Christmas Island Detention Centre

xmas-island-det-centre.jpg det-centre.gif

The Christmas Island detention centre known as “Immigration Reception and Processing Centre” has recently been completed at the cost of AUS$360 million. Using the Pacific Solution policy (Australian government policy to transport asylum seekers to detention camps on small island nations in the Pacific Ocean, rather than allowing them to land on the Australian mainland), the Australian prime minister removed Christmas island from Australia’s migration zone and gave the go ahead for the department of immigration to commission Global Solutions Limited to construct the detention centre. The island has a population of 1500 and is only 50 sq miles, the detention centre has the capacity to hold 800 beds and is situated at one of the island that is 24 km long and 7 km wide.

Get a tour of the site of the detention centre at this youtube link

See more architectural plans of the centre here 

Read a synopsis of Dr Imogen Tyler’s lecture about correctional design and how asylum seeking has become criminalised in UK and abroad creating a market for new architectural symbols of protection.

Design: Introductory workshop – 4-5 Oct 2007 – Day 2

Response from Brian Bloomfield (Department of Organisation, Work and Technology, Lancaster University)

One thing that could be picked from all the discussion is the question of politics.
Fiona mentioned how designers are accidentally political, and she also raised the question about how decisions are made about what is dangerous or not. You could say that design is an ordering process. It has unintended consequences: something is always left disordered. There is always a gap between the intended user and the situated user. The lack of compliance is a political issue. Sometimes designers have to try and enforce a moral-political order of safety.
Politics could be something to explore further: the dreams of a politician responding to the moment might be different to the technocractic solutions of engineers. This issue came up in John Law’s talk in the morning. In organisational studies, the creation of order is a long-standing issue. Our hubris in thinking that we can order and control always has a price.
Issues of inclusion and exclusion are crucial in design. The politics of the workplace matter here. The way in which management turns a blind eye to safety regulations needs to be recognised.

Design -Introductory workshop – 4-5 Oct 2007 – Day 2

Gerd Kortuem (Computing, Lancaster University)

Reporting on a collaborative project (Nemo) that uses pervasive sensing technologies for industrial environments. We all work on computers, but many other people work physically. For instance, vibration exposure is a serious problem. It can lead to ‘vibration white finger.’ How can technology be brought in to improve the current practice? Understanding the organizational context requires an inter-disciplinary approach. The project has introduced technologies that measure vibration for individuals. They indicate when people have exceeded their daily limit. There is a whole system that streams the information all the way back to the enterprise using wireless networking. This is an elaborate surveillance system. Case studies of workplaces at different sites have been used. Video prototypes of technologies were shown to managers and others. What was learnt? Vibration is like smoking: action is difficult to connect to effects. So making visible the information collected is really valuable. People often don’t use safety equipment because it makes them feel work. So invisibility of the technology could be a goal of the system. Learning from other people might be more important than rules imposed from the top down. Who are we designing for anyway? The organisation, the worker, etc? What are we designing for? Protection, enforcement or empowerment? Finally, there is the question of surveillance and panoptic effects [see image below]. How to avoid this? We do do this, but try to anticipate the impacts of the technology. Informed design will hopefully make a difference to this.


The panopticon: A type of prison design in 1700s by Jeremy Bantham that allowed observers to observe prisoners without them being able to tell if they are being observed or not. Creating permanent sense of paranoia and invisible omnipresence.

Design – Introductory workshop – 4-5 October 2007

Sabine Junginger (LICA, Lancaster University)

Fiona Raby has shown that design and change are deeply linked. She has pointed to the strength of design as a way of challenging assumptions, using visualisation, prototyping, alternative scenarios, and thus pointing to new possibilities for product development. It also shows some weaknesses of design: it’s abstract, fun, but pointless? But design thinking allows problems to be addressed differently. It is not a decision-making tool or a business model, but a way of challenging assumptions.
Product development: the failure rate is 55-85% for all product design. There are many unsafe products. For instance, the Segway scooter moves people. George Bush fell off one. When Segway started, there was nothing there: no market. There is often a disconnect between the organisational development environment and everyday life. Exploitation is a more common mode of engagement than exploration. We need to understand better what design contributes to problem-solving and product development. This can be in many different contexts: tax offices need to afford access to their services. Products come in all shapes and sizes. If everything is designed, the question is what kind of design is at work.

