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Governing through the family: struggles over US noncitizen family detention policy


  • Lauren L Martin


This paper offers a conceptual framework in which ‘the family’ is situated as an object of governmental intervention, on the one hand, and a site of discursive proliferation, on the other hand. Reading across the works of Michel Foucault and Jacques Donzelot, I argue that the family served an important, but often overlooked, role in Foucauldian conceptualizations of sovereign, disciplinary, and biopolitical modalities of power. In particular, the elaboration of disciplinary institutions and biopolitical governance converged in the family household; as a central point in these governmental strategies, the family’s relationship to sexuality, child-rearing, and kinship provoked anxieties over race, nation building, sexuality, and gender. After reviewing how these concerns overlapped in US immigration policies, I analyze the debates concerning noncitizen family detention policy in the United States. I show how a series of proposals for family detention and release congealed around competing discourses of childhood innocence and criminality, prison and home, and parental authority and security. On the basis of this analysis, I argue that state and nonstate actors produce multiple normative family subjects through strategic spatializations of state and familial power. Keywords: immigration, detention, family, childhood, criminality, security, discipline, biopolitics, United States

Suggested Citation

  • Lauren L Martin, 2012. "Governing through the family: struggles over US noncitizen family detention policy," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 44(4), pages 866-888, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:44:y:2012:i:4:p:866-888

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