Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Personal Traumas and Political Narratives of Asylum Seekers

Amy Shuman.

Trauma research in the last decade has articulated a significant meeting ground between the personal and the political. Research has become increasingly local and situated, both in its focus on the personal testimonial as evidence of trauma, and in its investigation of the political circumstances of violence, aggression, abuse, and oppression.
This paper discusses the trauma narratives of asylum seekers, a situation in which the failure to represent personal experience in political terms can have disastrous consequences for those who have suffered. In particular, I examine the narratives told by people who flee persecution in their homelands and then seek asylum in the United States. I compare the asylum seekers’ personal narratives of trauma with the expected and required narratives that qualify individuals for asylum status. My project combines public policy and personal testimonial, areas of research that have been little integrated (for an exception see Campbell, 2000). Other researchers have brought personal testimonials to public attention, and they argue that this attention is necessary to create awareness of suffering. I argue that understanding the intersection between public policy narratives and personal narratives is imperative, and I suggest that discourse analysis is the best framework for this endeavor. My project creates a multi-layered model of narrative discourse analysis, including personal testimonials, asylum claims, and public policy assumptions about trauma narratives. The asylum seekers' personal narratives and U.S. immigration (B.C.I.S.) policy responses to those narratives provide an ideal site for both evaluating existing research and building new theoretical models for understanding how trauma narratives negotiate the relationship between the personal and the political.


Amy Shuman  (United States)
Professor of English
Department of English and Department of Anthropology
The Ohio State University

Amy Shuman is a professor in the Department of English, holds an adjunct appointment in the Department of Anthropology, and directs the Center for Folklore Studies at the Ohio State University. She is the author of a book on literacy in everyday life, Storytelling Rights: the uses of oral and written texts among urban adolescents, Cambridge University Press, and a forthcoming book on narrative in everyday life from the University of Illinois Press. She studies literacy and technology, feminist theory, ethnicity/migration, folklore, and narrative theory.

  • Asylum
  • Trauma
  • Narrative

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)