Centre for Women's and Gender Research
ERC Starting Grant

What role does expert knowledge play in asylum litigation?

Migration researcher Marry-Anne Karlsen at the Centre for Women's and Gender Research (SKOK) at UiB has been granted prestigious funding by the EU to do research on expert knowledge in asylum litigation.

Portrait photo of Marry-Anne Karlsen
– We want to uncover the ways in which knowledge about asylum seekers and migration is mobilized, contested and constituted in and through asylum litigation, says Karlsen about her project ASYKNOW.
Kamilla Stølen

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Everyone at SKOK was over the moon when the news broke that Dr. Karlsen had been awarded an ERC Starting Grant for 2022 for her project entitled "Contested Knowledges in and through Asylum Litigation (ASYKNOW). This is a highly acclaimed award given by the EU to promising young researchers who have excelled in their careers, and it amounts to EUR 1.5 million.

Expert knowledge – impartial authority?

The point of departure for ASYNOW is the increasing degree of polarisation in the asylum field and the subsequent need to rethink the role of expert knowledge in this area.

"The ever-changing levels of conflict and politicisation in this field have led to a growing demand for expert knowledge as an impartial authority," says Dr. Karlsen.

At the same time, polarisation puts under pressure the notion that expert knowledge provides a proper foundation for legal decision-making regarding asylum.

Country of Origin report on Syria resulted in refugees losing their residence permits

In her previous ethnographic research, Karlsen has observed how asylum seekers had to navigate changing demands for knowledge in their asylum cases.

"In my fieldwork, I have seen asylum seekers pursue medical reports for the real or imagined importance these reports held for their asylum cases,” she says.

Karlsen has also observed the impact that various Country of Origin reports, rather than legislation, can have on asylum seekers in different countries. A report that assessed Syria as safe was used in Denmark as a basis for withdrawing the residence permits of hundreds of refugees, but this did not happen in Norway or Germany.

How is knowledge being mobilised, contested and constituted in asylum litigation?

During the five-year project, Karlsen and her research group will conduct an ethnographic, comparative investigation of legal processes in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

"We want to find out how knowledge about asylum seekers and migration is mobilised, contested and constituted in asylum litigation. This has not previously been systematically investigated or adequately theorised.”

ASYKNOW is an interdisciplinary project that combines theoretical concepts, methodologies and findings from geography, anthropology, law and Science and Technology studies (STS) to a degree that has not previously been done in migration research. The project will be able to provide important insights into how various types of knowledge facilitate or challenge states’ ability to exercise power over people and territory.

Migration research can uncover global power structures

According to Kari Jegerstedt, Head of Centre at SKOK, migration research has enormous potential to uncover global power structures, not least when it comes to gender, sexuality, racialisation, class and functional abilities.

"Research on migration has therefore long been a key focus area at SKOK. Marry-Anne's interdisciplinary ERC project does not just shed new light on the relationship between power and migration but offers entirely new methods for researching this relationship. ASYNOW will be particularly important for analysing the situation of migrants and future thinking about identity and power in the world.”

Translation from Norwegian to English: Semantix