Refugee Studies Centre publication
The culture of disbelief: an ethnographic approach to understanding an under-theorised concept in the UK asylum system
Jessica Anderson, Jeannine Hollaus, Annelisa Lindsay, Colin Williamson
In the context of increasingly restrictive immigration and asylum policies in the United Kingdom, human rights advocates suggest that a ‘culture of disbelief’ permeates the asylum system, forestalling the provision of protection to those who need it. This study aims to contribute to emerging academic literature on the culture of disbelief by asking how and to what extent it manifests through the performance of law. Adopting an ethnographic approach, we observed nine complete and five partial asylum appeal hearings at Taylor House Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in London, spoke with judges and solicitors, and conducted two key informant interviews. Framing our findings using Bourdieu’s concepts of ‘habitus’, ‘field’ and ‘capital’, we do not argue that any individual element in the courtroom accounts for the culture of disbelief. Instead, this culture, or habitus, emerges when various structures and agents, with varying capital, combine.