Health and ageing in a hostile environment: Understanding older asylum applicants' narratives of life, health and ageing in the UK

Student thesis: Unknown


This thesis sits at the nexus of three important contemporary issues: health, migration and ageing. A growing literature problematises the UK's current restrictive approach to immigration, whilst concurrent health research increasingly recognises that exile environments determine long-term health for displaced people. This thesis, with its theoretical roots in critical medical anthropology, asks how older asylum applicants narrate their health in relation to their lived experiences. 21 semi-structured interviews, conducted between August 2017 and March 2018 with older asylum applicants in Greater Manchester, were analysed using narrative analysis. The asylum applicants interviewed faced multiple intersecting structural violences, placing them in unique positions of disadvantage. The majority felt their health was poor and told of the difficulties of life in the UK. Stories of homelessness, poverty and exclusion dominated, underpinned by the erosion of their perceived trustworthiness and credibility through encounters with the Home Office. They narrated particular personal experiences of social, political and economic strife in exile and correlated them with narratives of illness. The thesis proposes biocredibility as a novel theoretical concept to analyse this. Biocredibility describes how visceral descriptions of biological suffering can function as a narrative tool by adding credibility to accounts of experienced adversity. It does this, firstly, by allowing the narrator to ascribe culpability for illness. Secondly, by interjecting experiences of illness into life narratives, the significance of such experiences is effectively communicated. Finally, describing disease and disability provides narrative evidence of individuals' autobiographical testimony. For discredited and marginalised asylum applicants, biocredibility represents a strategy used to re-negotiate credibility. Rather than proffering to make inferences about the aetiology of the health episodes described, or suggest health rememberings are consciously exploited for personal gain, biocredibility urges a critical consideration of the socio-political contexts in which it is observed. In doing so, this research raises questions about the drivers and consequences of the narrative biologisation of complex human life in global yet austere contemporary times.
Date of Award31 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorNeil Pendleton (Supervisor), Bertrand Taithe (Supervisor) & Rubina Jasani (Supervisor)


  • Health
  • Migration
  • Asylum
  • Narrative
  • Ageing

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