Accepted paper:

Waiting as engaged activity: the case of asylum seekers stuck in the UK asylum process


Rebecca Rotter (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the indefinite waiting of asylum applicants in the UK, for Refugee Status and the 'normal' life that it symbolises. People's reflections on this period and the methods by which they filled time indicate that waiting is not such a passive, idle state as we might think.

Paper long abstract:

Waiting is a universal condition which punctuates everyday life at all stages of the life course. However, waiting events have proliferated with the complexity and interdependency of modernity, where the individual plays a small part and exercises limited control. Rather than focusing on "quotidian waiting events", which are part of everyday corporeal experience (Bissell 2007), this paper is concerned with long-term, metaphysical waiting for a 'normal', secure life. It provides an ethnographic account of a group of asylum seekers who sought protection in the UK and waited 2-9 years for an ultimate decision: either refusal and deportation to a precarious existence in the country of origin, or the chance to start anew in the UK.

Living under restrictive policies, excluded from productive activities such as work, and limited ability to effect a change in their circumstances, the asylum seekers in the study articulated a sense of passivity, 'lost time', boredom and being out of sync with social rhythms. However, they also pursued multifarious methods for filling time, such as socialising, praying, immersing themselves in daily routines, gathering information about the asylum process, and eliciting support from peers, which challenged the notion of waiting time as inactive and 'empty'. Although painfully uncertain, the waiting period was sometimes retrospectively understood as 'preparatory' for the future. This indicates that more may be taking place during seemingly uneventful periods than meets the eye; they may offer possibilities for reflection, creativity and change. It is argued that waiting should be understood as an engaged activity.

panel W095
Waiting for Godot & Co: modes and moods of the uneventful