Accepted paper:

The modes and meanings of waiting for asylum in Glasgow


Rebecca Rotter (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores bureaucratically-induced, long-term waiting for Refugee Status among a group of asylum applicants in the UK. It reflects on some of the processes, actions and perceptions that comprise their waiting, and suggests that waiting is not a passive, empty interlude as is often assumed.

Paper long abstract:

Waiting is a universal condition which punctuates every stage of the life course, yet waiting events and the forms they take have proliferated with the complexity of modernity. This paper is concerned with one particularly modern form: long-term, bureaucratically-induced waiting for Refugee Status and the 'normal' life it symbolises. Drawing on ethnographic material derived from 12 months of participant observation in Glasgow, it examines the various meanings given by a diverse group of asylum applicants to their waiting. Living under restrictive policies, excluded from a range of activities including paid work, and with limited ability to effect a change in their circumstances, these individuals tended to frame their experiences of waiting in terms of suffering, passivity, disrupted social rhythms and lost time. However, they also attempted to fill time, such as through socialising, immersing themselves in daily routines, gathering information about the asylum process, and eliciting support from peers, thus challenging the notion of waiting time as inactive and 'empty'. Indeed, some even retrospectively referred to the waiting period as 'preparatory' for future life in the UK. Ultimately, the paper attempts to move beyond simple dichotomies and common sense assumptions to suggest that waiting can, under certain conditions, be experienced and interpreted as both empty and (ful)filled/creative time, both passive idleness and engaged activity, and both a disruptive and productive/generative force.

panel P40
Ethnographies of waiting