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Cities of refuge Asylum and the politics of hospitality

Darling, Jonathan Mark (2008) Cities of refuge Asylum and the politics of hospitality. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis draws upon ethnographic work in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, to interrogate asylum as a spatial experience. Arguing that the routine framing of asylum as either an issue of national securitisation or cosmopolitan and humanitarian ethics serves to overlook the visceral and prosaic practices of living asylum in contemporary Britain, this thesis develops an account of responding to asylum seekers through everyday life which is immersed in the tacit sociality, and spatiality, of the city. Through detailing the complex negotiations which emerge as asylum seekers encounter and create an array of spaces within the city, this thesis considers how accounts of sovereignty, welcome, charity and generosity are actively performed, worked upon and fractured within daily practices of hospitality. Here national accounts of 'domopolitics' and 'secure borders' intermingle and conflict with emergent modes of ethical sensibility, as individuals respond to asylum seekers through a series of shared spaces of encounter and accomplishment. Of central importance throughout these chapters is the need to take seriously both the unique and fragile experiences of space which form part of asylum as a lived experience, and the inherently negotiated, tentative and contextual nature of these spaces of asylum, riven as they are by differing visions of asylum, ethics and politics. Five chapters seek to document and approach these spaces of asylum as sites of affective belonging, and each draws together a range of accounts from social and political theory in order to engage with Sheffield's diverse politics of asylum. In doing so these chapters fuse a series of research encounters, engagements and events with an account of politics, ethics and social theory which is emergent from the contextual negotiations of the present. Achapter on Sheffield's past illustrates how national accounts of asylum as a begrudging act of welcome infuse the negotiations of the city with asylum seekers in the present. This is then counterposed in the following chapter by an account of Sheffield as a 'City of Sanctuary', built upon a micropolitics of cultural change and a recognition of the city's relational responsibilities. Three chapters then focus on specific spaces within the city. The first of these examines the spatial negotiations of two weekly drop-in centres for asylum seekers, suggesting that these may act as sites of ethical improvisation and tacit learning. The second extends these ethical developments into the public spaces of Sheffield, arguing that a minimal politics of access and 'small achievements' arises from the particular fusion of encounter, material and memory thrown up by being among others in the city. The third of these chapters considers the varied spaces of accommodation for asylum seekers in Sheffield, arguing that these act as key constraints on an affective connection to the city and to others. These chapters develop an account of asylum as a lived, practiced and felt experience not simply occurring in Sheffield, but occurring through Sheffield. Through these chapters I then develop a possible 'politics of becoming' for asylum seekers, grounded in the opportunity for mutual and generous encounters with others, a reassertion of sanctuary as a public good and a recognition of the relational responsibilities asylum as a spatial connection throws up.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2008
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:28

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