Criminology in a World Adrift

This guest post is published in advance of the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18. #ASCPhilly

By Jeff Ferrell, author of the forthcoming Drift: Illicit Mobility and Uncertain Knowledge (March 2018)

Over the past few weeks two international tragedies have made the headlines. In Bangladesh, the number of Rohingya Muslim refugees driven from Myanmar by a military campaign of physical and sexual terror has now reached one million. Trapped on a strip of muddy land, welcome neither in Myanmar nor in Bangladesh, the refugees talk of being ‘lost in time.’ Meanwhile, Australia announces plans to close its primary detention center for refugees and asylum seekers – a center located not in Australia itself but in Papua New Guinea. There, refugees talk of ‘feeling lost and drifting’ after four years’ confinement. As Australia and Papua New Guinea argue over responsibility for the refugees, an Australian politician agrees that the refugees ‘are stuck in legal and physical limbo.’

Of course these aren’t the only groups adrift from citizenship and legal protection, adrift in time and space, adrift while made to move or made to stand still. Countless Central Americans refugees ride El Tren de la Muerte (the Death Train), a U.S.-bound freight train, up through Mexico. Millions of Syrian refugees, remnants of Syria’s ‘lost generation,’ flood across Europe. Africans crowd rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean, only to find themselves bounced between European borders. Chinese officials work to move 250 million rural residents into Chinese cities – cities where homeless rural migrant workers already occupy abandoned air-defense tunnels and shelter in McDonald’s restaurants.

So pervasive is this global dislocation that the defining trajectory of the contemporary world seems not so much up or down as simply adrift. For North Americans and Europeans this trajectory also plays out, not just in faraway headlines but in their own daily lives. Here urban economic development predicated on spatial privatization and high-end consumerism displaces residents from once-affordable housing and creates a vast army of part-time service workers and temporary employees. The legal regulation of these urban areas in turn operates around risk management and the policing of transient populations, with the razing of refugee and homeless encampments, the use of banishment and dispersal orders, and the aggressive ‘moving-on’ of street populations. Contemporary urban development spawns social dislocation, and the legal controls meant to protect urban development from transient populations serve to make such populations only more transient.

To make sense of all this, criminologists will need theoretical models that can account for drift’s intertwined social, spatial, and legal dynamics. They’ll need methods as fluid and flexible as are the groups to be studied. Perhaps most importantly they’ll need epistemologies attuned to the inherent ambiguity and uncertainty of drift. And in this work of disciplinary reinvention they can find assistance – from drifters themselves. Drifting certainly brings with it the profound pain of dislocation and loss. But as contemporary drifters themselves know and put into practice, drifting also forces open new ways of seeing and living in the world, offering dangerous disorientations that are also critical, cosmopolitan, and alive to possibility.


Jeff Ferrell is Professor of Sociology at Texas Christian University and Visiting Professor of Criminology at University of Kent. He is the author of Crimes of Style, Tearing Down the Streets, and Empire of Scrounge, and co-author of Cultural Criminology: An Invitation.


Between the Sea and the (Historian’s) Problem of Humanity

by Keith David Watenpaugh

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and Janu

Bread From Stones CoverEarlier this year I wrote a blog post on the movement of refugees and others across the waters of the Mediterranean on unseaworthy vessels and why when they take on water or begin to sink fishermen and captains of great seafaring container ships risk their own lives and livelihoods in an effort to save those who had gone overboard.

I argued that it had less to do with largely-unenforceable international maritime law, which requires rescues at sea, than with the humanity of the sailors themselves. These are men (mostly) who had grown up on the sea and knew not only its immense beauty and generosity, but also its fearful and deadly power. They also knew that they possess the unique ability to effect rescue, by dint of training and location.

The Mediterranean took a terrible toll this year, over a million crossed it and about 4,000 are missing or drowned, a number that would have been much higher had it not been for private and military assistance pulling so many to safety. Yet the horror and inherently unnecessary nature of that crossing was brought home by news reports that many of the most recently drowned had done soon because they had been sold PFDs (life jackets) that didn’t float by a Turkish firm .

