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‘Ordinary’ people and immigration politics
in Go home?

This concluding chapter brings together the key themes from our research and raises questions about the developing politics of immigration control at the critical and fastchanging moment in which we complete this book.


Conclusion: ‘Ordinary’ people and immigration politics

We construct borders, literally and figuratively, to fortify our sense of who we are; and we cross them in search of who we might become. They are philosophies of space, credibility contests, latitudes of neurosis, signatures to the social contract, soothing containments, scars.

(Frances Stonor Saunders, 2016: 8)

In January 2001, with the Twin Towers still standing, Lehman Brothers still trading and Blairism at its most popular, the UK government's Cabinet Office published a paper, ‘Migration: An Economic and Social Analysis’ (Cabinet Office, 2001). Reviewing various sources of economic evidence on migration, the general thrust of the analysis was unambiguous: immigration is economically beneficial. It opened with a bullishly liberal quotation from Tony Blair at Davos the previous year, ‘we have the chance in this century to achieve an open world, an open economy, and an open global society with unprecedented opportunities for people and business’ (Blair, 2000). The Cabinet Office report itself found that ‘migration is likely to enhance economic growth and the welfare of both migrants and natives … There is little evidence that native workers are harmed by immigration … [and] The broader fiscal impact of migration is likely to be positive’ (2001: 5–7).

The journey from that historical moment of seemingly free market cosmopolitanism to the Go Home vans of 2013 and the subsequent EU referendum decision in 2016 for Britain to leave the European Union, in part as a response to fears about immigration (see Chapter 1 for the connections between the referendum and anti-immigration discourses), is one shaped by a number of diverse forces, events and conditions. In the early 2000s, real wage growth slowed dramatically, before turning negative in early 2007, heralding the start of the global financial crisis (Machin, 2015). Following global upheavals including civil war in Sierra Leone, land reform and economic collapse in Zimbabwe, and the NATO invasion of Afghanistan, asylum applications in Britain reached a peak. They were at their highest with 84,130 applications (excluding dependents) in 2002 (up from 4,256 in 1987; the 2014 figure was 24,914) (Blinder, 2015). As the number of asylum applications grew, a system of dispersal was put in place from 1999, with asylum seekers temporarily housed in centres around the UK, to ‘ease the pressure’ on housing and services in London and south-east England. This meant that many cities, such as Glasgow and Cardiff, saw a large number of new arrivals from around the world, and in a relatively short period of time. The 2004 enlargement of the EU, plus the UK's decision not to restrict access to citizenship for the new entrants, greatly increased the levels of immigration from within the EU (Vargas-Silva and Markaki, 2015).

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, British political debate in Britain led by Tony Blair as Prime Minister focused on ‘good’ economic migration (people coming to the UK to bring skills and increase national wealth). This focus was sharpened by the simultaneous demonising of ‘bogus asylum seekers’ as an illegitimate burden on public services and a risk to a cohesive and peaceful society (Back et al., 2002; Home Office, 2002). Although there has been some reduction in the use of demeaning epithets such as ‘illegal asylum seeker’ and ‘bogus asylum seeker’ in public discourses – following guidance from the Press Complaints Commission in 20031 – the idea of illegitimate migrations remains (see Chapter 1). Although the heightened visibility of the European ‘crisis’ of migration since 2015 has led to prefacing of some anti-immigration rhetoric with an emphasis on a historical imagining of Britain as always offering welcome to people fleeing persecution, this sits alongside the effort to create and portray a palpably hostile environment for certain migrants in ways that we have explored throughout the book.

Within this hostile environment there remains recognition that immigration touches all of our lives, as world populations are increasingly on the move, and where this movement is full of historical and geo-social layerings and legacies of transit and encounter. Politicians’ calls to ‘ordinary people’ who are affected by immigration control are often imagined as summoning an audience that is sedentary, racially ‘pure’ and ‘at home’, but affected by the migrant ‘other’. However, even as migration for better opportunities, for family reunion and in search of safety are each deemed suspect or threatening, we also see a fracturing of populist posturing on immigration. At times a sense of common humanity breaks through, so that even those crossing borders outside of designated and orderly channels can be perceived as ‘ordinary people’. Here, there is perhaps an opportunity to shift the terms and register of the conversation.

