Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
The Judgement of Fear: Asylum, Legal Personhood and Bureaucracy in Ecuador

What does it mean to be fearful in the eyes of the law? Ever since the United Nations established that refugee is a person with a "well-founded fear of past and future persecution," recognizing fear, evaluating its plausibility and verifying its rationality has been at the core of asylum law in countries signatories of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. My research is concerned with asylum law's reliance on the judgement of fear and the implications of law's presumed access to a person's psychic state. My study is guided by questions in three analytical domains. (1) Judicialization of fear: How do attorneys and government officials use legal rationality to decide upon whose fear is more credible, reasonable and well-founded? (2) Medicalization of fear: How is psychology used to identify, measure and assess fear of persecution in asylum seekers? (3) Narration of fear: What narrative forms of testimony determine the credibility and legitimacy of fear during asylum interviews? My fieldwork takes place in Ecuador, the country with the highest number of refugees in Latin America (MREMH 2018). I will follow attorneys, government officials, and asylum seekers through the totality of asylum procedure, from when asylum seekers register their asylum petitions in local governmental offices, through how they seek free, legal representation to prepare their files, until how their cases are assessed and decided in the Department of Foreign Affairs.