Law and Asylum: Space, Subject, Resistance, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Law and Asylum

Space, Subject, Resistance, 1st Edition

By Simon Behrman


270 pages

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Paperback: 9780367900274
pub: 2020-01-30
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Hardback: 9781138304178
pub: 2018-06-19
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pub: 2018-06-18
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In contrast to the claim that refugee law has been a key in guaranteeing a space of protection for refugees, this book argues that law has been instrumental in eliminating spaces of protection, not just from one’s persecutors but also from the grasp of sovereign power. By uncovering certain fundamental aspects of asylum as practised in the past and in present day social movements, namely its concern with defining space rather than people and its role as a space of resistance or otherness to sovereign law, this book demonstrates that asylum has historically been antagonistic to law and vice versa. In contrast, twentieth-century refugee law was constructed precisely to ensure the effective management and control over the movements of forced migrants. To illustrate the complex ways in which these two paradigms – asylum and refugee law – interact with one another, this book examines their historical development and concludes with in-depth studies of the Sanctuary Movement in the United States and the Sans-Papiers of France.

The book will appeal to researchers and students of refugee law and refugee studies; legal and political philosophy; ancient, medieval and modern legal history; and sociology of political movements.


'Behrman has produced a fascinating, ambitious and wide-ranging book that explores sanctuary and asylum from various perspectives. At a moment when asylum seems under threat, this timely analysis reminds us of the importance of history but, crucially, challenges the role of law in protecting forced migrants and providing solutions.'

Dallal Stevens, University of Warwick, UK

'Refugee law as protection? Think again. Taking us through Agamben and Rancière and from the Antiquity to the development of Christian thought to the sanctuary movement in the US and sans papers resistance in France, the author demonstrates how the legal paradigm threatens or even erases the practice of asylum. Erudite, clear and compelling.'

Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, University of Brighton, UK

'Why are refugees so often seen as intruders into societies in which they seek safety and security? This book provides important insights into the role of law in the ideology and practice of exclusion. It is a valuable resource for those who wish to understand the predicaments of refugees in the 21st century.'

Philip Marfleet, University of East London, UK

`In this work Behrman offers a much needed refreshingly critical, historically grounded and theoretically rich reading of international refugee law. Its ground-breaking argument is that refugee law and rights are contributing to decreasing spaces of protection for refugees and limiting the scope for activist responses to people in flight of persecution. Scholars, students, activists and practitioners have much to gain from reading this book.’

Nadine El-Enany, Birkbeck School of Law, UK

Table of Contents


Part I – The Space of Asylum

Chapter One: The Rise and Fall of Asylum in Antiquity

Chapter Two: Sanctuary in England

Part II – The Creation of the Refugee Subject

Chapter Three: The Nation-State Origins of Refugee Law

Chapter Four: The Evolution and Impact of International Refugee Law

Part III – Resistance: Grassroots Asylum

Chapter Five: The US Sanctuary Movement

Chapter Six: The Sans-Papiers


About the Author

Simon Behrman is lecturer in law at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Social History
LAW / General
LAW / Civil Rights
LAW / Emigration & Immigration
LAW / International
LAW / Jurisprudence
LAW / Legal History
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Human Rights
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Minority Studies