Throughout this book we have discussed the ways that British government communications about immigration control have crept into everyday, ordinary lives. Sometimes this is in a manner that jolts people out of complacency. The Go Home van is one example. This initiative seemingly planned to be high-profile and provocative, reassuring certain sections of the public that the government was taking action, not only raised public concerns about immigration numbers, it also incited questions about whether immigration enforcement itself was ‘out of control’. Sometimes the communications are less spectacular, a banal seeping into local and national news reports of the numbers of ‘immigration offenders’ apprehended from their homes, workplaces or weddings; perhaps a visible presence of officers and vehicles on the lookout for offenders, telling us that irregular migrants are everywhere and enforcement officers are ready to pounce on those who seem suspicious. We have drawn on our research with people in England, Scotland and Wales to consider what the consequences might be of these everyday prompts that associate certain forms of migration with suspicion and unlawfulness, for people who are worried about migration as a threat, for people who feel under suspicion and for those who reject this idea and want to embrace migration as both valuable and inevitable. In these concluding thoughts, we will draw together some of the themes outlined in the book by:

  1. reflecting on what our findings mean for ‘ordinary people’, and what is meant by ‘ordinary people’ in different contexts
  2. discussing how immigration politics is entangled with questions of race and racism
  3. considering some of the lessons we have learnt in writing the book, and how the book might be useful for others.

Who is ordinary?

For too long, the benefits of immigration went to employers who wanted an easy supply of cheap labour; or to the wealthy metropolitan elite who wanted cheap tradesmen and services – but not to the ordinary, hard-working people of this country.

(Brokenshire, 2014: 8; emphasis added)

In this speech by the then Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, to the Demos think tank in 2014, we hear a refrain that has echoed throughout the book in how concerns about immigration itself (particularly in terms of the numbers of new arrivals and people breaking immigration rules) are characterised as the worries of ‘ordinary people’. This appeal to ‘ordinary people’ is in contrast to concerns that immigration control is too harsh, a view often allied with a ‘liberal metropolitan elite’. It is worth stopping to ask where these characterisations come from, and what purpose they serve, as well as asking what truth there is to them.

In Keywords (1976), Raymond Williams complicates the use of the term ‘ordinary’ by examining its etymology, which originally denoted something mandated by rule (with the same roots as ‘ordinance’). The word has come to mean ‘something done by custom’, but has also taken on a negative sense, with connotations of inferiority (e.g. ‘very ordinary looking’) (p. 225):

Thus ‘ordinary people’ can be used to express a social attitude or prejudice in effectively opposite ways. ‘What ordinary people believe’ can, in different contexts, mean either what ‘uneducated’ … people know or think, in what are then clearly seen as limited ways, or what ‘sensible’, ‘regular’, ‘decent’ people believe, as distinct from the views of some sect, or of intellectuals.

(Williams, 1976: 225–6)

This is a very clear description of how ‘ordinary people’ are named and centred in immigration debates. In Brokenshire's speech above, for example, we can see the political rhetoric that connects with the shifting policy tendencies outlined in Chapter 2. When the tendency shifts from a neoliberal to a ‘postliberal’ approach, it follows that former neoliberal approaches are blamed for favouring economic measures over social ones. A populist call is made to ‘ordinary, hard-working people’ (and who, after all, does not see themselves as ordinary and hard-working?). It is posited that problems in the economy and elsewhere that affect ordinary people are associated with immigration; that ordinary people will be listened to and those problems addressed. This same logic emerged with the results of the EU referendum in June 2016, when UKIP's leader Nigel Farage declared that the result was a ‘victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people’ (Asthana et al., 2016).

