She is grateful to Susan Gooding for organizing the session for which this paper was first written; to Frank Reynolds for his interest in the manuscript; to Carol Greenhouse, Bill Maurer, Eve Darian-Smith, and Sally Merry for their comments on the manuscript; to Debbie Smith and Dan Kesselbrenner for providing material about the ABC lawsuit; and to Robert Foss for clarifying particular points of law. The research on which this article is based was supported by a 1987-88 American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women and a 1995-97 grant (SBR-9423023) from the Law and Social Science Program of the National Science Foundation. This paper was written while the author was a visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine, and was revised while the author was at the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies at the University of Southern California. The author is grateful to both institutions for their support. The author is also indebted to the many groups and individuals who participated in this research project; in particular, to the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, the Tucson Ecumenical Task Force on Central America, the Tucson refugee support group, the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles, El Rescate, the Association of Salvadorans of Los Angeles, the Coalición Cenaoamericana, and the many individuals who agreed to be interviewed by the author. Pseudonyms have been used for interviewees throughout.
The Oppressed, the Suspect, and the Citizen: Subjectivity in Competing Accounts of Political Violence
Article first published online: 28 JUL 2006
Law & Social Inquiry
Volume 26, Issue 1, pages 63–94, January 2001
How to Cite
Coutin, S. B. (2001), The Oppressed, the Suspect, and the Citizen: Subjectivity in Competing Accounts of Political Violence. Law & Social Inquiry, 26: 63–94. doi: 10.1111/j.1747-4469.2001.tb00171.x
- Issue published online: 28 JUL 2006
- Article first published online: 28 JUL 2006
By juxtaposing religious, legal, and victims’accounts of political violence, this essay identifies and critiques assumptions about agency, the individual, and the smte that derive from liberal theory and that underlie U.S. asylum taw. In the United States, asylum is available to aliens whose gooernments fail to protect them from persecution on the basis of their race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or social group membership. Salvadoran and Guatemalan immigrants have challenged this definition of persecution with their two-decade-long struggle for asylum in the United States. During the 1980s, U.S. religious advocates and solidarity workers took legal action on behalf of what they characterized as victims of oppression in Central America. The asylum claims narrated by the beneficiaries of these legal efforts suggest that repessiwe pactices rendered entire populations politically suspect. To prevail in immigration court, however, victims had to prove that they were individually targeted because of being somehow “different” from the population at large. In other words, to obtain asylum, persecution victims had to explain how and why their actions had placed them at risk, even though persecution obscured the reasons that particular individuals were targeted and thus rendered all politically suspect.