RGS-IBG 2018

In August 2018 Professor Nick Gill presented a paper at the annual RGS-IBG Annual International Conference titled ‘Legal Ethnography, Bureaucracy and Asylum Determination’. More information on the conference and the panel can be found here.


Ethnography of asylum determination offers a window into a complex, obfuscated and politicised area of law that is central to foundational debates about the viability of the European Union and the moral obligations that Western developed states owe to vulnerable outsiders. Ethnographic approaches to law have the potential to destabilise hidden assumptions and reveal concealed inconsistencies in legal processes and concepts. Laws tend to give the impression of coherence and uniformity, which can be misleading, and unravelled by careful, intensive observation. Asylum determination in Europe faces the tension between fairness and efficiency, and between consistency and variety, among plenty of other challenges. By examining these tensions, it is possible to lay bare the confusion, improvisation, inconsistency, complexity and emotional turmoil inherent to immigration bureaucracies.