Certainly, some of the people we interviewed in our focus groups did feel threatened by immigration, and, as we saw in Chapter 3, they also felt that tough rhetoric and highly visible government enforcement campaigns were intended to reassure them (as ‘ordinary people’), that something was being done. But some also saw through this rhetoric. The populist call did not always convince them that the government was any more in tune with them. This was what was conveyed in a focus group interview in Barking and Dagenham, quoted in Chapter 2. As Alan put it: ‘They're [the Home Office] trying to give the idea to the general public that they're doing something about it, but they're doing absolutely nothing.’

In James Brokenshire's speech, the Minister positions himself as on the side of ‘ordinary, hard-working people’ rather than callous employers or wealthy elites. There is a profound irony to this declaration made by a government minister to an audience at a London think tank – the very epitome of the ‘wealthy metropolitan elite’. But of course, the ‘metropolitan elite’ are always elsewhere. They are figures of speech that enable concerns about immigration control (in this instance) to be positioned as out of touch with gritty reality, as a fancy of those with too much money and/or education, who live in a protected ‘bubble’. The ‘ordinary people’ are positioned as a ‘silent majority’ without the economic, social or cultural capital to access forums used by the ‘elite’ (such as newspaper columns, broadcasters or particular forms of social media such as Twitter). This is a very similar position to how an idea of the ‘white working class’ is used in British political discourses of the early twentieth century (Haylett, 2001). Brokenshire can then claim to speak on behalf of a beleaguered minority, without making reference to his position and that of his immediate audience as part of a class (as politicians and establishment journalists and policy-makers) which is both elite and institutionally closed off.2

Fears that other people (‘them’) might be doing better than ‘us’ (‘ordinary people’) are not investigated, much less addressed, by interventions like Brokenshire's. Rather, fears are re-created and inflamed (see also Ahmed, 2008). In doing so, a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between ‘ordinary people’ and others is widened. This leaves little space for recognition of points of commonality or ‘ordinariness’ among people whose lives are different. It closes down the opportunities to see migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as part of the an imaginary ‘ordinary people’ on whose behalf the Home Office Minister might have obligations of care and responsibility. At the same time, there are complexities to this seemingly stark divide in which pro-migration activism is also ensnared. For example, in the ‘I am an immigrant’ campaign discussed in Chapter 5, which aimed to combat xenophobia by highlighting the lives of high-achieving migrants, a full spectrum of migrant lives – such as those who are not socially successful or might even be claiming welfare benefits – is obscured. In such idealised, or perhaps normative, representations, migrants are still not allowed to be ‘ordinary’. They must be extraordinary.

Racism and immigration

Our minds are conditioned to think of our nations as maps and flags rather than collections of actual people. If only we can love humanity rather than maps, we'd all be much happier.

(Shivam Vij, 2012: n.p.)

Throughout this book, we have argued that an understanding of immigration control at this contemporary moment must engage with questions of race and racism and their intersections with other social differences. Sometimes this link can be hard to grasp – surely immigration laws are about nationality, not race or ethnicity? Aren't most countries in the world multiethnic anyway, in which case isn't it actually ‘racist’ to say there is an association between immigration laws and race? By focusing on racialised differences aren't you actually being racist? An exemplary version of this refusal to recognise any association between racism and immigration control was the Conservative Party's 2005 election slogan, ‘it's not racist to impose limits on immigration’.

Such refusals are not just straightforward denials. They engage with an affective register of affront. Sarita Srivastava (2005) has written lucidly about the way that the enraged, hurt cry ‘are you calling me a racist?’ shifts conversations that are begun to address institutionalised discrimination. Instead, they become focused on tending to the injured feelings of the person who has been accused of racism. The logic is that racism is recognised by all as bad; therefore accusing someone of racist behaviour is among the worst accusations. There is no space for asking how such feelings of hurt or affront compare to being the subject of racist acts or a racist system (see also Ahmed, 2010, on feminist killjoys).