Design – Introductory workshop – 4-5 Oct 2007 – Day 2

Design session

Cindy Weber introduced the design speakers from RCA, LICA &Imagination@Lancaster, Lancaster University, Department of Computing, and Department of Organisation, Work and Technology.

Fiona Raby on critical design
Fiona Raby
of Dunne + Raby discussed feral nature of critical design, and the accidental political nature of what it does. It works with the mismatch between official truths and what happens through the design.
Design is about problem solving: this is what designers do well. But what happens when the projects become so complex that there are no easy solutions? How does design respond to that? How does it deal with persistent dilemma? In contrast to social sciences, to question is not normal for design. Design sits at the centre of capitalist worlds.

The example of the alcohol salesman’s cane – it would siphon the alcohol in a way that preserves the norms of good manners and hospitality. A lot of the work reflects attempts to deal with imperfections.

Fiona and the alcohol salemans cane
At the Science Museum, a piece on the future of energy tried to do something with the impossibility of predicting the future of energy. The exhibit was aimed at children 7-14 years. Three scenarios resulted: 1. using meat products-based microbial fuel cells; it would have stylised blood-bags to fuel ipods; and manuals to help people relate to this. 2. Human waste becomes an important commodity: how would toilet design change? lunchbox that carries food to school and poo home. 3 Hydrogen is probably a solution: households might compete to produce energy, families are energy productive units, birthday contracts between parents and children to manufacture energy throughout their lives, for instance by wearing hydrolysers during play. Children had discussions with their parents about the objects.

‘Technology makes us smart savvy people in control of their lives.’
The work of J.G. Ballard paints a world filled with insecurity in the midst of technology. ‘Therapy culture’ means that we are not robust enough to deal with strong feelings. Fears of being kidnapped, abducted abound. So Raby and Dunne designed an object people live with, made of flooring materials. The object opens so that you can dive in and protect yourself from such feelings. Rather than being a victim in this space, it would give you pleasure. It was important that you could slide it open easily, even with one finger. The boxes were later used in a photo fashion street, a collaboration.

The Huggable Atomic Mushrooms was made before the London bombings. Different versions used different scales and materials.

huggable atomic mushroom robots

There are many robots in Japan. They are either becoming more human-like or becoming ubiquitous. They disappear into the environment. Is there a different way to imagine what a robot could be? There could be a purely autonomous robot, a red ring, that is only distracted by electromagnetic fields. It moves out of them. It runs your home, but does nothing for you except offer an electromagnetic free space. Another robot could have an identity that comes from itself. The possibilities of sensing are manifold, but who decides what is dangerous? This robot would be paranoid because it has to make decisions about what is dangerous or not. Another robot would be awkward to hold, you have to stare deeply into the eyes of a wooden thing. The issue here is eye-contact. Do robots need us less than we need them? The domestic robot needs to be moved constantly. Who is control here: it or us? Each robot is a seed to open questions. With all of them, the idea is to jump straight into making something.

After many years working with digital technologies as designers, the biological and DNA-based research seemed a long way from everyday life, and from designers do. Could designers engage with biotechnologies? There so much mis-communication around biotechnology. With design, it might be possible to intervene in everyday life rather than making big statements. What happens as some of this becomes products? R & D tried to create a platform that would allow people to engage. Bioland is an out-of-town shopping centre where all bio-needs could be purchased. It has a hospitals, clinics and shops.

The Zebra-fish pollution detector was too expensive to use and ended up as an exotic pet. Featherless chickens allowed cheaper production. Behind all this, the promise of the technology is pervasive. For instance, people giving tissue samples on the promise of future therapeutic interventions. There are ethical difficulties in certain projects: for instance, to get bone materials, only the wisdom teeth can easily supply it (see Ian Thomson’s work at Imperial College).

