Manus Prison theory and the production of hostility and neglect: the new tools of the Kyriarchos

Claire Loughnan2

2Melbourne University, Melbourne, Australia

The collaboration between Behrouz Boochani and Omid Tofighian, and Boochani’s book No Friend but the Mountains, have produced insights into the carceral expansionism of the modern state and its roots in colonial/imperial histories, described elsewhere by Boochani as ‘Manus Prison Theory.’ Writing from within Manus Island Prison, Boochani’s analysis of the oppression characterising the detention of refugees has wider implications however. Ironically, the border no longer functions centrally over territorial limits, but over bodies (Mountz 2011) in which responsibility for the decision by refugees, for example, to stay or remain, is now imposed on them through the creation of conditions which are so difficult that staying in a signatory state becomes unsufferable (Weber and Pickering 2014, Johansen, 2013). This oppression is achieved through multiple techniques utilised by the state, described by Boochani as comprising a ‘Kyriarchal’ system (Schussler Fiorenza, 2001). While most powerfully illustrated in institutions of confinement, this system of control and oppression characterises contemporary life both inside and outside these confined spaces (Tofighian, 2018). It is accompanied by techniques such as intentional neglect, the facilitation of hostilities between and amongst communities and the wearing down of resistance through the tangled web of bureaucratic processes. This suggests that the Kyriarchal system derives power from it’s capacity for neglect, while disavowing responsibility for the effects of that neglect. In this paper I explore the implications of ‘Manus Prison Theory’ and Boochani’s description of the Kyriarchal system, for contemporary political and social life under new manifestations of state power and trace the diverse ways in which this power is not only manifested at the border but exercised over citizens living and dying within the border. I argue that this is illustrative of a shift in how we understand the exercise of biopower.


Claire Loughnan is an Early Career Researcher, and Teaching Fellow in Criminology, at the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne. Her doctoral research examined the policies, laws and practices of immigration detention in the Australian setting from an institutional perspective.

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