Our work on this book is not a project to demonstrate racism at work in immigration control, in order to demonise those responsible and therefore leave questions neatly solved. We are more interested in how current forms of immigration control and related discussions tend to close down debate about discrimination and race, whilst those forces remain unchallenged. As we see it, the tactic of separating narratives of immigration control from discussions of racism is complicit with the sorting and enforcement processes of bordering. It produces new forms and consequences of racialisation, where the idea of race as an absolute difference has real effects, such as dispossession, slavery and death, what Lentin identifies as ‘crimes … that mark and shape whole groups of people, often for generations’ (2008: 497). These crimes – physical and psychic – are also entangled with forces of displacement, exile and statelessness. In this way, immigration, or, rather, immigration control and bordering practices cannot be understood without a historical understanding of racism and colonialism, and of how these are entangled with more recent discourses of multiculturalism and migration. We note, with Gurminder K. Bhambra (2016), the insidiousness of European immigration discourses and policies that are based upon racialised class divides. As Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson (2008: n.p.) remind us, ‘borders in the contemporary global order serve not simply as devices of exclusion but as technologies of differential inclusion’.

Traces of the complicated relationships between race, racism and immigration control are visible in our research. Aside from the Go Home van, another mobile technology of demonstrating the toughness of immigration control was the introduction of a more visible liveried set of vehicles for immigration enforcement officers to use when on patrols and raids. When Ipsos MORI asked British adults who were aware of these immigration enforcement branded vans on UK streets how they felt about seeing them (see Appendix for methodological details), 31 per cent said they felt reassured that the government was taking action against illegal or irregular immigration; 28 per cent said it made them concerned that some people are being treated with unnecessary suspicion in everyday situations. And 16 per cent said it made them think that illegal or irregular immigration might be more widespread than they had realised. This suggests that, like many of the measures used to demonstrate ‘toughness’, these vans barely reassure more people than they worry – and they actually increase worry among a significant number of people who see them.

But then we looked at the breakdown between the reactions of white respondents, and racially minoritised respondents, to that question. More white respondents (34 per cent) were reassured that the government was taking action against irregular or illegal immigration than for the population as a whole. And far fewer ‘BME’ respondents (21 per cent) were reassured by these Immigration Enforcement vans. This was reversed somewhat for those who were concerned that the vans might indicate that some people were being treated with unnecessary suspicion – only 25 per cent of white respondents thought this, but 36 per cent of ‘BME’ respondents. That is, racially minoritised (‘BME’) respondents were much more likely to see the enforcement vans as an intervention that could result in unfair treatment. They were also significantly more likely to be aware of these vans (23 per cent) than white respondents (16 per cent).

This suggests to us a connection between being able to see oneself in a situation, and how one reacts to it. That racially minoritised respondents were so much more likely than the white respondents to worry about people being treated with unfair suspicion as a result of more highly visible immigration enforcement raids may well have something to do with their experience – directly or indirectly – of being unfairly treated with suspicion in similar situations. As Lucee, a woman from Sierra Leone who had been granted refugee status and was settled in Bradford, told us during a focus group:

And for example like where I live it's like predominantly white people and I'm not saying like white, all of them, but there have been a few racist things going on, so, and these are people who obviously don't care whether I've got my stay or not, every time they've seen me they've always told me to go back to my country. So imagine if they saw this [the Go Home van] they'd probably call them, pick me up [laughs] do you know?

(Bradford Focus Group, conducted by Hannah)

Lucee had not seen the van herself and was not subject to immigration enforcement any more. Yet she feared the government campaigns because of the way she imagined them creating or further legitimising the xenophobia and racism she had experienced from her neighbours. Not only that, she also pointed to the way that suspicions (about immigration status) become attached to particular bodily markers, such as her dark brown skin and her West African accent (see also Rita's experience explored in Chapters 2 and 4).

