Examining and challenging immigration detention: what role for community psychology?

Webinar with Francesca Esposito, September 23, 5 pm (CET). Discussant: Regina Langhout.

If you would like to join us please register here

Cinzia Albanesi (ECPA president) and Susan Wolfe (SCRA president) invite you to a joint ECPA and SCRA webinar with the winner of ECPA and SCRA dissertation award Francesca Esposito.

About the webinar

During the past few decades, the detention of illegalised non-citizens has become a common practice in a world increasingly characterised by concerns for homeland security and the criminalization of human mobility. In this context, immigration detention centres have become new total institutions used to confine ‘unwanted’ non-citizens, especially coming from the so-called global South, and achieve immigration-related aims such as deportation. This measure, and border control more broadly, is strongly affecting the lives of individuals, their families and communities at large.

Within the quite limited body of empirical research produced on immigration detention, the majority of contributions in the medical and psychological fields have been dedicated to assessing the clinical consequences of detention, detailing the long-term psychological distress that it causes on those subject to it (detainees). Notwithstanding the importance of this research, there is currently a need to adopt an ecological perspective from which to study these sites as well as the experiences of those within them as context-dependent and influenced by power inequalities.

Drawing upon advances in community psychology, I will illustrate an ecological framework for the study of immigration detention settings and their multi-level effects on those inside them. This framework focuses on justice as a key dimension of analysis. Taking the largest Italian detention centre as a case study – the Ponte Galeria detention centre in Rome – I will also present a concrete example of application of this same framework in a research aimed at examining the life and lived experiences of both people detained and practitioners working with them.

Findings highlight the oppressive qualities of immigration detention and its detrimental effects on all people coming into direct or indirect contact with it. Scarcity of resources, activities and information created a very distressing environment for detained people, while also enhancing feelings of powerlessness and frustration in practitioners willing to assist them. Bound in a different space and time, detained people were turned into dispossessed subjects, completely estranged from the outside community. Despite the hostile environment surrounding them, however, people languishing in Ponte Galeria displayed an extraordinary ability to cope with, resist and challenge the persisting conditions of injustice they endured.

I will conclude by discussing the broader implications of these findings for transformative research, politics and action, with a particular focus on the role of community psychologists.


About the presenter

Dr. Francesca Esposito completed her PhD in Community Psychology in 2019, at the ISPA-University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal. From 2019 to 2020 she was a British Academy Newton International Fellow at the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford, then a researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon and more recently a Lecturer at the University of Westminster in London. Francesca’s research focuses primarily on immigration detention, in Portugal, Italy and the UK. Mixing qualitative/quantitative interviews and ethnographic observations, she critically examines the life and lived experiences of people inside detention centres. Particularly, her recent project, entitled “Making Gender Visible in Immigration Detention”, looks at the gendered and racialised experiences of detained women and at their strategies of survival and resistance. Francesca is interested in participatory methodologies and feminist community psychology approaches, and in her work she combines scholarly research, community-based intervention and activism. Since 2020, she has been a member of the Executive Board of the European Community Psychology Association (ECPA).


About the discussant

Professor Langhout’s primary research takes place in elementary schools and neighborhoods that serve working class and working poor African American, Latina/o, and white students. She uses a paradigm called participatory action research (PAR) to critically examine schools and neighborhoods. With PAR, stakeholder groups collaborate to determine problems and interventions. Her empirical research includes determining recess interventions though playground observations and focus groups, surveying teachers, parents, and students to assess their perceptions of school context, and working with young people to develop and paint a mural on school grounds in order to create a more welcoming atmosphere for students and their families.