Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Linguistic Entailments of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Asylum in Amman, Jordan

Of the more than 700,000 forced migrants living temporarily in Jordan, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) refugees are particularly vulnerable. To substantiate their refugee claims, these individuals must perform non-normative sexual/gender identities that are intelligible to adjudicators. In SOGI refugees' daily lives, however, the intelligibility of their sexual/gender identities may put them at risk of continued violence. This dissertation ethnographically investigates how SOGI refugees in Amman, Jordan use semiotic resources to grapple with these conflicting demands in navigating both institutionalized asylum procedures and the precariousness of their daily lives. Combining cultural and linguistic anthropological methods of participant observation and analysis of recorded speech, this research bridges granular-level analysis of SOGI refugees' stylistic practices with broader critique of the transnational migration regimes that shape such practices. Through its attention to style, the project closely examines how SOGI refugees combine ways of talking, dressing, and carrying their bodies to perform different identities in pursuit of social and material goals across varying contexts. Such a theoretical approach affords greater consideration to the agency of SOGI refugees, treating them not as wholly constrained by structural forces, but rather as capable of strategically maneuvering within them. By investigating SOGI asylum procedures in the understudied context of a country of first asylum, this research ethnographically illustrates the liminal position that has come to characterize the lives of a majority of the world's forced migrants. The project questions the commonly assumed linear progression of refugee migration by foregrounding the lived experiences of SOGI refugees left waiting, in between both their home countries and aspired resettlement countries.