‘Relatable’ migrants

In February 2015, Hannah and Kirsten were asked to speak about our research at an event organised by the Detention Forum, a charity that campaigns for the rights of people in immigration detention in the UK (see also Living Research Three). At the main offices of Amnesty International in East London, they sat on a panel along with Harley Miller, an Australian whose dispute with the Home Office over her leave to remain in the UK had become a public campaign issue. Other panellists were Ian Dunt, an online journalist who has written on migration issues; and Aderonke Apata, a Nigerian lesbian facing deportation after a High Court judge ruled that she had ‘fabricated’ her sexuality in order to settle in Britain (Dugan, 2014). At this meeting, we were struck by comments from Ian Dunt to the effect that news and comment stories about migration (or anything else) needed to be ‘relatable’, that is, in order to care about an issue, or even read to the end of an article, readers should be able to see that it could happen to them or someone close to them. In other words, they had to see the protagonists as ‘ordinary people’. To this end, he argued that stories such as Harley's (or cases of non-EU spouses separated from their UK partners by immigration law) were more meaningful to most people in the UK, and therefore more likely to be picked up by news outlets and politicians, than experiences like Aderonke's or those of others held in immigration detention.

The fact that such language and assumptions are mundane does not make them less powerful or, indeed, violent in their consequences. In fact, we might argue that it is in the very banality of such assumptions that their power lies. The shock that broke through when the British government associated itself publicly with the racists’ slogan ‘go home’ mobilised political action and outrage. But when the less spectacular identification of some British residents as undeserving of care or innately suspicious (for example, through reminders in NHS waiting rooms that ‘hospital treatment is not free for everyone’ (see Chapter 2), or alerts to enforcement actions in the local press) becomes unremarkable, the process of excluding (some) migrants from what Bridget Anderson terms the ‘community of value’ (2013) is much more powerful.

Similar dynamics have been described by the psychosocial theorist Gail Lewis (2007), invoking and developing Raymond Williams's (1958) work on ordinary culture to show that ‘racialising culture is ordinary’ too:

such cultural practices stand right at the heart of contemporary everyday life and mediate individual experiences and the social relations of ‘race’, gender, class, sexuality, and age. Moreover … hegemonic projects are never fully achieved, are always unstable, making possible forms of appropriation, destabilization and change. Thus, whilst cultural practices of racialization occur within networks of power and contestation their trajectories and outcomes are never certain, never guaranteed.

(Lewis, 2007: 873)

This second point in Lewis's quote is important. We have tried, throughout the book, to understand the rippling effects of government communications on immigration control – and to recognise the contradictions and unexpected consequences as well as those that might have been predictable to some. The racialising logics of a claim that solidarity with ‘ordinary people’ can only come from association with ‘people like us’ – where the ‘us’ is in the imagination of the (white, male) London journalist and therefore vested in citizens of majority-white countries whose heteronormative families or respectable career paths are interrupted by immigration control – seems clear to us (the authors), given our training as social scientists. They are not obvious to all, and they are worth unpicking and analysing for the record, as a part of public debate, which too often goes unacknowledged.

However, we do not want to stop our analysis there, at the point of ‘racism is everywhere’, because we have seen more than that. Lewis, and others, remind us that the process of racialisation, like other social struggles over power, is never finished, it evolves and changes and is therefore unpredictable. The identification of some people on the sharp end of immigration control who are ‘ordinary people’ opens up the question of who an ordinary person might be, and in what manner they are ordinary. Similarly, the re-entry of immigration into public debate in the UK over the last twenty years has unsettled a seeming settlement about the place of ‘ethnic minorities’ in British society. The reminders of colonial processes, which led former British colonial subjects to the UK, are roused again by the arrival of new movements of populations from other parts of the globe. New kinds of resistance, identification and rejection form in response to this, as we have seen throughout the book and especially in Chapters 4 and 5. So when we agree that racialising culture is ordinary, and that we might see many instances of immigration control in the present moment as part of a process of racialisation, that does not mean that old logics of racism and opposition are being produced in the same formations as in the past.

