Accepted Paper:

Harmonising the country of origin information infrastructure  


Jasper van der Kist (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

This paper investigates the country of origin information infrastructure. By analysing the frictions that occur between national research units as well as European efforts to overcome them, it asks how this emergent knowledge system becomes implicated in the European governance of asylum.

Paper long abstract:

As the number of asylum seekers increase, and flight routes become more complex, European governments recognise the importance of having a restricted and qualified group of professionals producing Country of Origin Information (COI). In the past two decades, practically all European countries have established dedicated research units producing country information for both asylum officials and policy-makers. Besides being a national effort, country information is high on the agenda of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). For instance, the joint gathering and provision of COI has become a core tasks of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO).

STS has long recognised that our world "massively underdetermines what scientific practices can say about it" (Barry 2001:23), and the complex world of conflict and persecution is no exception. Country research is marked by extreme ambiguity and methodological differences lead to widely divergent knowledge claims. Moreover, disparities between national COI units poses problems for formulating a common European response to asylum issues, spurring calls for further harmonisation.

Relying on document analysis, interviews, and survey findings, this paper maps out the country information infrastructure. It focuses on the 'science friction' (Edwards et al. 2011) between different organisations working with information about the refugee-sending world, as well as emerging European efforts to resolve problems of difference and strengthen cooperation by means of standard guidelines, training modules, and data-sharing systems. Finally, the paper discusses its political implications, including the legitimising role of knowledge in the governance of asylum and the asymmetrical effect of displacing migrant voices.

Panel E02
The European Other as site of institutional experiment. Articulating friction in infrastructures for processing alterity