Sociologic: Let’s Think Sociologically About the Current Asylum Seeker Debates

IMG_3880Two Mondays ago the High Court controversially rejected a challenge to the Australian Government’s operation of the immigration detention centre on Nauru as unlawful and unconstitutional. The move could see 267 asylum seekers (including 37 babies and 54 children), all of whom are currently residing in Australia, deported to Nauru.


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is in agreement with the High Courts decision, told Parliament that the operation ensured: “Our borders are secure. The line has to be drawn somewhere and it is drawn at our border.” 


Check out this news coverage:…/asylum-seekers-on-nauru-to-…/6828130.

Rather than point the finger and call out ‘racism’ (or not!), let’s ask, ‘how does “Whiteness” operate here?’.


By ‘Whiteness’ I mean those who are not ‘Third World-Looking’ (to borrow from Ghassan Hage). This requires us to think sociologically – not just politically – about the problem. Thinking sociologically means understanding why people do the things they do in a way that does not attack, disparage, or condemn.


Here are some things to think about and questions to ask:

  • Firstly, let’s take a methodological and ethical turn: Why might it be important to think about the ways ‘Whiteness’ operates in the current debates around asylum seekers?
  • Might it open up a way for thinking critically about how white privilege is reproduced and maintained?
  • It would be great now to turn to Farida Fozdar’s chapter in Sociologic on ‘Race and Ethnicity’ where she talks about the ways white power works to position certain people as outsiders with inferior rights in Australia (pp. 172-173). How can you apply these theoretical arguments to Turnbull’s comments and the High Courts decision?


Happy thinking.


James and Alex

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