As we heard in Chapter 4 from Rita, opposition to new migration is not restricted to white British-born residents, as she witnessed opposition to immigration from local Asian people in Southall and was ‘shocked, my Asian community they hate us … My Asian community hate Asian people, it was so sad.’ Similarly, Mark, a pro-migrant activist in London, told Sukhwant that ‘one of the scariest things we're seeing … at the moment is migrant communities thinking it's a good idea to stop immigration’. As we discussed in Chapter 5, there are multiple forces at work here in reconfiguring who is seen (by whom) as part of a ‘community of value’ worthy of being part of the nation. Not only that, but those who are at the edges of a community of value sometimes have more at stake in distinguishing themselves from the ‘real’ outsiders by participating in these processes of what we would call racialisation, though it may not be along the lines predicted by received ideas about racial divisions.

The appeal to toughness in the government campaigns we have been following attempts to seal off – or at least bypass – this complexity, to produce a postpolitical consensus (as discussed in Chapter 2). As we saw in Chapter 3, these campaigns seem to create a self-perpetuating problem – can government measures ever be thorough enough to get migration ‘under control’? In a world that is ever more mobile, and where capitalism relies on the movement of people – not just as labour but where the immigration-industrial complex is increasingly an arena for private profit (see Anderson, 2014) – migration control seems to be reduced to a performance, albeit a performance with real and dire consequences. While migration is seen as a threat in need of control, and that control has to be visibly performed, how can anyone be safe from either migration or migration control, except, as we saw in Chapter 5, by positioning themselves as less of a threat than some ‘other’ group?

Stuart Hall coined the term ‘multicultural drift’ to recognise ‘the increasing visible presence of black and Asian people in all aspects of British social life’, not as ‘the result of deliberate and planned policy’, but rather ‘the unintended outcome of undirected sociological processes’ (1999: 188). We might say that a similar process is now under way, not simply of migration becoming or having become an everyday aspect of life but (perhaps more of a departure) migration control and anti-migrant rhetoric have become mundane. The drift of migration enforcement into the banal tasks of education administrators (see Back, 2016: 32–6), human resources departments, private landlords and healthcare professionals is accompanied by a drift of migration talk, migration suspicion and endless debate about who has the right to resources and to existence in a specific national space. In what ways might the research presented in this book help us not only to understand, but also to intervene in those conversations?


We must create a polyphony, a tune of many voices that is truth for all of us.

(Syed Khalid Hussan, 2013: 281)

Not everyone thinks that being ordinary means being identical to themselves, or that either of those things equates to a person being worthy of care and basic quality of life. When politicians and others appeal on behalf of ordinary people, this is not a call of solidarity. Instead, they are reasserting the political voicelessness of those groups, rather than listening to their concerns. In a classic work of cultural studies, Policing the Crisis, Stuart Hall and colleagues described such moves when made by news media as ‘taking the public voice’ (1978: 63). What we have tried to do in this book and this project is to recognise a multiplicity of ordinary voices, their varying experiences and how the public performance of immigration control resonates in daily lives. We have tried not to ‘take’ those voices but to consider their various viewpoints and concerns seriously. In doing so, we have seen some of the ordinary effects of reproducing ideas of threat and control around immigration; a variety of unsettling senses of fear and insecurity, tempered sometimes – when anger escapes through a crack in the fear – into political solidarities and action.

We are still stuck with this dismissal of concerns about the harshness of immigration control as a preoccupation of a ‘liberal metropolitan elite’. Who are they? Probably the authors of this book would be prime candidates to be included. We are all academics with decent pay who live in cities and get paid to write about the state of the world, and who care deeply about the consequences of immigration control (among other things). But we are also ordinary people. We all have families, friends and homes that we care about, both spread across the UK and overseas. Most of us have some form of migration history in our lives or the lives of our families; some more immediate than others. We are affected when public services are underfunded, and when housing becomes unaffordable – though we are able to cope with this, at this point in our lives, in ways that people with less economic means might not be. We recognise this. And we don't think our privilege or our pain means that those who do not share them are less ‘ordinary’ than us, or less worthy of a decent life.

We also know that thousands of other people, ordinary and extraordinary, do share our concerns; we know this because they have told us so through our research, because we have seen them mobilising in political demonstrations, because we have seen them give of their time, energy and resources to help others. This is not an elite but a hotchpotch of people with different motivations and experiences, different kinds of privilege and vulnerability, and different views, but enough in common to be concerned about what the consequences of immigration control outlined in this book are doing not just to individuals at the sharp end but to our democracy and common humanity.

