Originally published November 4, 2014
Professor of English and Director of Disability Studies Amy Shuman and Bridget Haas, of Case Western University, were awarded a Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research grant of $16,000+ to hold a workshop—“Political Asylum and the Politics of Suspicion”—at Ohio State in March 2015.
Shuman originally wrote a book about political asylum with colleague Carol Bohmer. A visiting scholar to Ohio State from 2001-2004, Bohmer is a lawyer by practice. While at Ohio State, she volunteered her services at a local immigration center called CRIS (Community Refugee Immigration Services). Bohmer recognized that people were having trouble learning what the immigration officials expected them to talk about at their asylum hearings, and, after learning about this interaction, Shuman recognized that as a narrative problem. As a result, Carol and Bohmer sought to learn more about the narrative expectations of refugees, and then compiled their knowledge into the book: Rejecting Refugees: Political Asylum in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2007). Bohmer and Shuman have continued to do this research.
In 2012, Bridget Haas visited Shuman at Ohio State to discuss her work in political asylum, and they decided to apply for the grant to hold a conference at Ohio State on anthropological approaches to understanding political asylum. Haas wrote about political asylum in Minnesota for her dissertation at UC San Diego, and thus expressed great interest in continuing this work with Shuman.
Shuman and Haas’s 2015 workshop proposal engages with the politics of suspicion that increasingly informs policies and processes of political asylum across the globe. There is a growing body of research highlighting inconsistencies and inequalities in political asylum procedures at the local level. This workshop contributes to this body of scholarship yet importantly expands this inquiry to also interrogate the broader political ambivalences about international policy, border security, and humanitarianism that sustain and reproduce such inequitable and flawed systems of asylum.
More specifically, this workshop will explore the impact of the politics of suspicion on political asylum systems by bringing into dialogue two levels of analyses: asylum hearings/adjudicative processes, on the one hand, and larger state and international policies and debates about immigration, protection, and security, on the other. The workshop brings together international scholars of political asylum from different anthropology subfields (linguistic, political/legal, medical/psychological) as well as scholars working in folklore, law, communications and cultural studies.
Engaging theoretically with the concepts of suspicion, denial and refusal in the context of political asylum systems, this workshop aims to elucidate the specific practices, interactions, moral dilemmas, and discourses deployed in the production of particular asylum applicants as suspect and, often, subsequent “failed asylum seekers.”