5c. State interventions to influence forms of action

[Our organisation] always said we cannot get any money from the government…As a collective voice, how can you really advertise the work and the kind of action we are doing, [if] the government [says] ‘I give you my money, but with a string of conditions attached…you work for me…because this is the money…I know that ok, you want to defend people who I…oppress, but if I give you money, you have to be limited in the action. I can give you a room of action, but not hundred per cent’…[VOL takes government contracts], you can see some attitudes that reflect that, because they know, the money [they are] being paid from the government, and this is the guidelines…[they] have to do this, this, this. (refugee man, arrived in Britain in 2002)

The neo-liberal capitalist offensive since the 1980s, which was an attempt to stave off the capitalist crisis, destabilized national and international orders. Labour’s initiatives to ‘build social capital’ between 1997 and 2010 represented a less obvious and directly repressive element in a wider strategy, also including increasing physical repression, to cope with the negative consequences of this destabilization for ruling elites.[1] Social capital interventions can be understood as a particular approach within longer traditions of cooption and oppression, with conscious strategies to influence refugees’ forms of action operating alongside an expanding apparatus of border police, detention and removal centres, reporting regimes and deportation. Control of material resources that are needed to maintain current services and fill gaps have been used as a means of influence over the forms of action taken by refugees, alongside control of the mainstream media and research and educational institutions, which are used to promote ideas that suit the interests of the capitalist classes. By recruiting individual refugees to voluntary positions as they attempt to establish new networks, relationships and organisations, the state has gained influence over the shape of these individuals’ actions, and through them the activity, understandings and forms of engagement of other refugees.

Complex social/market hybrids thus take shape: state institutions engage with voluntary organisations on a contractual basis; voluntary organisations engage individual refugees as volunteers by offering a range of material and non-material incentives and opportunities; and refugees, as volunteers, engage wider refugees as users, drawing on shared experiences of asylum and simultaneously bridging across differences in nationality, age, religion and gender, as they do their best to help others within the confines of the asylum system. At the level of the whole system, this represents the continued compliance of large numbers of refugees with the British state, despite ongoing experiences of its oppressive character and, in many cases, deep mistrust. Maintaining this process necessitates offering direct or indirect benefits, not only to the individuals involved, but to the wider communities that volunteers wish to help. By making limited concessions in the form of funding to selected refugee organizations and charities, which do not threaten the interests of the ruling class, the state has been able to maintain the involvement of refugees in forms of engagement that, in the final analysis, are to their detriment, because they help to manage and sustain the oppressive structures of the UK asylum system. This means the continued deportation, incarceration and enforced destitution of thousands of people every year, thereby containing and disciplining the threat that they pose to imperialist divisions of labour.


[1] Coole, D. (2009). ‘Repairing civil society and experimenting with power: a genealogy of social capital’. Political Studies, 57(6), 374–396.

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