Ongoing and concluded PhDs

PhD researcher or student information

Abigail Stepnitz

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Discipline: Law

Degrees BA: BA Politics


MSc Human Rights

PhD Research Information

Narrating from the bottom: Constructing credibility in asylum narratives

Brief description:

This dissertation is a textual examination of how asylum seekers in the United States construct credibility in their claims both legally and discursively, how constructing credibility changes depending on the nature of the claimant’s identity and circumstances, and how these processes have evolved over time. I analyze the narratives constructed by asylum seekers with their legal representatives to locate a "logic of credibility."
Asylum narratives carry both legal and interpretive burdens. They must cognizably and credibly establish “truth,” translated between two different social and cultural contexts. Moreover, they must do so while maintaining key markers of narrative familiarity and fulfilling normative expectations, based in large part on the speaker’s social identity categories. As such, in the asylum context, narrative truth is more than just an accurate recounting of events – it must be a truth legible across different times and spaces, which is canonical enough to be fathomable but unique enough to be recognized as the necessarily real experiences contained within a human life.
This project will also seek to uncover if, and to what extent, credibility is unstable in its construction as both a narrative convention and a legal concept. I argue that narrative is not only a method of analysis in the law, but is central to the operation of legal processes. Rather than assuming credibility is a fixed quality that can be discerned by experience and judgment, I seek to uncover if and to what extent credibility can be differentially constructed in changing ways through both narrative and law.


Asylum claims were collected from US-based legal service providers. A stratified random sample was taken based on the following emergent categories which are currently being analyzed. Interviews with legal representatives will be collected at a later date. - Political Opposition: Being a member of an opposition political party, or engaging in other political opposition especially by being a member of a labor union. - Sexual and gender-based violence: Including domestic violence, rape, female genital cutting, and forced marriage. - Fleeing armed conflict – non-combatants: Those who did not take sides during, generally, civil war, but are unable to return. Frequent mention of surviving attempts at genocide/ethnic cleansing. - Fleeing armed conflict –combatants: Guerrillas who fought against the state during uprisings, typically in Guatemala and El Salvador. - LGBT violence: Persecution or fear of persecution on account of sexuality or gender identity.

Keywords: Asylum application, asylum, asylum law, Immigration, immigration law, Narrative, Stories, united states

Language(s) of writing: English

Country: CA

Home University:

UC Berkeley


Jurisprudence & Social Policy

Supervisor: Lauren Edelman
Start date: 01-09-2014
PhD current status: PhD Ongoing
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Added to catalogue on: 16-10-2018

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