Professional Knowledge: Labels and Expectations

Having done a lo.t of interviews as I say, you kind of realise that in a lot of cases you’re in an area somewhere between truth and fantasy, you know. But, as I’m sure you know, if you tell yourself something enough times that isn’t necessarily true, you end up believing it yourself. So if you’re in that situation, you’re sitting in an asylum interview, telling the immigration officer a story, and you’ve gone over it in your head a hundred times, so you can make it work and it almost becomes true, you know?

Chief Immigration Officer[1]

The process of negotiation of reality that takes place during the interview between the asylum seeker and the immigration officer is grounded on the development ofthe immigration officer’s criteria to establish the truthfulness of the asylum seeker’s story. From a position of power, officers follow a well-established set of criteria developed overtime into their so-called professional knowledge. Whilst officers’ pre-established categorisation routine is not something openly admitted within the subculture,[2] this comes though unmistakeably as soon as they are questioned about the methods. They then use these categories to distinguish deserving from underserving cases, as the answer is always linked to professional knowledge. Officers’ knowledge is accumulated and goes unchallenged whilst the ‘site’ reproduces a reality that is substantiated by a reflexive classification. This is a ‘process of perception’ whereby officers socially reproduce the world around them based on their expectations about the people they will meet and the stories they will hear (Lippmann 1946).

A role model is constructed against which all other cases will be judged. This archetypal asylum seeker is steeped in negativity as the official policies and normative debates establish the consensus that ‘we should keep out as many refugee-type of foreigners as possible’ and that ‘these people always lie to get themselves accepted’ (Cohen 2002; xxii). This is the ‘normal case’ that establishes the basis for the further elaboration of asylum seeker as ‘deviant’ or the ‘enemy’, through links to terrorism and other ‘threat narratives’.22 There is no realistic alternative presented by the system on what constitutes a positive ‘normal case’, and the negative construction of ‘the other’ becomes the ‘truth’ within the subculture. Furthermore, as discussed in Chap. 4, the common recognition of this unwritten ideal type, strengthens the communal standards for the group and, in turn, the significance of the subculture is reinforced and preserved (Wright 1984).

The way this process underpins the cohesion between the members of the group is by providing a sense of belonging and dependability. Those that form part of the subculture are the only professionals able to understand and apply this ideal type and the ‘implicit criteria’ against it. The ability to understand and distinguish elements meaningful only to the group, as Gardner explains, is core to the idea of becoming a ‘true’ group member (Gardner 1994). ‘Professional knowledge’ and officers’ criteria are the grounds provided for this, hence the comprehension of these criteria equates to a demonstration of experience, and vice versa. Therefore, the learning process leading to the recognition of these ideal types, and the acceptance of the criteria itself is simultaneous to adopting the group values (Gardner 1994). In this process there are many ele-

through processes of interaction and the construction of types and standards (Schutz, 1974). 22 The construction of asylum seekers as ‘the enemy’ is discussed at length in Chap. 2.

ments, notably the use of language, that help clarify and enhance the function of the group (Schur 1971). Faced with the daunting task of interviewing asylum seekers, the subculture supports and guides officers’ revealing factors to them that are considered imperceptible to those on the outside of the subculture.

Beyond the evidence that demonstrates how officers apply a wider range of criteria and categorisation processes to screen out asylum seekers, it is even more remarkable to learn how each of these criteria is formulated. In exploring this, the data reveals that the basis for most of these categories is fundamentally entrenched in postcolonial stances, which recognise the non-Western migrant as ‘the intruder’. These categories, rationalised by officers on the dual constructions of origin, gender, religion or even level of education of the applicants, reflect Western prejudices nourished by racism and moral panics about ‘the other’ (Cohen 2002). These are ultimately identity labels re-interpreted by officers as ‘professional clues’ about the truthfulness of the narratives and the credibility of the applicant. Officers become legitimate labellers for they have learned to read the hidden clues that reveal the complete nature of the asylum seeker’s story. They see themselves as objective agents, professionally equipped with the expertise to decipher whether applicants are lying or telling the truth, are pretending or genuine, are deserving or underserving of asylum status.

  • [1] DI/V-UK6-AR00-CIO
  • [2] In the context of labelling theories, Schutzs arguments and his theory of subjective agency areparticularly informative (1967 and 1974). This addresses the analysis of social definition of rule-making,
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >