Living Death at the Intersection of Necropower and Disciplinary Power: A Qualitative Exploration of Racialised and Detained Groups in Australia

Miss Samantha O’Donnell1

1The University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

I will present findings from a recently completed project that challenges state-sponsored violence in Australia by exploring the experiences of Indigenous people in youth detention and refugees in immigration detention in Australia as, in Mbembe’s terms, a living death. In light of the prolonged detention of refugees in hotels and immigration detention centres during the COVID-19 pandemic without appropriate health measures and the recent reversal of legal reforms that arose out of the Royal Commission and Board of Inquiry into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, such challenges are urgently needed. Drawing on qualitative analysis of publicly accessible first-hand accounts from Indigenous young people about their experiences of youth imprisonment in the Northern Territory and from refugees about their experiences of immigration detention onshore and offshore, this presentation explores how this living death manifests. As a white, female, middle-class researcher who has been advantaged by the Australian settler-colonial state, I adopt a decolonising methodological approach that privileges the voices of the Indigenous young people and refugees that I analyse. In my findings, I merge aspects of Mbembe’s ‘necropower’ and Foucault’s ‘disciplinary power’ to explore how racism and carcerality intersect to subject incarcerated Indigenous young people and refugees to four overlapping expressions of violence: structural violence, epistemic violence, physical violence and brutality, and disciplinary violence. I argue that it is the complex overlapping of these multiple forms of harm that creates an experience of living death. By using existing theoretical perspectives to reconceptualise the experiences of these two groups as a living death, I build on existing critical scholarship to develop a criminological critique of state-created carceral systems that shifts away from law and regulation. In privileging the voices of young Indigenous people and refugees I also recognise their strong and continuing history of resistance and survival.


Samantha is completing her PhD in Criminology at the University of Melbourne and concurrently working as a research assistant with the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre. She recently completed an MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Oxford (Distinction) and is also a qualified solicitor, completing her Bachelor of Laws (First Class Honours) at the Australian National University (ANU). Samantha previously practised as a lawyer with Financial Rights Legal Centre and worked as a research assistant for Professor Penny Green at the International State Crime Initiative and Professor Tony Foley at ANU College of Law.


Dec 08 2021