Accepted paper:

Waiting to become/be made a refugee: (legal) meaning-making as a challenging activity for asylum seekers in Austria


Andrea Fritsche (University of Vienna )

Paper short abstract:

Based on ongoing PhD research on the legal (rights) consciousness of asylum seekers in Austria, the presentation will discuss meaning-making-processes as a major activity during an imposed waiting time, that accounts for the (un)successful transformation from 'asylum seeker' to 'refugee'.

Paper long abstract:

The label "asylum seeker" imposes a new identity on the individual and structures his_her everyday life through highly restricting regulations: Asylum seekers are practically not allowed to work or choosing their place of living; limited resources constrain them from participating in trainings, consumption, mobility, etc. Contrary to people of the majoritarian society asylum seekers are mostly depicted as "doing nothing". Until their claim is decided asylum seekers seem to live in a "standby mode". The image of passive asylum seekers is also perpetuated in the media and in societal discourses. Though, asylum seekers' time of waiting is everything else but trivial. Great effort is put into time-consuming, energy- and resource-extensive meaning-making-activities; active strategies have to be developed to endow the waiting time and the legal experience with meaning; various discourses linked to asylum and asylum seekers have to be understood, adopted or resisted to enable (re-)action within the legal system. Focusing on three aspects, the suggested presentation will take a closer look at these meaning-making-processes as a main activity during the (imposed) waiting time: Firstly, the legal and social situation of asylum seekers in Austria and therein conveyed meanings of asylum and asylum seekers will be outlined to trace the framework of the waiting time. Secondly, I will exemplify why meaning making is such a complex and specific matter in the given context. Thirdly, (referring to preliminary findings) possible meanings of law, rights, and the Self will be presented as possible products of the allegedly idle waiting time.

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