Asylum as artifice
: the role of the 'asylum seeker' and the production of the space-time of asylum accommodation in Glasgow, Scotland

  • Anna Valeria Pearce

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis explores the relationship between the legal category of the ‘asylum seeker’ and production of asylum accommodation as space-time, through a localised empirical case study in Glasgow, Scotland. Administered by the UK Home Office and delivered by a private contractor, the Mears Group, asylum accommodation is here theorised as being a logistically defined and value-creating carceral space-time. This is constituted relationally and performatively, a theoretical composite of the work of Massey (2001), Delaney (2010) and Butler (1988). Such a theorisation is arrived at through a novel conceptualization of the ‘asylum seeker’ as an artifice, the site of a double real abstraction of legal categorization and commodity exchange, drawing on the work of Toscano (2008, 2012, 2014), Thomas (2021) and Sohn-Rethel (2021). The category of the ‘asylum seeker’ – the legal double of the real asylum-seeking individual – is constituted through three different levels of discourse: 1) successive rounds of asylum legislation since 1993, which has stripped away access to employment and welfare; 2) contracts for the delivery of asylum accommodation, which recast the ‘asylum seeker’ as a ‘service user’; 3) relationality and performativity of roles, which in turn constitute the space-time of asylum accommodation itself. Analysis of all three levels of discourse, understood to be in a dialectical, co-constitutive relationship with one another, contributes a formulation of asylum accommodation as a ‘parallel world’: a qualitatively distinct modality of space-time, ruled by legal and commodity exchange abstraction, which has the capacity to distort the semantic constructions used to describe it. This formulation in turn enables propositions concerning the role of asylum accommodation in wider migration management to be made, problematizing not only the organization of authority between the Home Office and private accommodation providers, but the nature of power itself in such contractual arrangements.
Date of Award14 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorSharon Leahy (Supervisor)


  • Asylum
  • Accommodation
  • Carcerality
  • Legal geographies
  • Migration

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