Villawood 5a - Theatres of Cruelty


Theatres of Cruelty: The Production of Spectacle

Will you please observe through the wire
I am sewing my feet together 

Mehmet al Assad, Asylum

Following the blockage of the Tampa asylum seekers from landing in Australia, in August 2001, Australian asylum seeker policy entered a new phase, and immigrant detention centres such as Woomera, Villawood, Maribyrnong were marked by an intensification of and escalation in the level of violence deployed against asylum seekers and refugees. In urban detention centres such as Villawood, this violence was refracted through desperate acts of protests, including outbreaks of hunger strike and self-harm. Enforced deportations and removals, and the desperate forms of resistance which they engendered are inextricably linked practices of these theatres of cruelty.


We term these prisons ‘theatre of cruelty‘ to bring into focus ‘the manner in which refugees must be located within national economies of representation that demand the production of exemplarity and spectacle. The trauma and violence that is daily visited upon the body of the refugee will serve, in an exemplary manner, to dissuade prospective refugees from seeking asylum in Australia. In the context of the Federal Government’s policy of deterrence, the body of the refugee is instrumentalised in terms of an exemplary weapon to ward off other prospective asylum seekers. The body of the refugee is here, in this demand for deterrence and exemplarity, also caught within an implacable circuit that demands the ongoing reproduction of violence. One exemplum is never enough. The very logic of the exemplum is constituted by the demand for its seriality: every unique act of violence that is perpetrated upon the body of the refugee must be reiterated if it is to assume an instructive role in turning away all other prospective boat people.’ (Pugliese, Penal Asylum)


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