Mr Ventner offered at one time for £400k to predict what illness you might die of, as well as CD with your genome on it. Would future health really affect your life? The Evidence Dolls come with indelible pen and represent a change in the nature of dating and love relationships. They would be based on DNA analysis. Samples could be stored between the legs of the dolls Women were asked to re-evaluate their lovers in terms of genetic potential using the Evidence Dolls. Each doll represented an interview about a lover. Women said that they would get DNA analysis done on their lovers hair sample. Why not have the best nature can offer? Perhaps cloned in the form of a dog. The desire to put DNA into things and possess them is there.

evidence doll and penis dna drawers

Final point: people find out about things too late. Design can be a point that makes things visible thing earlier.

Sciences of Protection? – Introductory workshop – 4-5 Oct 2007

Sciences of protection?

Professor John Law
(Centre for Science Studies, Lancaster University): how does control overcome complexity? The case study for this is the FMD outbreak centred on Pirbright.


The response to the current FMD uses surveillance and biosecurity to reduce the complexity of interactions between animals and other actors in the agricultural system, and to reduce the speed of these interactions. But why are those interactions so fast and complex? Firstly the world is geographically and economically stratified into zones: disease free vs diseased. Secondly the links between animals, famrs, people, machinery and trading places are many. Some of these are proximate and some are long distance.
Some comments on this:
1. attempts to order the agricultural system in 2001 were disordering: slaughter is disturbing; animal welfare is diminished, tourism is damaged, and the health and well-being of farming communities are affected.
2. The thesis of faster and more complex world is questionable in some ways. There are specific differences in organisation that affect complexity. This can be seen by looking at the role of the Common Agricultural Policy, BSE, more scattered landholdings, movements of animals.

We may be seeing a complexity escalation. Can control systems increase their capacity to match the increase in complexity? The State says yes. But also the control system can further increase complexity. Perrow’s theory is useful here. A tightly coupled system is exposed to accidents. Agriculture is structurally vulnerable because of tightly coupling. No tinkering can address these. We need to get into the basic politics and policy.

So to return to the Pirbright situation. Institute for Animal Health is a reference laboratory. It uses small amounts of FMD virus. Merial manufactures thousands of litres of FMD vaccine. The Health and Safety Executive report has investigated how the virus got out of Pirbright. The plumbing, and Dyno-Rod seems to be vital. An interesting diagram of plumbing was shown. Waste flows from Meriel to the waste treatment plant. The drains were in poor condition.
‘Containment was not achieved.’ Contractors were at work here too. Lorries were taking soil offsite. Overflows from manholes were picked up by lorry tyres, and then distributed along a route that passes by farms that later showed infection. But add to this the multiple logics at work here: divergent interests, different properties of the virus used to make vaccines, floods, contractors transporting soil, patchy maintenance of different era drains. An archaeology of drains shows that only parts of Pirbright were controlled. This is not glamorous.


So Pirbright is part of an agricultural safety system but adds complexity, disorder, and insecurity. It works through surveillance and control, but adds complexity, multiple logics and times. Ideology that responds to this: risk analyses, view failures as technical, the new will replace the old.

How to respond to this situation? Tighten control or accept impurity? The latter is better – find ways to accept complex, layered.


Dr. Celia Roberts (Department of Sociology)

Thinking about protection in terms of the mundane and intimate – condoms, sanitary pads offering personal protection of the self – against pain and embarassment.

breast guard used in fencing condom protection

Wishes to suggest that even simple technologies can and do go wrong. They do not fail because they are complex but because they enrol people and bodies in real emotive, embodied social situations. They will work in some of these contexts and fail in others.

Much of John’s analysis of security and safety in agriculture may have resonance when thinking about human reproduction, for example, in the case study of Pre-Implantation Diagnosis (PGD) which is about enacting control to avoid children with a serious genetic condition coming into being. This is popularly referred to as the Designer Baby phenomenon.

