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‘If I Die here, I’m a Hero!’ On Masculinity and Vulnerability Among Male Asylum Seekers

Marco Palillo

Abstract


For asylum seekers, masculinity is often a site of conflict, negotiated through competing discourses and public narratives about what it means to be an asylum seeker. Here, the male ‘genuine refugee’ is often depicted as a feminised, passive victim who ‘deserves’ humanitarian protection on the base of his vulnerability. Focusing on the crossing of the desert to Libya, this article analyses asylum seekers’ positioning of themselves as ‘men’ through their own narratives as well as the ways in which they engage with vulnerability, victimhood and agency in their storytelling. In particular, the focus lies on two cases, of Hakeem and David, selected from within 36 life history interviews with asylum seekers, refugees, and international protection holders collected in Sicily. For these men, the refugee journey is narrated as an accomplishment not only in terms of receiving asylum, but also in terms of their masculinity, exalting qualities such as endurance, courage, and competence. Two images, of the soldier and the hero, are presented as imaginary positioning of the self. This positioning appears to resolve performative tensions around masculinity/refugeeness, contesting the dominant image of the passive, feminized, helpless subject at the heart of ‘the genuine refugee’ public narrative. This might also be read as a strategy to reconcile profound questions about identity, the self, and experiences related to trauma and the loss of masculine status in the context of forced migration. 


Keywords


masculinity, refugee, asylum, narrative, discourse, storytelling,

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5617/jea.6030

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