Uncertain, illegible, incomplete: Exploring categorization in police bureaucracy of deportable migrants from Denmark

Publication date:
Oliver Joel Halpern

Admigov Paper, 2021

Since the so-called deportation turn in Europe, Denmark has radically stepped up the use of returns as a technique for managing its migrant population. In public discourse, the difference between ‘forced’ and ‘voluntary’ returns is emphasized. In practice, the Danish police classify returnees using a set of categories which – though they do not neatly align with the terms ‘forced’ and ‘voluntary’ – are substituted to represent these concepts. Drawing on interviews conducted with middle management actors in the field of returns, including the police, this research gains insight into how the data is framed as either forced or voluntary and uses this to explore how these return categories constitute particular state-making practices. Doing so highlights the tendency of middle management actors to construct bureaucratic technologies which reproduce uncertainty, illegibility and incompleteness across the state-making project. As such, the paper reveals that these are not simply street level aberrations from an otherwise panoptic state but, rather, are being systematically produced. Despite this, the inherent structural violence is appropriated by the state for managing and controlling the lives of its returnee subjects. The research thus contributes to the field of border studies by identifying how bureaucratic logics, relationships and rationalities generated at Denmark’s margins become reproduced in other areas of the state.