Accepted Paper:

Territorializing asylum in bureaucratic practices of 'eligibility'  


Ephraim Poertner (University of Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

To establish what constitutes a human ‘eligible’ for protection, asylum bureaucrats regularly invoke ‘territories of persecution’ as delimited spaces of eligibility. In turn, these territories are mapped on and enforced through the body of asylum subjects – entailing a momentous territorialization of asylum.

Paper long abstract:

In the asylum apparatus in Switzerland, which seemingly is in constant transformation and response to crisis of some sorts, state bureaucrats daily encounter asylum-seekers and consider what constitutes a human 'eligible' for protection. I explore the manifold criteria of eligibility carved out in asylum law and institutional frameworks and the deliberation of bureaucrats in asylum case- and decision-making. While the asylum bureaucracy is constantly re-organized and legal categories shift, encounters of bureaucrats with asylum claimants and/or their 'entextualized' stories continuously revolve around the dialogical establishment of the credibility of persecution narratives, their fit with the refugee definition and potential impediments to repatriation. In these encounters, bureaucrats are imagining deservingness and vulnerability, but also what I call 'territories of persecution'. They spatialize asylum by invoking territories associated with knowable persecution scenarios and respective criteria and narratives of eligibility. I argue that these encounters even entail a distinctive mapping and enforcement of territory through the body - a territorialization of asylum and its subjects. Drawing on anthropological fieldwork on everyday decision- and case-making practices inside the Swiss asylum bureaucracy, I point out the crucial effects of such a territorialization: how it reworks moral frames of eligibility and leads to a depoliticization of both the body- and geo-politics of asylum.

Panel P045
Tracing eligibilities: moralities, performances, practices (EASA Network for Anthropology of Law and Rights)