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  • Open Access
  • © 2021

Asylum Matters

On the Front Line of Administrative Decision-Making

Palgrave Macmillan


  • This book is open access, which means that you have free and unlimited access

  • Explores both the asylum process and bureaucratic decision-making in Switzerland

  • Uses Switzerland as an ethnographic case study

  • Examines the use of discretion

Part of the book series: Palgrave Socio-Legal Studies (PSLS)

Buying options

Softcover Book USD 49.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book USD 59.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Table of contents (7 chapters)

  1. Front Matter

    Pages i-xvii
  2. Shaping Administrative Practice: The Institutional Habitus

    • Laura Affolter
    Pages 1-25Open Access
  3. Studying Everyday Practice(s) in the SEM

    • Laura Affolter
    Pages 27-46Open Access
  4. Asylum Decision-Making in Switzerland

    • Laura Affolter
    Pages 47-74Open Access
  5. Knowledge as Practice: Producing Decisional Certainty

    • Laura Affolter
    Pages 75-115Open Access
  6. Getting in Line with the Office

    • Laura Affolter
    Pages 117-153Open Access
  7. The Good Decision-Maker or Protecting the System

    • Laura Affolter
    Pages 155-185Open Access
  8. The Normalisation of Disbelief

    • Laura Affolter
    Pages 187-200Open Access
  9. Back Matter

    Pages 201-203

About this book

This open access book examines everyday practices in an asylum administration. Asylum decisions are often criticised as being ‘subjective’ or ‘arbitrary’. Asylum Matters turns this claim on its head. Through the ethnographic study of asylum decision-making in the Swiss Secretariat for Migration, the book shows how regularities in administrative practice and ‘socialised subjectivity’ are produced. It argues that asylum caseworkers acquire an institutional habitus through their socialisation on the job, making them ‘carriers’ of routine practices. The different chapters of the book deal with what it means to methodologically study administrative practice: with how asylum proceedings work in Switzerland and with the role different types of knowledge play in overcoming the uncertainties inherent in refugee status and credibility determination. It sheds light on organisational socialisation processes and on the professional norms and values at the heart of administrative work. By doing so, it shows how disbelief becomes normalised in the office. This book speaks to legal scholars, sociologists, anthropologists, human geographers and political scientists interested in bureaucracy, asylum law, migration studies and socio-legal studies, and to NGOs working in the field of asylum.


  • migration
  • socio-legal
  • borders
  • bureaucracy
  • at the heart of the state
  • human rights
  • asylum procedure
  • asylum decision-making
  • law and discretion
  • Open Access
  • criminal justice

Authors and Affiliations

  • Institute for Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

    Laura Affolter

About the author

Laura Affolter is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Research Group Sociology of Law at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Germany, and Associate Researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology in Bern, Switzerland. Her (co-authored) publications include Taking the ‘Just’ Decision (2019) and Keeping Numbers Low in the Name of Fairness (2020).  

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Asylum Matters

  • Book Subtitle: On the Front Line of Administrative Decision-Making

  • Authors: Laura Affolter

  • Series Title: Palgrave Socio-Legal Studies

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: Law and Criminology, Law and Criminology (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2021

  • License: CC BY

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-030-61511-6Published: 01 December 2020

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-030-61514-7Published: 17 December 2021

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-030-61512-3Published: 30 November 2020

  • Series ISSN: 2947-9274

  • Series E-ISSN: 2947-9282

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XVII, 203

  • Number of Illustrations: 2 b/w illustrations, 2 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: Human Rights, Socio-Legal Studies, Human Migration, Human Geography

Buying options

Softcover Book USD 49.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book USD 59.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)