Recognition and Narrative Identities: The Legal Creation, Alienation and Liberation of the Refugee

32 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2011 Last revised: 7 Jan 2014


That a refugee often has a transformative experience in their encounter with a status determination regime is uncontentious. The practical need for legal recognition of a pre-existing status for the purpose of protection marries with a very personal need for recognition of one’s experience. The granting or withholding of either type of recognition has consequences for the various identities created in the process. Both depend upon the story told, and the manner of its reception.

This paper arose initially out of my own anecdotal experience as a legal representative for refugees over many years. It found its genesis in reflections on the role I played in helping shape the story that would be told to administrative decisions makers by my clients, and my growing concern that I was complicit in a process of legal institutionalisation, distortion and even alienation of something ‘authentic’ in the refugee experience and identity. As will become apparent, I am no longer so damning of my role and that of my fellow lawyers and decision-makers, or indeed of the ‘regulative discourse’ imposed by refugee law itself. The refugee has more agency than perhaps appears at first blush. I am also more questioning of my own original assumptions about authenticity, categorisation and recognition.

Suggested Citation

Zagor, Matthew, Recognition and Narrative Identities: The Legal Creation, Alienation and Liberation of the Refugee. ANU College of Law Research Paper No. 11-22, Available at SSRN: or

Matthew Zagor (Contact Author)

ANU College of Law ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

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