A politics of appearance

Hanne Wiegel successfully defended her minor thesis “A politics of appearance: a theoretical exploration of private accommodation initiatives for refugees”. Hereby a summary of the thesis, which received qualifications such as “well-structured””, “good logical reasoning”  and “theoretically sophisticated” .

“Publicly organized asylum seeker accommodation in Germany often involves a strict spatial and social segregation of asylum seekers from the wider society, which contributes to turning individuals who seek asylum into an abstract, impersonal category. For the individual asylum seeker, this creates a situation of harmful visibility vis-à-vis the state and harmful invisibility vis-à-vis the receiving society. Against this background, this paper will theoretically discuss the socio-political implications of recently developed civil society initiatives that organize the accommodation of asylum seekers in private housing arrangements in which asylum seekers live side-by-side non-refugees. Drawing on the approach of autonomous migration, Rancière’s disruptive politics and Butler’s performative theory of appearance, I argue that these civil society initiatives can be understood as providing spaces of appearance for asylum seekers to become visible as individuals amongst non-refugees. This can be considered as a performative act of disruption, changing the spatial and social ordering of asylum (accommodation) policies. Far from glorifying the effects of private accommodation for asylum seekers, however, I argue that these do not affect the legal status of the asylum seeker, but that nevertheless living side-by-side non-refugees can change asylum seekers’ invisibility vis-à-vis the civil society, and allows for personal encounters and individuation which might enhance their social emplacement.”

Key-words Germany, asylum seeker accommodation, ordering, civil society, dissensus, appearance