Bureaucracy as Metaphorical Border in Immigrant-Experience Narratives

Research output: Contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


Using audio extracts from ethnographic interviews with immigrants in North-East Scotland, I will explore how immigrants interpret the borders created by bureaucratic mechanisms. In these narratives, bureaucracy is a transnational border, reaching out through space and time to separate the desirable and undesirable, the deserving and undeserving. National and individual sovereignty are degraded by extra-national bureaucratic processes in which one's worth and rights are inscrutably calculated and fluidity of identity is restricted. Intra-national processes function to monitor and evaluate immigrants once the initial obstacles of pre-arrival bureaucracies are successfully navigated. Commercial, local, and religious bureaucracies also act as borders, limiting and demarcating what is and is not accessible to landed and would-be immigrants. But the chroniclers of these narratives do not solely present themselves as disadvantaged victims of a faceless, unreasonable bureaucracy. If some decry immigration policies and their derived bureaucracies, there are those who rationalise the restrictions imposed upon them, and some who even argue for more stringent bureaucratic assessments. Others neither accept victimisation nor support these regulatory mechanisms, but rather narrate themselves as coy protagonists, whose very otherness allows them to surprise or dupe the systems meant to keep them in check. By emphasising the actual words and voices of contributors, this research provides necessary ground-level context for wider considerations of borders in people's everyday lives.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 22 Jun 2015
EventThe International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) 12th Congress - , United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Jun 201525 Jun 2015


ConferenceThe International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) 12th Congress
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Immigration
  • Bureaucracy
  • borders
  • narrative


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