Corporeal Conjunctures No-W-Here
Failed asylum seekers and the senses of the international
Acta Universitatis Tamperensis No. 1744

By Ali Muhaddis
July 2012
Tampere University Press
ISBN: 9789514488429
273 pages
$87.50 Paper original

One of the greatest fears among nation-states continues to be the loss of control over their borders. Such a fear reflects the fact that sovereignty and the idea of a common national home are naturalised as the normative features of the political structures of our time. The borders, boundaries and limitations orchestrated within the international bear concrete effects on people’s possibilities to enact themselves politically and are central to imagining what political life can and might be about. Indeed, these borders are instituted to reduce people’s possibility to constitute themselves as political agents and claim access to socio-economic services and goods in a particular community. In this research the functioning of the border is investigated through the institution of political asylum. It is claimed that the asylum procedure with its practices of categorisation transforms the moving body into a site where political relations are reproduced.

The empirical focus of this work is on failed asylum seekers in Finland. This research takes its cue from ethnographic fieldwork in three reception centres and the detention unit and interviews with failed asylum seekers and a variety of asylum professionals. With the conceptual help of Jean-Luc Nancy’s philosophy of carnation, this work explores how failed asylum seekers, through their movements and acts of relating, open space for imagining political agency beyond territorially separated and ontologically fixed identities. The Nancian ontology of the body enables studying political relations without remaining captive to the dichotomous logic of sameness/alterity, identity/otherness and inside/outside. In fact, the experience of seeking asylum bears with it a sense of a history that cannot be totally owned by or reduced to an individual subject, and therefore this work is best characterised as an exploration into the ontological relationalities between selves and others.

Asylum seekers both challenge and are challenged by what ‘we’ think a good and happy community is. In a conventional approach on political community, identifying with a nation makes people individuals and gives them a place of reference from which to act. We, then, end up with the idea that all people in Finland should embrace the ‘common’ culture, which is already given and somehow stable. With their moving bodies failed asylum seekers complicate the limits between places and disrupt the notion of political life as something that takes place either between fixed insides and outsides or within stable communities. The moving body undermines the spatial regime in which different expressions of what it means to lead a political life and be a human are flattened out and obscured by a vocabulary of security, organisation and efficiency.

Through the limits embedded in the modern spatiotemporal logic this work is framed conceptually under the international. Instead of merely criticising this logic the work set out to explore the relations with and through which it expects us to talk about the possibilities of political life. By engaging with the failed asylum seekers’ voices, movements and their sensuous experiences this work creates new frameworks for a discussion on what belonging, displacement and being out of place mean and what their relation to political life is. While some senses of the international are produced at the border, in their daily lives the failed asylum seekers contest those senses and expose alternative ones. The relationality that characterises existence guides us towards an understanding of the international as a sphere of bodies that are with one another and that strive to surpass their artificial separation.

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