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Persecution as Experience and Knowledge: The Ontological Dynamics of Asylum Interviews


  • We express warm thanks and remain forever grateful to our research participants. In particular, we wish to thank the Finnish asylum officers for their participation in this research and hope to urge officers in other countries to be responsive to such endeavors. We also thank the participants of the seminar at the Research Collegium, University of Tampere, as well as the anonymous reviewers of this journal for constructive feedback and engagement with our paper. The research has been funded by the Academy of Finland (SA 132403 and SA 266009).
  • [Corrections added 27 February 2015, after original online publication: grammatical changes have been made to this article to improve clarity.]


This paper adopts an ontological perspective toward asylum interviews. The suggested take refers to the incompatibility of different knowledge systems and experienced worlds between asylum seekers and asylum officers. With such a focus, we sketch the parallel functioning of knowledge-claims anchored in two radically different ontological principles. Our analysis starts with the body as a site and source of knowledge through which we critically examine the limits of knowledge sought after in asylum politics. The ontological gap reflects the divide between meaning and significance, self and other, which this paper seeks to mediate through feminist methodologies and ethnographic insight. We suggest that asylum seekers do fill the ontological gap, but not in ways anticipated by governmental practices; their bodies and stories adopt alternative ways of identification and taking action. Thus, the gap is an opening for conceiving different knowledges and knowledge practices within asylum politics and international relations.