The Sovereign's Gift: Reciprocity and Invisibility Inside U.S. Immigration Camps

Document Type


Publication Date



This dissertation brings an ethnographic eye to bear on an immigration detention camp near Los Angeles, California in 1999 and 2000 and it analyzes the posture of the legal order towards non-citizens. The project is an ethnography of the state and the society that creates the camp as much as the inhabitants of the camp. The act of detention is often described in court opinions and by officials as an act of generosity on the part of the state. Instead of an act of deprivation, it is an act of beneficence, a gift. This gift seeks to preserve the independence of the state, to avoid ties of reciprocity. In this space where the state rejects reciprocity, detainees use self-mutilation, hunger strikes, and other types of sacrifice to attempt to assert a relationship with the state, which then may seek to side-step the issue with court orders allowing force feeding or other types of refusal to negotiate. The camp becomes a site of conflict between liberalism and popular sovereignty, at once a place of more protection than the popular sovereign can understand, while performing an exercise of exclusion based on criteria incomprehensible from the liberal perspective.

Publication Title

The Sovereign's Gift: Reciprocity and Invisibility Inside U.S. Immigration Camps


This record does not contain full text. If available, click on the "DOI" link to see where the full text of the item is located. If you are a UB student, or faculty or staff member and unable to access the full text at the link, try searching for the item in Everything Search ( If not available, request via Delivery+ (

This document is currently not available here.