Collaborative Engagement in Academia: The Ethics of Activist Research in Times of Repressive Migration Politics
From Richard Topgaard
A Presentation of the Cross-border Solidarity Initiative the Asylum Commission.
The point of departure for this presentation are opportunities and challenges experienced in the work of the Swedish Asylum Commission – Commission for review of legislation, law enforcement and legal security for people who applied for asylum in Sweden during the period 2015–17.
The Asylum Commission was initiated by Anna Lundberg and Sanna Vestin and formed together with researchers and activists with extensive knowledge of migration, including asylum seekers’ self-organised work to improve the living conditions in Sweden (e.g. people who have experience as asylum seekers, social workers, teachers, and members of NGO’s and other networks in the civil society). The commission aims to initiate critical enquiries based on asylum seekers’ own lived experiences and perspectives. The backdrop of the Commission is the changes in Sweden’s treatment of asylum seekers in recent years and recurring testimonies in various reports depicting an increasingly difficult situation among children, adolescents, and adult asylum seekers. These testimonies concern unpredictable and humiliating decisions, homelessness, mental illness, families who cannot live together and violent deportations to countries affected by armed conflict. There is currently an urgent need for critical enquiries to gain an understanding, both of what has happened substantially with the asylum procedure and the content of regulations, as well as of the effects on individuals and welfare institutions in Sweden.
Research and other activities in the Asylum Commission are inspired by participatory action research, is carried out in collaboration between asylum seekers, researchers, professionals (e.g. social workers, teachers), the voluntary sector and civil society actors (e.g. “gode män”, Vi står inte ut, Ensamkommandes förbund). Thus, one important ambition is to rely upon the expert knowledge of all participants in the commission and working within a collective of shared understandings, collective analysis and consultation on potential strategies of resistance.
With examples of the undertakings in the Asylum Commission, Anna Lundberg will discuss how cooperation between research and community work may be enabled and take form, and the implications of such an approach. Further, Lundberg will problematise conventional research approaches that maintain binary relationships between researchers and people subjected to research and relate these to the Commission’s methodological standpoints and activities. Finally, she aims to problematise elements of risk in participatory action research including various dilemmas and challenges that we are facing in our work with the Commission.