Doctoral studies

The expectations of asylum-seekers often clash with realities

Migration in form of asylum-seekers is often discussed in the public from the viewpoint of the receiving country and society. Tallinn University School of Humanities doctoral student Timothy Anderson tried to unravel in his doctoral thesis the experience of the asylum-seekers.

Timothy Anderson

In his doctoral thesis, researcher Timothy Anderson examines the motivations, life projects, and political perspectives of asylum-seekers and refugees in Estonia. Anderson challenges the ‘passive’ portrayal of refugees in migration scholarship; his work instead reveals the agency, resourcefulness, and political insight of these individuals - even in the face of significant adversity. Anderson’s conclusions support a theoretical shift in refugee studies toward more humanist and existentialist perspectives.

Conducting ethnographic research at Estonian asylum and migration centers, Timothy Anderson found that these places are significantly influenced by the ideas and politics of the migrants themselves. While these centers are often portrayed in media as alienated ‘non-places’ where social life is minimal, Anderson’s work highlights scenes of migrant solidarity, creativity, social connection, and personal growth. The experiences of asylum-seekers challenge common stereotypes and place personal experiences at the center of the discussion on migration. 

This study also highlights the tensions and challenges that asylum-seekers in Estonia encounter. Their expectations of life in the country often clash with the realities of Estonian state practice. Moreover, the refugees in Anderson’s work revealed contradictions in European migration discourse. For example, while 'human rights' are commonly understood as universal entitlements, this study shows how these rights are often predicated on EU citizenship and ethnic constructions of national belonging. Still, even when facing extreme circumstances, the refugees in the study found ways to contest and reshape their circumstances in unexpected ways.

Asylum rights, integration, and national belonging continue to be critically important topics in Estonia. Timothy Anderson’s work contributes to these conversations by revealing perspectives that are often overlooked in public discourse. He highlights the voices of asylum-seekers themselves, analyzing lived experiences of Estonian policy, governance, and social life in the country. By bringing these experiences forward, a more inclusive, cosmopolitan understanding of Estonian identity becomes visible. 

Timothy Anderson defended his doctoral thesis "Outer Voices: Examining Refugee Agency and Political Life in Estonia'' on December 4th in Tallinn University's Institute of Humanities (TÜHI). His supervisors were Carlo Cubero, Associate Professor at Tallinn University, and Klāvs Sedlenieks, Associate Professor at Rīga Stradiņš University. His opponents were Giuseppe Campesi, Associate Professor at the University of Bari, and Henrik Vigh, Professor at the University of Copenhagen.