponding author:
Ben Bowling, King’s College London, Somerset House, London, WC2R 2LS, UK.
Email: ben.bowling@kcl.ac.uk
774034TCR0010.1177/1362480618774034Theoretical CriminologyBowling and Westenra
research-article2018
Article
164 Theoretical Criminology 24(2)
Introduction
It is well established that in recent years new methods of social control have emerged that
are specifically targeted at the detection, capture, punishment, detention and banishment
of criminalized migrants (Aas and Bosworth, 2013; Bosworth et al., 2017). A new litera-
ture has documented and theorized the emergence of new legal tools at the confluence of
criminal and immigration law and the evolving surveillant, investigative, punitive and
exclusionary practices it has authorized (Bosworth et al., 2018; Stumpf, 2006). These
practices can be observed in a range of institutional sites familiar to criminologists,
including police, courts and prisons, as well as in less familiar ones, such as ports and
airports, secret intelligence agencies, the military and private security firms. They also
reach deep into areas of social policy including housing, employment, road traffic and
marriage. While many authors in this field note the general apparatus of control before
delving into a specific area, in this article we examine, in turn, each element in the UK
context—legal foundations, police, intelligence, courts and prisons—to identify some of
the themes and issues that characterize the system as an increasingly integrated whole.
We seek to advance three arguments. First, we contend that the institutional practices
geared towards controlling migrants, which began developing in the United Kingdom in
the early 1970s, have evolved into a bespoke industry and infrastructure that we refer to
as the ‘crimmigration control system’ (Bowling, 2013). This emerging system has clear
connections to, and works in parallel with, the UK domestic criminal justice system but
is becoming increasingly distinct from it. Although the crimmigration control system
lacks, as yet, the organizational coherence of the criminal justice system, it has its own
tailored institutions, organized schema, working methods and underlying principles.
Second, we argue that the crimmigration control system focuses on the goals of exclu-
sion, control and efficiency at the expense of justice. Through a process of bureaucratiza-
tion and social distancing—what Bauman (1989) calls adiaphorization—moral objections
to the creation of a ‘really hostile environment’ for undocumented migrants are silenced.1
Third, we argue that the crimmigration control system is a key link between domestic
and global systems of policing, punishment and exclusion (Bowling and Sheptycki,
2012, 2014; Bowling et al., 2012). The pursuit of the criminalized migrant—a globally
recognized ‘folk devil’—encourages communication, collaboration and coordination
across a range of surveillant, coercive, punitive and carceral institutions in many coun-
tries. We submit that it is useful to examine UK crimmigration control as an example of
wider processes that are taking place transnationally in institutions concerned with the
control of suspect populations.
Context: A world in motion
Mobility and fluidity are notable features of contemporary global society. Mass border
crossing is an essential feature of this society, accelerated by neoliberal globalization and
the global capitalist economy, which require people to be free to move with transnational
flows of money. Instead of a space of places, we increasingly exist in a space of flows
(Castells, 1996). But the world’s poor and disadvantaged, particularly those born in the
global South, experience the space of flows very differently. While the network society

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