Gender, Vulnerability and Everyday Resistance in Immigration Detention: Women’s Experiences of Confinement in a Portuguese Detention Facility


This paper examines immigration detention by looking at women’s experiences of confinement in a Portuguese detention facility. The empirical data—comprising participant observations, informal conversations and interviews with detained women—are read through an intersectional lens. This approach illuminates constructions of gender and sexuality in their mutual and contextualised articulation with other power relations (e.g., processes of racialisation and ethnicisation stemming from colonial histories), as well as the reconfiguration of these constructions by women themselves. Doing so also focuses on the intertwinement between power and resistance in daily life in detention. The women we met did not passively accept their situation, but rather struggled to make sense of, navigate and challenge the detention system. To this effect, they deployed multiple forms of agency, which also passed through the rejection, acceptance and reappropriation of hegemonic gendered constructions and their use in strategic ways to negotiate their positions vis-a-vis the system.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2020-08-25
Pages:5 to 20
Section:Special Issue: Migration, Vulnerability and Violence
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How to Cite
Esposito, F., Matos, R. and Bosworth, M. (2020) “Gender, Vulnerability and Everyday Resistance in Immigration Detention: Women’s Experiences of Confinement in a Portuguese Detention Facility”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 9(3), pp. 5-20. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v9i3.1588.

Author Biographies

University of Oxford; APPsyCI - Applied Psychology Research Center Capabilities & Inclusion, ISPA-IU
 United Kingdom

Francesca Esposito completed her PhD in community psychology at the ISPA-University Institute of Lisbon and is currently a British Academy Newton International Fellow at the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford. In Oxford, Francesca is an affiliated researcher at Border Criminologies. Her main interests include border violence, particularly immigration detention, and bottom-up forms of resistance and solidarity against border control practices. Her last project ‘Making Gender visible in Immigration Detention: An Intersectional Exploration of Immigration Detention in the UK, Italy, and Portugal’ (funded by the British Academy through the Newton International Fellowship scheme) looks at gender and sexuality in immigration detention, and at the gendered experiences of women confined in these sites. Francesca is also a member of the feminist NGO BeFree (Rome, Italy), and of the collective Migrações e Justiça (Lisbon, Portugal) composed by researchers, lawyers, activists and people with lived experience of border violence.

Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Research Centre for Human Development

Raquel Matos is a Senior Lecturer and Member of the Research Centre for Human Development at Universidade Católica Portuguesa. Over the past 15 years she has worked on gender, crime and imprisonment, publishing articles and book chapters about the life trajectories of women in prison and a book about 'life pathways, meanings of crime and identity construction in young female offenders’. More recently, Raquel Matos has been developing research on gender, migration and detention as well as on young offenders’ life pathways and experiences in the justice system.

Oxford University; Monash University
 United Kingdom

Mary Bosworth is a Professor of Criminology and Director of the Centre for Criminology and Professor of Criminology at Monash University in Australia. In Oxford, Mary directs Border Criminologies, an interdisciplinary research group focusing on the intersections between criminal justice and border control. Prof. Bosworth has published widely on immigration detention in a number of countries, including the UK, Greece, France, Hungary and Italy.  She is currently conducting research into in-country detainee transportation and deportation. Prof. Bosworth 's research has been funded by the European Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy, the ESRC, the Nuffield Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the John Fell Fund. Mary is the UK Editor-in-Chief of Theoretical Criminology, a co-editor of Routledge Studies in Criminal Justice, Borders and Citizenship, and a member of the editorial boards of Race & Justice, the International Journal of Migration and Border Studies and Clarendon Studies in Criminology.