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Managing narratives, managing identities: Language and credibility in legal consultations with asylum seekers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2021

Marie Jacobs
Ghent University, Belgium
Katrijn Maryns
Ghent University, Belgium
E-mail address:


This study examines interactional management practices and narrative co-construction in lawyer-asylum seeker consultations in Flanders, Belgium. Drawing upon linguistic-ethnographic fieldwork, it presents a case study of a consultation between an Afghan applicant for international protection, his adviser, and his lawyer. The purpose of the consultation is to prepare the applicant for testifying at the upcoming asylum hearing. Data analysis focuses on (i) the reorientation of the asylum narrative from an authentic-experiential towards a more objectified formal-institutional account; (ii) the participants’ positioning work that indexes this reorientation process; and (iii) their fluctuating alignment of local-interactional and translocal-gatekeeping perspectives. In the discussion, we analyse the consultation in terms of competing legal and experiential voices and views on participant roles/responsibilities. We reflect on how this ambiguity of roles and ideologies relates to the constructed character of credibility, which reveals the importance of adequate legal assistance in this linguistically challenging context. (Legal consultations, asylum procedure, linguistic ethnography, narrative performance, credibility assessment)*

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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We would like to thank our research participants for their cooperation. We are also grateful to Dr. Rebecca Tipton for her insightful feedback on an earlier version of this article. Finally, we would like to acknowledge the reviewers for their valuable input.


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