Question & Answer: Collaborative advocacy, “crisis” and changing definitions of asylum.

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April 17, 2013 by Ceris Ontario

(A Question and Answer with Julie Young)

What was the topic of your dissertation research?
"...local advocates redrew the border as not only an obstacle but also a resource and a point of connection."

“…local advocates redrew the border as not only an obstacle but also a resource and a point of connection.”

My dissertation focused on collaborative advocacy across the Windsor-Detroit border in response to the Central American refugee “crisis” of the late-1980s, when new immigration laws introduced in both countries dramatically altered the landscape of asylum. This grounded example allowed me to examine the different scales and contexts (local, national, international) of the changes to Canadian policy and practice introduced at that time. Through a qualitative study of personal, community, and municipal archives and discourse analysis of local newspaper coverage, I found that local advocates redrew the border as not only an obstacle but also a resource and a point of connection. Moreover, the case study made clear that the city is embedded in the border and that, in addition to the state, community organizers, refugees, and other “ordinary” people are engaged in working out the border.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of completing your research?

The process of doing the research for my dissertation and arriving at the so-called “end” of it provided me with a greater understanding that there are always more questions than answers – and a whole range of directions and places in which these can take you! I’m looking forward to moving ahead with these various questions in the years ahead. It’s also been great to have an opportunity through my work at the Centre for Refugee Studies and through other venues to discuss my research and these ongoing questions with others, from students to faculty to practitioners in the fields of refugee studies, border studies, geography, and beyond.

What research are you currently doing?

I am currently working as a Research Associate with the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University. As part of this work, I helped to organize the annual CRS-CERIS seminar series. This series invites scholars, practitioners, and policymakers to address academic debates and contemporary issues in the fields of refugee and immigration studies. At CRS, I am also doing research for the global Refugee Research Network as the group reflects on its process of forging and sustaining a diverse network of academics and practitioners who work in the fields of refugee and forced migration studies. Finally, my involvement with CRS opened an opportunity to collaborate on a project about the experiences of migrant women working in towns along Mexico’s southern border.

What are some of the changes that you have observed in recent years within your area of research?
Canadian policies have been changing so frequently in recent years that the landscape of refuge and border control is constantly in flux. This reinforces the importance of studying the histories of the border as well as paying attention to the shifting present. Although my dissertation research focused on the 1980s, it was difficult to ignore the resonances of debates and policy shifts in that period with contemporary policy discussions and practices as well as in state, media, and public discourses about refugees. Narratives about immigration and border control have remained remarkably consistent over the years, even as states have become increasingly creative in their policies and practices.
What research are you interested in completing in the future?

Recently revised refugee policies in Canada and the shrinking of spaces for asylum globally make it important to examine where and how the border works. My ongoing research is aimed at understanding the border as a set of practices, worked out through various relations and spaces, with a focus on North America. I am interested in quieter stories of the border and the ways in which it is part of everyday life. Emerging out of the grounded case study of my dissertation research, I continue to wonder about how moments and acts of resistance and transgression translate beyond their immediate contexts – and how they could. My current research examines ‘creative’ and ‘political’ contestations of the border together. Examples range from the more playful and artistic – such as playing volleyball over the Arizona-Sonora border or projecting the message that “we’re in this together” onto a building in downtown Detroit from across the river in Windsor – to the more overtly political – as when border residents participate in annual solidarity marches in communities around the US-Mexico border or collaborate across the Canada-US border to secure asylum for refugees. All of these examples are both evocative and provocative, but what can we learn from examining these performances and practices of the border side by side?

About the blog author.

Julie Young recently completed a doctorate in Geography at York University in Toronto. She has worked as a researcher in academic, public sector, and non-profit settings. Her dissertation, ‘Border city of refuge: Refugee advocacy, the politics of mobility, and the reframing of the Windsor-Detroit border,’ focused on collaborative advocacy across the Canada-US border in response to the Central American refugee ‘crisis’ of the late-1980s. Julie is currently working as a Research Associate at the Centre for Refugee Studies at York.

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