(Un)becoming an asylum seeker: Nomadic research with men awaiting an asylum decision

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, L10

Topic of the dissertation

(Un)becoming an asylum seeker: Nomadic research with men awaiting an asylum decision

Doctoral candidate

Master of Education Maria Petäjäniemi

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Education, Values, Ideologies and Social Contexts of Education

Subject of study



Professor Sari Pöyhönen, University of Jyväskylä


Professor Maija Lanas, University of Oulu

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The position of an asylum seeker is narrow: the expectations are often inhumane and contradictory

This research focuses on “asylum-seekingness”, that is, what becoming an asylum seeker in Finland means. The data consist of nomadic hanging out and in-depth interviews conducted in 2016 and in 2018 with nine asylum-seeking men. Based on this research, becoming an asylum seeker is formed in a continuous process through three layers that constitute and reconstitute the position.

The first layer, the legal category of an asylum seeker reflects how the position is legally constructed and with what conditions. Although the layer appears static, it can change rapidly. Since the autumn of 2015, Finland has tightened its asylum policies. This affects asylum seekers’ rights as humans and even their survival.

The second layer consists of the societal expectations targeted at asylum seekers. The expectations are contradictory. They require one to be patient, active, positive, grateful, as well as being ready to accept prejudices, racism, and being viewed as a less worthy human being. These inhumane expectations can, however, be recognized, mastered and resisted to an extent.

The last of the layers, the fundamental basis of needing a safe place is why people decide to seek asylum in a first place. However, it tends to get forgotten within the domination of the other two layers that often define asylum seekers’ possibilities in life.

The ultimate goal of being an asylum seeker is to no longer be an asylum seeker. All the three layers aim to undo the position. Legally, the position is undone when one becomes either deported or receives an asylum decision. Societally, the position is being undone as asylum seekers are repeatedly told that they should “go back home”—that is, to go anywhere but Finland. And, finally, the fundamental need of being in a safe place also aims at no longer seeking but being in a safe place and holding the place. In other words, in the process of becoming an asylum seeker, the purpose is to unbecome an asylum seeker.
Last updated: 23.1.2024