Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie

Abstract Ricarda Theobald

The humanitarian diagnosis of vulnerability: An anthropological analysis of psychological vulnerability assessments in the German asylum procedure

The concept of vulnerability has gained great prominence – be it in feminist analyses, risk and disaster management, or medical and humanitarian discourses. As such, it has also become part of EU asylum and reception legislations. Here, a so-called vulnerability-based approach to protection has been established: defined as a special susceptibility to harm, vulnerability is the concept through which certain refugees’ rights, protection and access to health care are channelled.

For the specific case of vulnerability due to mental illness, in Germany, psychologically trained staff has the task to assess and certify vulnerability. Many activists support this approach as an important step towards more equality and adequate mental health care. Others, however, criticise vulnerability assessments as just another (biopolitical) tool of humanitarian governance, or an additional mechanism of selection.

It is within this field of tension that I seek to conduct an anthropological analysis of psychological vulnerability assessments in the asylum procedure. Based on field work with health professionals in Berlin and Brandenburg, my PhD project explores the psychological knowledge production on vulnerability. What does this knowledge reveal about the policy it is supposed to serve for but also psychology as a science? In doing so, I seek to re-think psychological care against and beyond its hegemonic knowledge system.