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On the "border-industrial-complex"


The New Inquiry has an eye-opening interview with Angela Mitropoulos, a Sydney-based academic and theorist who studies Australia’s “border-industrial-complex” (BIC), the assemblage of government agencies and private companies that enforce and profit from draconian immigration policies. According to Mitropoulos, Australia serves as a sort of laboratory for border-enforcement techniques, which are then exported to other countries around the world: Here’s an excerpt:

As to Australia, the automatic detention of all undocumented migrants who arrive by boat has been bipartisan policy since 1992. Detainees have been held in a growing number of “offshored” camps, some of which are in the Pacific, and all of which have been run by corporations since 1997. Much of this occurred before Guantánamo Bay, before countries in Europe began detaining migrants on a regular basis, before the “War on Terror.” The salient history aligns with the rise of so-called “neoliberalism,” something of a misnomer since the global turn to stricter border controls attests to the authoritarian dimensions of this period.

That said, it is impossible to understand the global border-industrial complex if we confine our perspective to the geopolitical centre. The border is always a matter of the periphery, boundaries that are seen as both natural and necessary, and increasingly framed as a politics of the in-between shaping the infrastructure of operating systems concerned with the conversion of movements into the form of value. Borders are an interlocking, global apparatus. More so with current efforts at “harmonizing” inter-national border policies, technical integration, and the turn to generic organizational systems across the globe.

Within this history, Australia’s role has been exemplary. With more than $10 billion made available to the detention industry in Australia in recent years, it has been a field of experimentation concerned with transforming volatility into value, the imagination of existential (racial) threat that eludes cost-benefit strictures—and whose effects extend well beyond the conventional domain of migration control. Since it was colonized by the English in 1788 to the present day, Australia has been an experiment in far-flung varieties of European – or, more precisely, the Commonwealth’s – borders. It is not simply that Australia has always been a space in which the border is understood as a global project. European fascism has always taken its cues from the techniques of control and subjugation that were previously exported from Europe in the process of colonisation and wars of conquest.

Image via The New Inquiry.