Brown, Philip (2005) Life in dispersal : narratives of asylum, identity and community. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This study explores how the immigration status of the 'asylum seeker' impacts upon notions of
'identity', 'community' and 'belonging' whilst claiming asylum in the UK. By taking a narrativedialogical
approach this research explores the stories that have been constructed around 'asylum'
by policy, those working with 'asylum seekers' and 'asylum seekers' themselves. This research
looks at how the 'official' narratives of asylum are operationalised and delivered by workers
contracted to implement government policy. The study also explores how those making a claim
for asylum narrate their lives whilst living in dispersal sites in one region of the UK with
particular focus paid to exploring how asylum and dispersal impacts upon 'identity' and

The data for this project was generated in three phases. In the first phase of data generation ten
asylum support managers participated in semi-structured interviews. These managers worked for
local authorities in the Region planning the strategy and delivery of the National Asylum Support
Service (NASS) policies to 'asylum seekers' accommodated locally. The second phase of the
research also included workers involved in delivering NASS support but in a service delivery
role. Twenty-two people from across the Region were invited to attend three separate focus
groups. The third and final phase of the research involved the participation of ten 'asylum
seekers', living in dispersal sites across the Region, in lengthy narrative interviews. The data was
analysed using narrative analytical techniques informed by the work of Clandinin and Connelly
(2000) and Riessman (2004) around thematic narrative analysis and guided by the theory of
'dialogism' (Bakhtin, 1981).

The research revealed that integrating a narrative-dialogical approach to understanding the
casylum' experience has allowed space for a piece of research that appears to 'fit' into the fife
worlds of the 'asylum seeker'. Moving toward a theoretical stance of dialogism has made it
possible to explore an alternative way in which the production of narratives relate to both the
personal and the social world of the individual. Rather than discounting the possibility that
conflict and contradiction can exist in personal narratives simultaneously this research has shown
that by taking a narrative-dialogical approach embraces the schizophrenic quality that appears to
punctuate the narratives of exiles and 'asylum seekers'. The research has also shown that those
contracted to operationalise and deliver NASS support to asylum seekers are not reduced to
simple ventriloquists in the support process. Instead what has emerged are support service
workers that take a creative and active role in interpreting their 'roles' to be conducive with the
perceived needs of their organisation, the 'community' and the 'asylum seeker'. Narrating their
work as a 'quest' support service workers can be seen as active and often 'heroic' in the way in
which they act as a 'buffer' between the policies designed by NASS and the asylum seekers they
support. By using Bakhtin's notion of authoritative and internally persuasive discourse (Bakhtin,
1981), support service workers can be seen to be adhering to components of the 'official' or
authoritative discourse whilst at the same time transforming other components that are not seen
as internally persuasive. From the narrative accounts generated with 'asylum seekers' it emerged
that conflict and contradiction appeared to confound their attempts to produce narrative
coherence. This conflict and contradiction appeared to suggest a good deal of psychological
tension as 'asylum seekers' attempted to narrate; feelings of belonging, the balance between
security and uncertainty and their feelings of 'home' and identity. What appeared was a dialogical
quality to their narrative accounts which emphasised simultaneity but due to their restricted
inunigration status did not have the 'privilege' of being both/and. Rather what emerged was a
dialogical structure that can be seent o be characterisedb y the tension of being 'in between' but
being 'neither/nor'. Such a position restricts the ability to 'move and mix' (Hermans and
Kempen, 1998) in their new milieu as they are held in stasis and limbo by the multiple voices
spoken by the 'asylum system'.

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