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Paperwork performances

Legitimating state violence in the Swedish deportation regime

Lisa Marie Borrelli and Annika Lindberg

Deportation regimes mobilise coercive state powers, but also entail extensive paperwork, the latter of which remains underexplored in deportation studies. Building on ethnographic fieldwork in border police units and a migration-related detention centre in Sweden, this article explores how bureaucratic practices of detecting, detaining and ultimately deporting people whose presence has been illegalised are enforced and legitimated through the use of paperwork. Paperwork, we argue, becomes the ‘signature of the state’ that enables state agencies to assert themselves as ‘rational’ actors, even when their own practices are ridden by dilemmas, inconsistency and sometimes arbitrariness. We show how the same documents that are meant to ensure fairness and accountability in bureaucratic processes may render state actions even more unreadable, and further serve to rationalise and legitimise intrusive, violent and discriminatory state actions. The article thus highlights the importance of considering the often-tedious paperwork as essential to the operation of coercive state powers, such as the detainment and deportation of illegalised persons.

Free access

Introduction

Governing migration through paperwork

Lisa Marie Borrelli and Sophie Andreetta

In order to better understand migration governance and the concrete, daily practices of civil servants tasked to enforce state laws and policies, this special issue focuses on the core artefact of bureaucratic work: documents, in their diverse manifestations, including certificates, letters, reports, case files, decisions, internal guidelines and judgements. Based on ethnographic studies in various contexts, we show how civil servants produce statehood, restrict migrants’ movements, and engage with migrants’ strategies to make themselves legible. State actors simultaneously limit access to legal statutes and benefits, question their own practices, and use their discretion in order to help themselves as well as migrant individuals. We also highlight organisational and professional differences in the way civil servants deal with migrants, relate to the state and its policies and define their obligations towards both, migrants and the state. This special issue therefore contributes to the study of the state as documentary practice and highlights the role of paperwork as serious practice of migration control.

Open access

Lisa Marie Borrelli, Cristina Douglas and Michele Fontefrancesco

Rules, Paper, Status: Migrants and Precarious Bureaucracy in Contemporary Italy Anna Tuckett. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018, ISBN: 9781503606494, 192 pp., Pb. $25

Living before Dying: Imagining and Remembering Home Janette Davies. New York: Berghahn, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-78920-130-7, 158 pp., Pb. $27.95/£19.00.

Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming João Biehl and Peter Locke (eds), Durham: Duke University Press, 2017, ISBN: 978-0-8223-6945-5, 400 pp., Pb. $29.95.