This paper explores the utility of the term necropolitics (Mbembe, 2003, Mbembe, 2019). Mbembe refers to necropolitics as the converse of Foucauldian biopower; necropolitical power, says Mbembe, is a contemporary subjugation of life to the power of death (2019: 92). I explore the utility of necropolitics looking at the effects of “fast track” processing, a new Australian refugee processing for those who have arrived “unauthorised”, by sea.

Necropolitical power features throughout Australian asylum seeker policy, as bordering, externalisation, and incarceration: key features of Australian policy and legislation for those who arrive in Australia by sea as "unauthorised maritime arrivals". With Australia's obligations to the UN Refugee Convention removed through 2014 laws from the processing of refugee claims, more asylum-seeking people now fail “fast track” refugee processing. Facing the ever-present threat of detention and refoulement if they do not update visas regularly, asylum seekers and also those found to be refugees must adhere to a stringent behaviour code that prevents them from speaking publicly about their situation. Further punitive policy acts a necropolitical force, removing the capacity to find regular work, denying welfare support, leaving people destitute and despairing, and driving many who have failed “fast track” to consider returning to their place of persecution.

Using fieldwork undertaken over three years at a voluntary asylum seeker hub, this paper investigates if necropolitics is an adequate anthropological conceptualisation to help account for the ways in which people react and “speak back” to policy (Marston and McDonald, 2006). Inspired by the work of (Biehl and Locke, 2017) on “becoming”, this paper explores ways to incorporate what I shall refer to as “strategies of becoming” used by asylum-seeking and refugee people to navigate necropolitical policy.


BIEHL, J. & LOCKE, P. 2017. Unfinished: The Anthropology of Becoming, Duke University Press.

MARSTON, G. & MCDONALD, C. 2006. Analysing social policy: a governmental approach, Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar.

MBEMBE, A. 2003. Necropolitics. Public Culture, 15, 11.

MBEMBE, A. 2019. Necropolitics, Duke University Press.


Hanne Worsoe is in her final year of a PhD in Anthropology in the School of Social Science, University of Queensland. She researches with asylum-seeking and refugee people living in Australian communities, and how they deal with the new “fast track” refugee processing for “unauthorised maritime arrivals”. She also works with advocates and other groups assisting people on temporary visas.
Hanne is interested in the anthropology of policy, dialogue of “rights”, the intersectional, gendered effects of government refugee policy; the phenomenon of citizenship conditionality as part of a post-colonial national imaginary; and issues regarding access to training, education and work for refugees on temporary visas.

For further information, see https://social-science.uq.edu.au/profile/540/hanne-worsoe

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