Couples engage in PGD in order to avoid the potential and sometimes past feelings of suffering. Yet PGD does sometimes fail in the mundane ‘normal’ sense. Most people fail to ‘get what they want’ i.e. a healthy baby – the success rate is 20%. This is a failure in terms of people being without a baby and so may be seen as banal and non-dramatic, hopes dashed. The experience of PGD technology then may result in more suffering. Would more reproduction help? Or better social support or cultural innovations? Perhaps a social decoupling so that we can open up cultural ideas about human reproduction to have less biomedical ownership over the process and definition of experience. We need to think better about what the costs might be of investing our hopes in such technoscientific ways of managing security and protection.

Claire Waterton and Dr. Rebecca Ellis (Department of Sociology)

We have selected four issues from John’s paper which allow us to reflect upon our own interest in DNA barcoding which until now we had not framed in terms of security. We are more focussed upon experimental features of a design for a system. Like John we are interested in cases where insecurities pop up in surprising places.

dna barcoding diagram

Our case of DNA barcoding supports the claim that monolithic standards are too generalising and do not allow for adequate containment and control in modernist terms. We are interested in the current scientific and global project to ‘bank’ DNA samples of a whole range of species (there are at least 100 million on Earth) as an attempt (framed as such) to counter threats to biodiversity. Another interest is in the identification of virus carrying species and the prevention of bird strikes in airplanes!

For us this project speaks to a fear and inability for ‘us’ to completely capture knowledge of ‘nature’. Integral to the barcoder’s toolkit are various methods of purifying nature. Systems of biosecurity assume a certain notion of a future better life. What needs to be different for human and global survival? We draw upon Rabinow’s idea of purgatorial tropes to think through the present unease over the knowability of the future and fears over ordering technological systems and ‘nature’.

Barcoding uses a region of DNA called Cytochome Oxidase 1 (CO1), which is readibly usable, cheap and processable for identification and comparison of species. This has been adopted as the standard piece of DNA for the barcoding community to use. This is then referred against the barcode library of known, collated species. The ultimate dream is that one will be able to do this in the field with a handheld barcoder, thus improving radically the speed of coding and categorisation.

With the development of the system the barcoding HQ at Guelph (Canada) has had to open up to biodiversity. CO1 does not work for plants – so the current issue is whether a standard can be agreed for plant coding. A heated debate!

Whereas John ends his paper asking for the acceptance of vulnerability, we find a science generating a lot of material that has scope for contamination (also of the idea of uniformity).

Link to Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

Dr. Greg Myers (Department of Linguistics and English Language)

I begin with an image of the big STOP sign from the bird flu outbreak at the Bernard Manning Turkey farm.

Applied Linguistics as the study of real world problems where language plays a part. For example the case of HN51 entering our common language. My own area is analysing focus group transcripts in great detail, for example, discussions about security issues.

One way to see the function of STS is a counter to the view that science is seen as the solution to all our problems. Many of John’s examples of scientific ideologies involve everyday different ways of talking and interaction.

Focussing on the notion of proximity – space and place are crucial to security. But science presents itself as implicitly placeless (The god’s eye view). Proximity adds touch, is the result of everyday practices and speaks to identity and interaction. Security makes you rethink proximity. This will be developed further in the next workshop in the series.

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Photograph from sldownard’s flickr account

More warning signs can be found here>

Introductory workshop – 4-5 Oct 2007 – Day 1

There are 45 people at the workshop from nearly all faculties at Lancaster University, as well as participants from Manchester and London. The annual research program was introduced by Corinne May-Chahal (FASS) and Ruth Wodak (Chair, Academic Board, IAS).

