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American Anthropologist

The Truth from the Body: Medical Certificates as Ultimate Evidence for Asylum Seekers

Authors

  • DIDIER FASSIN,

    1. University of Paris North and Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, Centre de recherche sur la santé, le social et le politique (Inserm), 74 rue Marcel Cachin, 93 017 Bobigny Cedex, France
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  • ESTELLE D'HALLUIN

    1. University of Paris North and Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, Centre de recherche sur la santé, le social et le politique (Inserm), 74 rue Marcel Cachin, 93 017 Bobigny Cedex, France
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Abstract

Whether through traditional law or modern torture, the body has always been a privileged site on which to demonstrate the evidence of power. But for immigrants, the poor, and, more generally, the dominated—all of whom have to prove their eligibility to certain social rights—it has also become the place that displays the evidence of truth. In France, as immigration control increases, asylum seekers are more and more submitted to the evaluation of their physical sequels and psychic traumas, as if their autobiographical accounts were not sufficient. In this article, we show how nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) deal with the dilemmas posed by this situation, how they develop protocols standardizing their expertise, and how their medical authority progressively substitutes itself for the asylum seekers' word. In this process of objectification, it is the experience of the victims as political subjects that is progressively erased.

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