These key terms establish conceptual and analytical links across the various case studies of Deathscapes. Through following the various key terms across different case studies and locations, users of the site can identify the common ideologies, technologies and practices through which deaths in custody continue to occur, and through which these deaths are rationalised or made invisible in our societies.

All key terms © Please reference this URL when citing.


With the ultimate aim of ending deaths in custody, the Deathscapes project maps the sites and distributions of custodial deaths in locations such as police cells, prisons and immigration detention centres, working across the settler states of Australia, the US, Canada, and the UK/EU – as historical sites of origin for these settler colonial states.

It presents new understandings of the practices and technologies, both global and domestic, that enable state violence against racialized groups in settler states. Within the violent frame of the settler colonial state, centred on Indigenous deaths as a  form of ongoing clearing of the land, the deaths of other racialized bodies within the nation and at its borders – including Black, migrant and refugees deaths) – reaffirm the assertion of settler sovereignty.

To focus on Indigenous deaths, and other racialized deaths is not to collapse the differences between racialized groups, or to ignore the presence of other racialized populations in these states, but to address the shared strategies, policies, practices and rationales of state violence deployed in the management of these separate categories.

The project adopts a transnational and cross-disciplinary approach to racialized state violence,  mapping racialized deaths in custody in  their visual, analytical and geographical dimensions


Civil Spaces of Death: Civil Spaces of Death refer to the manner in which seemingly innocuous civilian sites, buildings and technologies are weaponized by state and non-state actors into spaces of trauma, torture and death for targeted racialized populations. For example, in the US context, ICE warehouses detain immigrants in civilian sites such as suburban office parks or other commercial buildings. These civilian sites are, in the process, transmuted for the detained population into sites of sexual assault, deprivation of basic amenities, trauma and death. In other words, an invisibilized form of civil penality comes into being that blurs the line between state and civil modalities of violence. Civil penality articulates the colonising of civilian sites by the state; it names the conversion of office parks and commercial buildings into suburban extensions of the larger transnational carceral apparatus of the US state

Death by Policing: Refers to how state-involved racialized deaths are a function of the way marginalized communities are criminalized and policed.

Military-Industrial-Prison-Border Complex: The military-industrial-prison-border complex refers to the conglomerate of state and non-state actors that work in tandem and that are crucial in maintaining, reproducing and expanding racialized forms of governmentality, capture, punishment and profiteering in the context of targeted racialized populations. For example, the sovereign state’s policing of the border entails both state actors (e.g., Immigration and Customs) and non-state actors (private corporations that supply surveillance equipment and that build border fences and walls). The surveillance and securitisation of the border is, in turn, militarised through the deployment of branches of the repressive state apparatus (e.g., the navy) and through the use of military technologies usually associated with theatres of war (e.g., drones to patrol and surveil seas and deserts). The last interconnected element in this conglomerate, the prison, operates on at least two crucial levels: for the state, the prison works as a concrete symbol of punishment and deterrence, and for non-state actors, the prison functions as an economic source of profiteering. The inextricable connection between all the actors in the border-military-prison complex is amply illustrated in our discussion of the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in the Australian context: Border Force or the navy captures asylum seekers arriving at the border by boat; they are imprisoned in offshore prisons, in places like Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, that are constructed and managed by a multinational private contractor (e.g., G4S, Transfield or Broadspectrum) which makes multi-million dollar profits in the process.

Necrotransport: Refers to the medium of transport for people in custody being deployed as the means of their death. Forms of necrotransport include the use of deliberately faulty or unsafe equipment (leaky, overcrowded or sabotaged boats) as well as transportation to conditions conducive to death, such as deportation to a lethal environment.

Pervasive Criminalization: Refers to the how certain populations—the racialized poor, Native and Indigenous people, immigrant workers, and black and brown youths—are hyper criminalized.

Race: Refers to the manner in which a person is classified or grouped according to perceived physical or cultural attributes. Even though race might appear to be biologically based because of its particular focus on physical attributes, it is not a biological category; rather, it is a socially constructed category that has embodied and material effects on the subjects it identifies and targets. Critically, this process of classifying someone according to their race results in their being assigned to a hierarchical scale that reproduces asymmetrical relations of power, with white people at the apex of this hierarchy and black people at the bottom. The category of race, then, is a powerful technique by which to generate and reproduce unequal relations of power, and to thereby ensure that those groups assigned to the lower end of the race hierarchy are seen as lesser human beings to whom such things as human rights do not necessarily accrue.

Race and techniques of racialisation are crucial to enabling the operations of a settler state and to its imposition of settler sovereignty. For example, in designating the Indigenous people it colonises as racially ‘inferior’ (backward, savage, uncivilised and so on), it legitimates the dismissal and destruction of their laws and culture and it rationalises the campaigns of violence that it deploys against them. In the context of the border, by racialising refugees and asylum seekers as ‘inferior’ (backward or immoral [‘they throw their children overboard’]) or as ‘threats’ (‘they are all terrorists’), it legitimates letting them die at sea or their being placed in the often lethal conditions of indefinite detention in the offshore camps.