The financial and emotional toll on those rescuing is immense: A burly Greek fisherman Costas Pinteris, who owns a small inshore trawler he sails from the tiny Levos port city of Skala Sykamias told PBS Newshour’s Malcolm Brabant

When I see someone in urgent need when I’m out fishing, I drop everything and go to help, because my work is not as important as saving human lives. The worst thing is the drowned people, drowned mothers, drowned children … The pictures I saw during those incidents which I was seeing almost on a daily basis would come back to me while I was trying to sleep in bed at night. I kept seeing repeated pictures of the same incidents as nightmares. I couldn’t sleep at all.

I’ve had that experience, but it wasn’t after pulling someone from the sea. I had been working on collection from the Aleppo Rescue Home of intake surveys of trafficked Armenian Genocide survivors stored in the League of Nations archive in Geneva. The forms, which is all they really were, were used to collect data on young people who had been rescued or rescued themselves from the households into which they had been sold during the genocide and during which, usually, most of their family had been murdered. In the upper right corner there is a photograph of the young person appearing just as they would coming in off the desert, often before they were processed, given a haircut and Western-style clothes. The bulk of the document includes a narrative told in the third person about what he or she had gone through from the time they were separated from their family until they entered the Rescue Home.

In the beginning of the deportation, Zabel’s father was separated from her family and was sent in an unknown direction. Zabel was exiled with her mother, 5 sisters and a younger brother. The caravan which consisted of men, women, boys, girls and infants, was formed to go on foot 3 months, wandering upon the mountains, passing through the villages, crossing the rivers and marching across the deserts … The gendarmes had received the order to kill the unfortunate people by every means in their power. Near Veranshehir, they collected all the beautiful girls, and distributed them among the Turks and the Kurds. The rest of the caravan had to go further on in the deserts to die. Zabel had been the share of a Kurd, who married her. She lived there 11 years, unwillingly, until an Armenian chauffeur informed her that many of her relatives still were living in Aleppo. Having made her escape in safety, she reached Ras al-Ain, from where by our agent she was sent to us.

Over a couple hot, sweaty days in the UN’s Geneva compound I read about 2000 of these entries. Most weren’t as detailed as that of Zabel. But they all told of the horror of forced migration, the murder of families, serial rape, involuntary motherhood and brutal servitude. These young people look like people I know; the Rescue Home is in Aleppo, Syria where I had lived for much of the 1990s and returned to often until the Syrian war began. The young people telling me the stories were knowable and familiar.

I left the UN compound in a haze at the end of the week—the stories battering me in a jumble of images. That night I slept fitfully and awoke screaming from a dream I can’t remember, thankfully.

What does it mean to be historians who works on mass violence (especially against children), rape, torture and enslavement in the recent past, a past that they can catch glimpses of themselves in? I caught that glimpse when looking at photographs of rescued Armenian young people and it made me feel. That research led to an AHA article and forms the basis of a chapter in my book, Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism but it also forced me to think about the role of what I call the empathetic imagination as a tool of historiography. his way of imagining is central to what makes our discipline humane and helps the historian retain the humanity of his work (and himself) when confronted with hate, violence, and inhumanity. It can bring history and the historian into broader conversations about justice, acknowledgement, and reconciliation, which is one of the promises of human rights history.

Keith David Watenpaugh is a historian, Associate Professor of Human Rights Studies, and Director of the Human Rights Initiative at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Being Modern in the Middle East and has published in the American Historical Review, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Journal of Human Rights, Social History, and Humanity. Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism is available now.

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Migrants, Neighbors, and Contests over Georgia’s ‘Limited Resources’

by Clif Stratton

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and January 10th.

Education for Empire Cover

In the wake of the November attacks in Paris, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies from resettling Syrian refugees in the state. In a letter to President Obama, Deal cited “intelligence gaps” in the federal resettlement program that threatened “the security of Georgians” and “the state’s valuable limited resources.”

Deal was not alone in his defiance of federal authority. Twenty-six other governors penned similar refusals.

