Ambiguous Encounters: Revisiting Foucault and Goffman at an Activation Programme for Asylum-seekers

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This qualitative study combined the approaches of Foucault and Goffman to investigate the consequences of a "roll-out"neoliberal "activation"programme on Denmark's reception of asylum-seekers. The analysis found that the activation programme is an ambiguous technology of power intended to shape asylum-seekers into productive citizens by simultaneously disciplining them and improving their health and well-being, while using their labour to reduce costs. The strategic interactions in the job centre reflected the ambiguities created by these oft-incongruent aims, and activation caused conflicts as it amplified activities experienced as meaningless and humiliating. I argue that these consequences stem from the ambiguity, uncertainty, and trouble produced at the intersection of competing projects of rule in a "sensitive space", and that the individualisation of responsibility for their own marginalisation, simultaneously serve to exclude asylum-seekers and to confine them to categories that license continued institutional discipline. Thereby, the intervention feeds cyclical process of failed integration and ill-fated interventions. Indeed, by individualising the responsibility for integration, such interventions depoliticise the marginalisation of citizens of immigrant decent and legitimise efforts to reduce immigration by fuelling problematisations of immigrants as expensive, deviant, and less employable.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRefugee Survey Quarterly
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)177-206
Number of pages30
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Author(s) [2020]. All rights reserved.

    Research areas

  • accommodation centre, ambiguity, asylum-seeker, responsibilisation

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