These concerns don't always get articulated in the same ways. The performance politics of immigration control set out not only to demonstrate toughness and control held by government, they mask or dismiss the everyday pain and uncertainty of varying intensities that immigration control causes, that touch increasingly on everyone's lives. This might range from the (ordinary) person renting out a property, who must take responsibility for their tenants’ residency papers being in order, under threat of possible imprisonment; to the (ordinary) person seeking a home to rent but whom landlords avoid as soon as they hear that person's ‘foreign-sounding’ name (Grant and Peel, 2015); to the (ordinary) person whose children are in danger in a home country but is refused refugee status, and then sees no prospect of them being safe other than undertaking a treacherous journey by land and sea with the hope of a new home, but the risk of death. These stories are not headline news. But when we think of Ian Dunt's seemingly common-sense explanation about what makes something newsworthy, we might also think back to Hall et al.'s (1978) demonstration of how that which becomes news is also that which serves a dominant narrative, or hegemony.

As we discussed in Living Research Five, a key motivator in our research was anger; anger about social injustice, anger at repugnantly racist and xenophobic immigration control narratives and practices becoming normalised. We channelled this anger through our professional training as social researchers to find out more about the dynamics and consequences of what had angered us. And throughout the process (as described in Living Research Six), we have tried to do this in conversation and collaboration with people more embedded in these currents, from activists to policy-makers to refugees to those feeling threatened by immigration. This process has been a conversation, and as a conversation our intention has always been to continue the exchange, to proffer our analysis, findings and theorisations to add to and perhaps enrich in a small way the public conversation.

One way in which we have done this is simply through the focus of our research. As we noted in Chapter 2, we aimed to focus less on attitudes to ‘immigration’, towards an understanding of how government campaigns about immigration worked, and their consequences for different audiences. Another attempted shift is in our aim to treat our research as what Les Back (2007) describes as a ‘listener's art’, bringing conflicting and neglected perspectives together, not simply to ‘give voice’ but through our attention and analysis giving weight to those voices; unpeeling some of the layers of contradiction, conflict and surprising affinities in understandings of migration (and its control), which can too often be easily polarised.

Our research has deliberately been intended as public scholarship, work using rigorous academic methods while engaging with collaborators and audiences beyond the university. In recent years there has been much discussion of public sociology attached to an address by Professor Michael Burawoy (2005) to the American Sociological Association. We have looked more widely and further back to root our ethos of public scholarship with thinkers such as W.E.B. Du Bois, bell hooks, Audre Lorde and Angela Davis, whose scholarly writing was a part of their activism, always to inform social struggles and make ideas accessible to publics beyond universities.

But of course, the conversation shifts regardless of scholarly intervention, and often unpredictably in relation to world events, policy changes, or chance incidents, which break through the cracks of what seems a settled conclusion. In a blog post in September 2015, in the days after Alan Kurdi's death became a global spectacle (see Chapter 1), Hannah wrote:

The tone of the public reaction is shifting fast. We're starting to hear less about the threat posed by these people and more about the ‘unbearable’ sight of a three-year-old boy washed up, dead, on the shore of Turkey, and everything it implies.

(Jones, 2015)

At that moment, the shocking image of Alan's body breached the apparent certainties about border control, and brought ‘ordinary people’ across Europe on to the streets in support of welcoming more refugees into their homes. In a sense nothing had changed with the death of Alan; children had been dying on that same crossing and others for months and years. But until then, none had been captured in an image that so eloquently broke through the xenophobic rhetoric and performative politics of the UK government and others. As we have noted in Chapter 1, a shift did occur in public debate – but it was short-lived. In the UK, the then Prime Minister Cameron's promise that Britain would take twenty thousand Syrian refugees from UN camps over five years seemed to close down the debate, allowing some to feel that a problem had been addressed. This despite the criticisms that this gesture amounted to a relatively small number of refugees compared to either the national population or the number of refugees worldwide; that adequate resources to support those even that would be given refuge had not been made available to local government; that by only taking people through the UN resettlement scheme nothing was done to address the plight of people already in Europe seeking sanctuary; and that by restricting the scheme to Syrians, victims of other conflicts less covered by European media continued to be ignored.