Prominent Georgia clergy denounced Deal’s politicization of the Syrian civil war and the Paris attacks as an attempt to define the state’s borders and populace by national origin. In an act of defiant neighborliness, Bryan Wright, pastor at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, GA—along with World Relief Atlanta—helped organize the December resettlement of one Sunni Syrian family: Mohammad, Ebtesam, and their four-year-old son Hasan. The family arrived in Georgia after two and a half years of US and UN screening.

Wright argued that despite the governor’s efforts to freeze the application process for refugees seeking much needed public benefits, “the Church’s role and the calling of the Christian is to reach out with love for our neighbor, and our neighbor includes everyone, and especially those in need.”

Ebtesam told Atlanta’s WABE that “[we] want to live a full life. I want my son to have a good education and health.”

One cannot help but wonder whether education and health—the two basic human rights Ebtesam hopes to secure for her son—are two of the “valuable limited resources” Governor Deal argues he was elected to protect from outsiders.

Deal’s rejection of Syrians fleeing US-backed war and Wright’s defiance of the governor’s order recall earlier battles in Georgia over publicly funded resources—limited or otherwise—including education.

At the turn of the twentieth century, school officials and their allies brought to bear the politics of immigration, race, and colonialism on the schools they argued were vital to social harmony, state security, and economic development. Speaking before the legislature in 1889, University of Georgia Chancellor William Boggs made clear his anxiety over continued public support for black education. After falsely claiming that the state divided its school appropriation equally among whites and blacks, Boggs charged the legislature with upholding white nationalism: “We mean to hold this country. We, the white people.” He continued: “What shall we do with this alien [black] race? Nothing unkind or unchristian, but something to teach them and the nations of the world that we shall live in this country and rule it.” In its coverage of the speech, the Atlanta Journal noted “continued applause” from the legislators.

Writing in the Atlanta Constitution in 1906, chief editor Clark Howell warned against the surge in black school attendance despite underfunding, overcrowding, and double sessions. Howell saw black empowerment as a foreign intervention fomented from within the nation and as a threat to white supremacy: “While the Negro becomes a full-fledged CITIZEN, the white man, native to the soil and intelligent though unlettered, remains to all intents and purposes an ALIEN.”

Is Hasan’s eventual attendance at a Georgia public school a threat to the political power and sense of national identity of Deal and his supporters in the way that African American uplift threatened Bogg’s and Howell’s cherished notions of white supremacy after the end of Reconstruction? While Deal’s recent rhetoric about Syrian refugees is certainly not as overtly racist as that of Boggs or Howell (or current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump), it nevertheless carries with it the historical legacies of racial inequality and outward projections of US imperial power that continue to shape debates about who can and cannot become part of the social and political life of communities, states, and the nation.

Deal might tout the security of Georgians as paramount, but the question of who has access to resources (limited or otherwise) and therefore to political power is really what is at the center of these debates about Syrian refugees.

Along with half of his fellow governors, Deal has raised the specter of terrorism and brandished his national security credentials in order to guard the economic and political clout that he certainly enjoys and that many of his supporters believe themselves to possess as well. They argue that closed borders and awesome American military power is the only choice if we are to live in prosperity and security.

The choice is a false one. Expanded access to quality education and good health, along with a recognition of the dignity of marginalized people fleeing conflicts not of their own making is absolutely essential to achieve the kind of security Deal claims to hold dear.

Clif Stratton is Clinical Assistant Professor of History and Assistant Director of the Roots of Contemporary Issues program at Washington State University. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Georgia State University in Atlanta. Education for Empire: American Schools, Race, and the Paths of Good Citizenship is available for pre-order now.

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Hans Lucht on the Casualties of European Migration Policy

Danish journalist and anthropologist Hans Lucht published an editorial in today’s New York Times on the tragic boat accident that took the lives of more than 100 African migrants just off the coast of Sicily. Lucht writes, “We Europeans can honor the dead only by engaging in a new discussion about what direction the Continent should take on refugees. Instead, our governments have dithered, unable to come up with a common migration and refugee policy.”

Lucht’s book Darkness before Daybreak chronicles the lives of a group of fishermen from Ghana who took the long and dangerous journey to Southern Italy in search of work in a cutthroat underground economy.  Read the full op-ed here.