Where are they now? On Fellowship: The escape and arrival

Apr 22, 2024 | Fellows, Projects, The Politics of Credibility, Transformations (Issue 12), Where are they now?

On Fellowship: The escape and arrival

Professor Margit Fauser, Ruhr-University Bochum

I have been back for around one year now, between my desk and office at Ruhr-Bochum University and what today is considered a “home office”, one of the luxuries of academic life. From January to March 2023 the IAS Fellowship had given me the occasion to a wonderful spatial and intellectual escape from my daily routines of academic life, although zoom poses severe challenges to any hope into the mechanisms that turn “out-of-sight” into “out of mind”. Yet, what I had thought of as an escape also turned out to be an arrival. Many encounters with old and new colleagues and friends, Durham scholars and international fellows, provided a stimulating intellectual environment, allowed me to rethink what I thought to know, and learn about new ideas; to listen to lectures on themes that where sometimes close and often very far from own work but always inspiring; to participate in visits into the industrial coal mining history of the deindustrialised present of the surprisingly rural landscape of County Durham, that so starkly contrasts with the metropolitan density and diversity that accompanied the coal and steel industry in the Ruhr Region; it allowed my hikes into the vast Lake District, and not least evenings with dinners & drinks with the best company.

Invited as an international Fellow by the Politics of Credibility Project that investigates asylum determination regimes we discussed the divergent asylum procedures in a variety of European countries, the mechanisms of credibility assessment, and not least the experiences of refugees when trying to make their asylum claim credible. This project asks urgent questions in light of the suspicion applicants generally face as a matter of the very procedures of refugee protection. As much as this is of political and practical relevance, it also allows for theorising on the key notions of credibility, trustworthiness, evidence, truth, knowledge, and their often ambivalent legal regulation, together with the wide discretion of bureaucratic practices. While the credibility-project focuses on the asylum procedure, my own view stems from refugees’ encounters with bureaucracy in other realms, such as health access, work, or family reunification, and from bureaucracies’ encounters with refugees, but my work also investigates other categories of migrants. Not least certain European Union citizens, especially those from the East in the West, sometimes make similar experiences to those of refugees confronting suspicion of fraud and illegitimate claims to a society that they may not be acknowledged to belong to, or at least to have the right to reside there. For me, this project is a great opportunity to carry insights and conceptualisations from my research further. As it seems, the politics of credibility in different fields relevant to refugees and other migrants are faced with rationalisations along very similar lines of desirability, deservingness, (non)belonging, or humanitarian exceptions, and ever more rarely a reflection of human or citizens’ rights.

The Credibility-project shares some important perspectives with my ongoing Urban Border Spaces-project that also accompanied my stay. From my office in a side-tower of Durham Castle, located in the midst of the fortified cathedral precinct, behind the castle’s gates I delved into the border shifting that centuries had moved from fortified cities toward the outer lines of nation states and that now again are engaging the city and the urban space. Yet, in this process borders (in parts, not all) have become less tangible, and less spatially congruent with bounded territorial space. It is my claim that recent transformations across the European border regime have introduced new agents and locations into border making, and transformed their location in the city. In order to recognise this, we need an understanding of the border that acknowledges the “internal border” not merely as a territorial and scalar-institutional shift, but more fundamentally as a mechanism of socio-spatial differentiation between those who belong and those who do not, inside or outside the territory of a state and a city. Along with multiple technologies and instruments, the increasing socio-legal differentiation of migrant categories and rights has greatly contributed to this dynamic and interconnected external and internal controls more effectively, and has thereby enhanced the role of urban agents. Consequently, a key argument emerging from this research is that rather than doing research in the city, the border needs to be studied through the city, located within a relational and multiscalar framework. Thus, driven by questions as to where borders are located today and who makes them, it becomes clear that in fact border encounters may happen anywhere, may be produced by anyone, and basically at any time. Now, after one year my work at Durham for a Special Issue on this relation between the city and the border, from where I organized a preparatory workshop and where I wrote the first draft for my introduction to theme, and presented different thoughts of this in my two lectures and received some very helpful comments and questions, is coming to an (always preliminary) end with an article in the journal Ethnic and Racial Studies.  I hope to get a chance to turn other ideas discussed with colleagues at Durham, especially those on bureaucracy, paperwork, proof, knowledge, and (administrative) ignorance that for the moment are still disparate notes into something more coherent. Thus, my engagement with themes and colleagues that accompanied my escape and arrival will be continued, and perhaps discussed at Durham in a future occasion.

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