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Life in dispersal : narratives of asylum, identity and community

By Philip Brown


This study explores how the immigration status of the 'asylum seeker' impacts upon notions of\ud 'identity', 'community' and 'belonging' whilst claiming asylum in the UK. By taking a narrativedialogical\ud approach this research explores the stories that have been constructed around 'asylum'\ud by policy, those working with 'asylum seekers' and 'asylum seekers' themselves. This research\ud looks at how the 'official' narratives of asylum are operationalised and delivered by workers\ud contracted to implement government policy. The study also explores how those making a claim\ud for asylum narrate their lives whilst living in dispersal sites in one region of the UK with\ud particular focus paid to exploring how asylum and dispersal impacts upon 'identity' and\ud 'belonging'.\ud \ud \ud The data for this project was generated in three phases. In the first phase of data generation ten\ud asylum support managers participated in semi-structured interviews. These managers worked for\ud local authorities in the Region planning the strategy and delivery of the National Asylum Support\ud Service (NASS) policies to 'asylum seekers' accommodated locally. The second phase of the\ud research also included workers involved in delivering NASS support but in a service delivery\ud role. Twenty-two people from across the Region were invited to attend three separate focus\ud groups. The third and final phase of the research involved the participation of ten 'asylum\ud seekers', living in dispersal sites across the Region, in lengthy narrative interviews. The data was\ud analysed using narrative analytical techniques informed by the work of Clandinin and Connelly\ud (2000) and Riessman (2004) around thematic narrative analysis and guided by the theory of\ud 'dialogism' (Bakhtin, 1981).\ud \ud \ud The research revealed that integrating a narrative-dialogical approach to understanding the\ud casylum' experience has allowed space for a piece of research that appears to 'fit' into the fife\ud worlds of the 'asylum seeker'. Moving toward a theoretical stance of dialogism has made it\ud possible to explore an alternative way in which the production of narratives relate to both the\ud personal and the social world of the individual. Rather than discounting the possibility that\ud conflict and contradiction can exist in personal narratives simultaneously this research has shown\ud that by taking a narrative-dialogical approach embraces the schizophrenic quality that appears to\ud punctuate the narratives of exiles and 'asylum seekers'. The research has also shown that those\ud contracted to operationalise and deliver NASS support to asylum seekers are not reduced to\ud simple ventriloquists in the support process. Instead what has emerged are support service\ud workers that take a creative and active role in interpreting their 'roles' to be conducive with the\ud perceived needs of their organisation, the 'community' and the 'asylum seeker'. Narrating their\ud work as a 'quest' support service workers can be seen as active and often 'heroic' in the way in\ud which they act as a 'buffer' between the policies designed by NASS and the asylum seekers they\ud support. By using Bakhtin's notion of authoritative and internally persuasive discourse (Bakhtin,\ud 1981), support service workers can be seen to be adhering to components of the 'official' or\ud authoritative discourse whilst at the same time transforming other components that are not seen\ud as internally persuasive. From the narrative accounts generated with 'asylum seekers' it emerged\ud that conflict and contradiction appeared to confound their attempts to produce narrative\ud coherence. This conflict and contradiction appeared to suggest a good deal of psychological\ud tension as 'asylum seekers' attempted to narrate; feelings of belonging, the balance between\ud security and uncertainty and their feelings of 'home' and identity. What appeared was a dialogical\ud quality to their narrative accounts which emphasised simultaneity but due to their restricted\ud inunigration status did not have the 'privilege' of being both/and. Rather what emerged was a\ud dialogical structure that can be seent o be characterisedb y the tension of being 'in between' but\ud being 'neither/nor'. Such a position restricts the ability to 'move and mix' (Hermans and\ud Kempen, 1998) in their new milieu as they are held in stasis and limbo by the multiple voices\ud spoken by the 'asylum system'

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