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Journal Articles Environment and Planning D: Society and Space Year : 2009

The 'where' of asylum


Does law produce spaces where it no longer applies? Does it, in other words, set up spaces of lawlessness? The question seems almost rhetorical given the growing body of work inspired by Agamben's notions of the camp' and state of exception'. Indeed, in the past decade or so, this question has been guiding much research in various disciplines, with human geography probably at the forefront, and unsurprisingly so given that the question is as spatial as it is legal. But this is not the first encounter between law and geography. There are, in fact, two different theoretical strands to human geographers' engagement with the relationship between law and space, one rooted in the critical legal studies movement, and the other, more recent one, in Agamben's work. The former, usually called critical legal geography, is animated by a concern to see law not as timeless and independent of social life, but as shaped by, and in turn shaping, social relations, identities, and power structures öto see law, as Delaney (2003) succinctly put it, ``as a thing of this world''. Law, in this view, is not merely prohibitive, but also productive; it is constitutive of the spaces of social life. Furthermore, it has a geographical specificity; despite its claim to universality, the where of law matters. The latter strand is more concerned with the spatiality of law and sovereign power. What animates this growing body of work is the idea that law may actually be involved in producing spaces of lawlessness, although what is in question is not the absence of law as such but violence committed through law. It is this latter strand that seems to be the more prominent one in contemporary legal ^ spatial research. This shift in focus from spaces of law to spaces of lawlessness is not simply rhetorical (`because Agamben had this idea ...'), but circumstantial. This is perhaps best evidenced by the recurrent references to Guanta¨amo and military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have become the paradigmatic examples of much writing on space, law, and sovereignty. (1) Compared with such high-profile examples, however, the issue of asylum has received relatively little attention, despite the worrying developments in the European Union's (EU) asylum law and policy in the past decade or so. This is not to suggest that asylum has been completely neglected by geographers; nor that the institution of asylum is in good health elsewhere in the world. However, the shape EU asylum law and policy has been taking deserves attention from the perspectives both of spaces of law and spaces of lawlessness as it has spatial manifestations in a variety of forms (detention centres, transit zones, appropriated city streets) and a range of places, including those beyond the territorial boundaries of member states. It not (1) Although the practices of the US government in the aftermath of September 11 brought onto the stage the issue of detention of foreigners, Dow (2004) shows that an appalling and largely obscure system of detention for so-called illegal immigrants' had existed in the US well before that. Therefore, detention-related human rights abuses and legal violations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guanta¨amo were not such a novelty; they were, in a sense, a continuation of similar practices at home towards detained immigrants, practices that violate fundamental rights (presumption of innocence, the right of habeas corpus, the right to humane and decent treatment), remain arbitrary, opaque, and wanting public scrutiny.
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hal-01274392 , version 1 (15-02-2016)



Mustafa Dikec. The 'where' of asylum. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 2009, ⟨10.1068/d2702ec⟩. ⟨hal-01274392⟩
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