Racial Governance: Immigration enforcement in the United States functions as a form of racial governance, that is, as a mechanism for managing the conduct of somatically different, and putatively “unruly,” populations. Indeed, the targets of immigration policing are not just any bodies, but physically and culturally distinct ones. Specifically, it is racialized migrants, Latina/os in particular, who disproportionately suffer the consequences of immigration policing.

Racialized Violence – Indigenous peoples, refugees, Black and migrant subjects: Within the violent frame of the settler colonial state, centred on Indigenous deaths as a  form of ongoing clearing of the land, the deaths of other racialized bodies within the nation and at its borders–including Black, migrant and refugee deaths–reaffirm the assertion of settler sovereignty.

Racial Precarity: Refers to the social, political, and economic vulnerability and marginality of racialized populations and their heightened risk of premature death.

Settler-Colonial State: Refers to a nation-state that has been founded through an act of colonial invasion. More than just imposing colonial rule over the Indigenous people that the invading power has subjugated, settler-colonialism is characterised by the deployment of strategies and mechanisms driven by the desired elimination of the Indigenous people whose lands the occupying power has seized and their eventual replacement by the invading settlers (Wolfe 2006). Strategies by which a settler-colonial nation attempts to eliminate Indigenous people include: racialised criminal-justice regimes that target Indigenous subjects and that result in their removal from their communities, the consequent break-up of families and their cultural networks, and their resultant over-representation in the prison system, with its high rate of Indigenous deaths in custody. Settler-colonial mechanisms of replacement include the suppression of Indigenous law, language and culture and the imposition of the settlers’ law, language and culture in the context of the occupied state. Indigenous nations deploy a wide range of tactics in order actively to resist and contest the imposition of settler rule over their lives and lands.

Sovereignty: Refers to the supreme authority deployed by a state in order to govern its people and territories. Sovereignty is the principal power that underpins a state’s institutions of governance (such as Federal Parliaments or Congress) and its laws and law-making powers (at both legislative and juridical levels). A nation’s sovereignty is enforced and securitised by such repressive apparatuses as the police force (at the domestic level) and the military (to protect its borders and to fight off external threats).

As we demonstrate throughout the analyses of Deathscapes cases, the category of sovereignty is crucially tied to the operations of the settler-state, precisely because the settler state stages, at the moment of its colonial foundation, a move to usurp or steal the sovereignty of the Indigenous nations that it has invaded and to systematically replace Indigenous sovereignty with the entire apparatus of settler sovereignty, including its regime of governance, laws, language and so on.

The imposition of settler sovereignty impacts directly on the Indigenous peoples of colonised nations through the imposition of such things as racialised forms of settler law, and on asylum seekers and refugees, through the settler nation’s racialised border policies. In effect, in the context of a settler-colonial state (for example, Australia or the United States), the settler government usurps Indigenous sovereignty in its assertion that it has the power to declare the delineation of the nation’s borders (which repeatedly violate the borders of existing Indigenous nations) and the right to determine who may enter the body of the settler nation (in violation of the unceded Indigenous sovereign right to offer hospitality to those who wish to enter their nations).

Standard Operating Procedure: Refers to the manner in which the very routinised and officially sanctioned practices of the racialized state’s operatives reproduce structural forms of injustice, increased imprisonment, trauma and death for targeted racialized subjects. For example, police discretionary powers are not neutral policing mechanisms: they are inscribed by regimes of racial profiling. Thus, the everyday deployment of police discretionary powers operates on asymmetrical practices of targeting suspect individuals, so that a white person caught transgressing the law might be let off with a mere caution, whereas a person of colour will be charged and brought into custody. In other words, the everyday deployment of police discretionary powers, as a standard operating procedure, emerges as yet another form of infrastructural racialized violence that can begin to account for the increased rates of Indigenous imprisonment, their over-representation within the prison-industrial complex, and the escalating rates of black deaths in custody. Police violence, in this schema, must not be seen as an anomaly or as disjunctive in relation to the rule of law, but as effectively coextensive with the settler-colonial state’s standard operating procedures in the governance, punishment and killing of Indigenous peoples and people of colour.

Weaponised Nature and Exposure: When features of the landscape and environment, such as oceans, mountains and deserts, become the medium of death for those seeking to cross state borders. Although these deaths are understood as caused by “nature” or “the elements,” our case studies show that state policies act to channel and direct peoples’ movements by land and sea. Jason de Leon makes a similar argument in his discussion of how “nature has been conscripted by the Border Patrol to act as an enforcer while simultaneously providing this federal agency with plausible deniability regarding blame for any victims the desert may claim” in southern Arizona (The Land of Open Graves, UCLA Press, 2014, 29-30). In another instance, known as the Saskatoon freezing deaths, Aboriginal men arrested for drunkenness or similar charges were driven in police cars to places outside the city and abandoned in freezing conditions. Weaponised Nature refers to the state’s ability to mobilise nature as yet another weapon in its necropolitical arsenal so that it produces lethal effects for those subjects that it targets as undesirable and disposable. Weaponised Nature exemplifies the operations of environmental racism.



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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.