Accepted Papers:

Evidence of pain: medico-legal expertise on torture within asylum proceedings  


Monika Weissensteiner (University of Kent)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper analyses how “tortured bodies” of asylum seekers emerge and are constructed as (medico-legal) evidence within textual trajectories and intimate spaces of both compassion and distance. It explores experts' “double alliances” within the contemporary apparatus of security-migration management.

Paper long abstract:

Medico-legal documentation of torture and the so called "Istanbul Protocol" (IP), initially developed to hold perpetrators accountable, has been proposed by non-state agents in Europe as possible solution to the state's obligation of allocating care and assigning international protection status. The IP as technological instrument promises to render the intimate aftermath of violence intelligible to bureaucratic and judiciary procedures and to enable governance through care and control. Embedded in the security-migration assemblages of power, however, it has acquired new meanings and functions.

This paper examines epistemological and ethical dilemmas encountered by medical experts who read and translate "tortured bodies" into text for the purpose of substantiating asylum applications as well as lawyers' opinions and court decisions regarding the evidentiary weight of these documents.

Drawing on ethnographic research in Ireland (2008), confronted with data from Spain (2009), it will be analysed how the asylum seeker's body emerges and is constructed as evidence, within intimate spaces of both compassion and distance: a) objectified as multiple ent-textualised text, whereby "truthfulness" is produced through correct standardised text-making; b) "re-traumatized"/"re-victimized" as body in pain who re-lives his or her experiences of torture; c) as that what ultimately defies to be captured as epistemological category through the medical gaze and bears polisemic (un)certainties. Bodies as evidence of what, one might ask.

These examples, together with the entanglement of medical knowledge on torture with post 9/11 security debates on "enhanced interrogation" techniques, can serve for developing anthropological perspectives regarding conditions, challenges and implications of "collaborations" within today's security-scapes.

Panel P001
Bodies of evidence, experts, and intimacy in the anthropology of security (EASA Anthropology of Security Network)