Annual Elizabeth Colson Lecture 2011
The Elizabeth Colson Lecture is held annually in honour of Professor Elizabeth Colson, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.
This year's lecture, "The Vanishing Truth of Refugees" was given by Professor Didier Fassin, James D. Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton and Director of Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
The lecture explored how, sixty years after the signature of the Geneva Convention, asylum is progressively being emptied of its original signification in Western Europe and North America. First, the increasing assimilation of asylum and immigration serves as a justification for the suspicion towards refugees, the paradox being that it is in the name of an idealized view of asylum that refugees are denied its protection. As their testimony is systematically disqualified, more documents, medical certificates, psychological evidence, and material proof are required, thus confirming the delegitimization of their voice. Second, the progressive recognition of intimate violence, including sexual orientation and genital mutilations, as rationales for asylum obscures the dramatic discrediting of traditional political persecution, systematically contested by protection officers and judges.
This shift from the public to the private spheres is all the more effective in that it is presented as opposing a self-valourizing enlightened vision of the world to the depreciated archaic prejudices against homosexuals and girls. Based on a decade of empirical research on asylum, mostly in France, the lecture will discussed the abstract truth of asylum and the concrete truth of refugees, thus questioning the ethical foundations of contemporary societies.
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