Telling stories from start to finish: Exploring the demand for narrative in refugee testimony

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Griffith Law Review, 2013, 22 (1), pp. 63 - 86
Issue Date:
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© 2015, Routledge. All rights reserved. When someone seeking refugee status comes before a departmental officer or administrative body, the applicantʼs firstperson testimony plays a crucial role since there is often little or no other evidence – such as documents or witnesses – to support the claim being made. The distinctly narrative form of refugee applicantsʼ evidence, and its central place in the status determination process, make such testimony an ideal site from which to explore the lawʼs relationship with narrative. In this article, I use one Refugee Review Tribunal decision to exemplify how demands for narrativity, in relation to both the content and form of evidence, influence determinations about the plausibility of refugee testimony. I argue that part of the lawʼs requirement for ʻplausibleʼ evidence involves an expectation that refugee applicants tell a good story – that is, one that predominantly conforms to the conventions of model narrative forms. When the law responds to the events and accidents within refugee testimony, narrative expectations are at play – and the precise terms of these standards and the content of ʻgoodʼ, orderly narratives are implicit, shifting and inconsistent.
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