'They don't yet know that life is going to be hell': Tracing distress through the UK asylum process

Beesley, Anna Ruth (2018) 'They don't yet know that life is going to be hell': Tracing distress through the UK asylum process. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3305179


As immigration has become a central and divisive topic in the political discourse of the UK and beyond, this thesis offers a timely portrayal of the lived experiences of those who are involved in the UK asylum process. This thesis draws on the growing literature of medical anthropology and of other disciplines on the mental health and experience of distress in asylum and refugee populations. Unlike much previous literature that focuses on one group of actors, this research offers a unique contribution to knowledge by drawing methodologically on Actor Network Theory. It is therefore concerned with the spread and circulation of mental distress among the various actors involved in the asylum process.
Based on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the Scottish city of Glasgow, this thesis carefully unpacks the affective experiences of asylum legislation and policy using structural violence as an analytical lens. It is organised around five themes utilised to explore distress: bureaucracy, paperwork, disclosure, emotional labour, and waiting. These interrelated themes illustrate how in certain contexts, distress spreads among actors yet in others it is impeded; how distress can be hidden in or drawn out of the materiality of paperwork that exists within the process; how the various conflicting idioms of distress that exist within the cultures that make up the asylum system come together in various spaces throughout the process; and how the political economy of asylum services demands certain coping strategies among its workers. Considering distress highlights the structural violence within the asylum process that is embodied through uncertainty, dependency, discourses of suspicion and deservingness, dehumanisation, stigma and shame.
This thesis contends that there is a cumulative effect from seemingly minor everyday assaults on asylum applicants’ dignity, the pseudospeciation that operates in dealing with applicants, and the inequality regarding different actors’ ability to protect themselves from distress. The research illuminates the implicit violence written into government legislation, policies and funding decisions regarding asylum applicants. It concludes that attention needs to be given to the way that the asylum process is built on, creates and recreates structural violence of which asylum applicants are the primary victims.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: asylum, structural violence, distress, bureaucracy, medical anthropology.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Gibb, Dr. Robert, Pickering, Dr. Lucy and Phipps, Prof. Alison
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Ms Anna Ruth Beesley
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-8738
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 Mar 2018 15:28
Last Modified: 27 Nov 2023 14:16
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/8738

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