In trying to engage in public scholarship we will sometimes be outrun by changing developments. As we try to highlight shifts in circumstances and their significance, they just as quickly change again. In our research and this book we have tried to avoid such an ephemeral engagement. We have noted how a set of individually short-lived interventions – the Go Home van, visibility of enforcement raids, reminders of immigration control in everyday life – together present a more significant trend: the drift of immigration enforcement, of an obsession with borders and of hatred, into the ongoing concerns of ordinary life.

We should not forget that what is at stake is not simply a conversation, but has material, harsh consequences. This includes the death, detention and destitution faced by Aderonke Apata and Alan Kurdi; the unheard lives of others in indefinite immigration detention, living in destitution, in fear of deportation, separated from families; and those like Joe, Carol and Alan whom we heard in Chapter 2, scared by immigration and its effects in their local areas, fearing new migrants as an uncontrollable threat to jobs, homes and prosperity. We should note too, that the material consequences of the drift towards the everyday mobilisation of the border and immigration control can sometimes be generative – bringing people together in new ways to mobilise politically, perhaps because the connections between different types of ‘ordinary people’ affected by immigration control become clearer, or as people who previously thought immigration control relevant only to ‘other people’ start to respond to this very everyday reality.

We hope that the many interactions that have been a part of this book will continue, as people read and talk about what we have written here. These are small attempts to make a shift, with others, in how we think about immigration control in our everyday lives. Ultimately it is a plea to recognise our common humanity.

And it is an unfinished, unfolding conversation.


In the final days of preparing our manuscript for publication, we were reading back through what we had written, thinking carefully about the claims we have been making about the relationships between the performative politics of immigration policing campaigns and increasing xenophobia, intolerance and racism. It was during this time that the Labour MP Jo Cox, an active advocate for the rights of migrants and those seeking asylum, was violently murdered on 16 June 2016 (see also Chapter 1). During his court appearance, the murder suspect Thomas Mair was asked to confirm his name and replied: ‘My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain’. Like thousands of others, from all walks of life and from all parts of the globe, we were horrified and angered at this murder. The thought that it had been motivated by a hatred for a young woman whose compassion for others was felt to be so deeply treacherous and threatening was sickening. ‘Jo's killing was political, it was an act of terror designed to advance an agenda of hatred towards others’, said Cox's husband in a moving speech given at Trafalgar Square to celebrate what would have been Jo Cox's forty-second birthday on 22 June (Addley et al., 2016). Brendan Cox went on:

What a beautiful irony it is that an act designed to advance hatred has instead generated such an outpouring of love. Jo lived for her beliefs, and on Thursday she died for them, and for the rest of our lives we will fight for them in her name.

As we complete this project in the wake of the June 2016 EU referendum result, reports have been appearing in the mainstream press and social media of an increase in xenophobic and racist abuse and violence. We do not know yet exactly how widespread this is or whether the narrative of ‘taking control’ of our borders and immigration that was so prominent in the Leave campaign will continue, or kindle new forms of nationalism and racism (see Davies, 2016).

It need not be this way. We hope that the conversations into which we have invited you might contribute to the collective work of imagining and building a more inclusive future for us all.


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1 Because it cannot be illegal to seek asylum, although asylum may not be granted.
2 51 per cent of the UK's leading journalists, 32 per cent of MPs, and 74 per cent of top judges were privately educated (compared to an estimated 7 per cent of the population as a whole); 54 per cent of journalists, 47 per cent of Cabinet ministers, and 74 per cent of judges in the UK in 2016 attended the same two universities (compared to less than 1 per cent of the population as a whole) (Kirby, 2016).
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The politics of immigration controversies


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