Review: David Kyle in Contemporary Sociology

Contemporary Sociology cover

In his book, Refugees, Capitalism and the British State: Implications for Social Workers, Volunteers and Activists, Tom Vickers presents an unapologetic Marxist analysis of refugees and asylum-seekers in Britain with special attention to how activists and other NGOs may address the underlying issues related to capitalist reproduction. The author is well aware of the seeming anachronism of his approach even in the wake of a global recession in which the workers of the world have only retreated and Anglo politicians continue tilting rightward. Using qualitative research methods on several refugee organizations and non-random interviews with both refugees and social workers in the New Castle region of the United Kingdom, Vickers thoroughly explores several themes of both practical and theoretical concern to those with interests in these areas.

There are four substantial chapters beyond the introductory chapter in which the author unfolds his primary arguments. The first weaves the themes of imperialism, nationalism, racism, and gender, mixing the treatment of black people in Britain with the treatment of refugees from the global South. In the next chapter, he takes up the relationship between refugees and the British state as an example illustrating the class basis of the “imperialist state.” The root oppression, disempowerment, and discrimination experienced by refugees are connected to particular kinds of capitalist-friendly governments within a hegemonic British orbit beyond the immediate racism described in a previous chapter. Here, any immediate causes or drivers of what is normally conceived of as involuntary mobility are recast as an anomalous labor outcropping of the wars, famine, and ethnic tensions arising from the colonial and neocolonial relationships from which they sprang. Thus, refugees are reframed as part of an international division of labor (and a relatively privileged group at that), though their immediate concerns are not overtly about employment and they are disallowed from work at their destination in the United Kingdom. Like other chapters, much of the analysis is a historical recap of the Marxist narrative, with regular quotes from Marx and Engels.

A chapter exploring the “refugee relations industry” mediating, brokering, and negotiating the many contradictions of British state aid as a form of institutionalized racism and labor exploitation follows. Here again, Vickers reviews the gendered and racist policies…

This is an extract from a review by David Kyle in Contemporary Sociology 44(2), read the full review here.

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