Professor Cindy Weber introduced the key questions for the program: how is safe living conceived today? However conceived, is it livable? Adrian Mackenzie sketched the key facets of ‘safe living’ that later events in the annual research program will address. Mark Lacy discussed the desirability of a biometric iPod ready for the age of terror. The iPod would integrate security and entertainment. What composite possibilities would this allow?
More importantly, how would we begin to think about the possibilities of such a device? The workshop would start to do this by thinking about how political dynamics feed back into devices. A policy report from UK Cabinet Office, ‘Building on Progress: Security, Crime and Justice’ was chosen as one way to engage with the social, institutional, and design implications of the construction of such devices.

Roundtable on ‘Building on Progress: Security, Crime and Justice’

Professor Rachel Cooper (LICA, Imagination@Lancaster) spoke about a project done with the Home Office and the Design Council called ‘Design Against Crime.’ The project (2003) documented 30 case studies in which design had been used against crime. These were re-packaged by the Design Council as documents describing products that were inspiring, useful for training or learning in relation to various context: transport, education, shopping, etc. For instance, the DieHard battery (US) would no longer work as soon it was removed from a car. This protects against the widespread theft of batteries. Other examples include the re-design of the Dulux paint can to thwart a paint theft scam in Birmingham, or the re-development of social spaces to increase visibility, or fences built to prevent loitering in public spaces. A key goal was to develop materials that could be used for teaching in high school design classes in UK. A number of other initiatives were developed: design against crime competitions for students; professional development for designers. For instance, this was focused on design in retail, and involved police and retailers as well as designers.

Dr James Wilsdon (IAS/Demos) spoke about how security has come to the fore in political discourse, especially in the form of ‘liquid fear’ (Zygmunt Baumann). The key question is: what is being smuggled in under the rubric of security, safety and protection? This does not mean turning to conspiracy theory as Adam Curtis (see his documentaries: The Trap [concept of freedom and fear],

Still from Adam Curtis’ The Trap

The Century of the Self [the roots of consumerism & PR] and The Power of Nightmares [comparing Neo conservatists with radical islamists] for instance, argues. How is security, safety and protection used to drive through policy decisions? From the perspective of science and innovation policy, there is a tendency to actually shut down debates even in the guise of opening up debate. The use of notion of risk is a good example since it often narrows debate down. The challenge of Chindia is also being used to drive policy decisions. We need to be suspicious and alert to these rhetorics of closure. Actually there is very little debate about these securities and fears. The Information Commissioner Richard Thomas is one exception to this. But Deborah Mathisons Citizen Juries of Mori’s polling data does not open up debate. There are sham consultations and debates, for instance, taking place on nuclear new build. The decision has already been taken. Calvino’s ‘Six Memos for the Next Millenium’ is a nice ethics to how things could be done differently.

Italo Calvinos Six Memos for the next millenium

Dr Suzanne Regan (Department of Organisation, Work and Technology, Lancaster University) switched the focus to looking at some of the everyday practices that underlie protection. There were six papers published by Cabinet under the ‘Building on Progress’ theme. The ‘Families’ policy report looks, among things, at ‘disadvantaged’ families in the context of child protection services. For instance, the Basic Services Integrated Database will flag up children and families that social services may need to protect. The rise of child protection reports began with X-rays of battered babies at University of Colorado, Denver in the 1960s. This led to protocols and procedures for ‘child abuse.’ There has been a rise recently in the number of children identified as experiencing ’emotional abuse.’ This can be linked to police involvement in domestic violence disputes. Bureaucratic responses to complex problems in families need to be investigated. A case was discussed that illustrates the self-referential features that serve to exclude people. There are mismatches and disconnects between the procedures and discourses of protection and experience of people in this situation. ‘Information can disconfirm discursive identities’. A ‘simulacra of protection’ can result from these procedures and protocols. In every setting – police, criminal justice, social services – a similar simulacra can be found. How then to design safe living when such practices of exclusion are systematically enacted?

