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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 2.19

Legal Anthropology of Detention Centres: Law as the Other’s Gaze and a Hindrance to the Spiral of Micro-Power


  • Dr. Przemysław TACIK

Primary authors


The presentation draws upon a theoretical framework and initial research conclusions elaborated within the research project Spaces of detention, which was focused on the spatial aspects of foreigners detention centres in Poland. Approaching the topic with methods of sociology of law and legal anthropology, I would like to propose a more general understanding of the role that law plays in total institutions. A great majority of legal provisions pertaining to them is stipulated with the intention of defending the detainees from abuses of power. Nonetheless, the positivist view of the law which translates noble principles, enshrined in constitutions and international law, into low-rank acts and then regulates the behaviour of functionaries, is at odds with the practice revealed by the sociological and anthropological research. The law remains a foreign body to functionaries: it is acknowledged as a body of rules which officially regulate all the actions of the institution, but in truth it functions rather as the Other’s gaze. It embodies external control and the possibility of intervention. As such, it never regulates the actions per se (it is too unfamiliar to do so), but rather constitutes an external foothold which stops functionaries from applying all the methods of discipline that they spontaneously invent. It also provides a free object of criticism which mediates between functionaries’ projected goals of border guards and their expected practice.