Dr Imogen Tyler (Sociology, Lancaster University) asked how ‘safe living’ and the desire to design out insecurity excludes and screens out certain groups? How does correctional design abject people? The figure of the asylum seeker was once termed a refugee. Such people come seeking safety or a haven, but increasingly don’t get what they come for. This figure has been fetishised in many ways. The imaginative geography of detention is a key site for policy, design and debate. Immigration and detention industries are pivotal. What challenges to abjected populations are possible? The protection of a safe group always engenders the unsafe, the unprotected. The government is explicitly committed to private detention facilities in the ‘Building on Progress’ reports. The UK government is also re-considering its commitment to human rights legal instruments. This too is mentioned in the report.
Reporting centres for asylum seekers are one place to begin thinking about this concretely. The reporting centre in Glasgow is a hard place to imagine in some ways. It places the myth of national hospitality in question. The UK government has the widest governmental powers to detain and remove in the EU. Now the very act of seeking asylum has become the ground for detention in many states. The fortification of boundaries introduces ‘states within a state.’ There is a booming commerce in asylum, safe living and protection. Who profits? In addition to regular prisons, there are 13 detention centres. 7 of them are run under contract. We can’t actually just look at government policy because of the way in which corporate interests are driving events. They want to keep facilities expanding and full, even as asylum applications fall. For instance, Global Solutions Limited runs prisons and detention centres. It has a totally monopoly on Australia’s detention centres. It’s slogan is ‘people are our business; our business is our people.’ The facts and figures on these centres are difficult to find. They are closed and visited by few people. No cameras or phones are allowed, apart from payphones. This is an unmapped industry. There is a feedback mechanism that runs through mass media that ratchets up developments in this area. The detention centre is hyper-visible in the news media. They are imagined as spaces of anger or luxury, even though little is known about them. Deliberate conflation of different categories of people occurs. Asylum seeking has become criminalised in UK, interchangeably with the figure of the terrorist. What is missing here? The actual people. What happens to the surplus population? What does it mean that government is going to review its human rights obligations? What about ethics? What about unsafe live, communities of resistance, means of interfering or designing unsafe spaces?

Professor Michael Dillon (Politics and International Relations, Lancaster University) looked to some of the wider conceptual issues to begin with. In a sense, we have discussed an architecture of security as an imaginary. It is a dominant imaginary. The logo of the ARP is an open safety pin, an everyday object. It can be a weapon, especially when it is open. There is constant slippage between weapon and openness. It has an ambivalence. Cicero was famous for this motto: the safety [salus] of the people is the supreme law. All security discourse constitute political communities. They are integral to who and what we think we are. There is no discourse on security without fear and terror. Design and security have an ancient connection. For instance, crusader castles reflect this. But we are in a boom time for security design. There is a shift from prophylactic security design to something complementary, the design of safe living. When life is the referent object, what difference does that make? All referent objects give rise to different epistemologies and politics. Securing life raises different problems to securing the nation-state. The latter concern leads to prophylactic security design. If you take life as referent object, then different design problem arise.
There are different conceptions of life that might become object of concern. Life here is a biological function. This informs the dominant security imaginary today. Sometimes this is confined to human life as biological life. But other forms of life are recognised, especially animal life. Across these, complexity arises from closely connected interactions that lead to non-linear transformations, change, unpredictability and contingency. Life-like systems evolve. Life displays further contingency and aleatory features.
In a policy forum, risk is one way to describe these. Risk is the commodification of change and exposure to contingency. Life circulates, and living systems are futural. Life is ‘evental’ in many senses that elicit calculation, management strategies, and contingency planning. Transformations in life include demographic, digitalisation, and molecularisation facets. For instance, chronic illness is always already at work in our lives, and this elicits demographical, digitalising and molecularising processes that reach into the lives of population at critical junctures, or indeed, throughout life courses. The promotion of life, the production of life, relies on vital signs such as complexity, interactive adaptation, emergence, multi-genesis, and pluri-potency. The question is how to animate and engineer preferred forms of life. This ambition stretched from animal forms, human forms, to economic and social forms. The poetry of Donald Rumsfield offers a good way to summarise this ethos:

donald rumsfeldThe Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing