Precarious Lives: Refugees and Asylum Seekers’ Resistance within Unfree Labouring


  • Louise Waite University of Leeds
  • Hannah Lewis University of Leeds
  • Peter Dwyer University of York
  • Stuart Hodkinson University of Leeds


This paper is concerned with the interplay between vulnerability, resistance and agency for forced migrants. Such concepts are yoked together as soon as the vulnerability inherent in the life-worlds of many migrants is seen to align not solely with victimhood, but also potentially to act as a springboard for agentic resistance, mobilisation and activism. As such, this paper is oriented towards a critical theoretical, and empirically insightful, engagement with the concept of resistance. Most particularly, we ponder the possibilities for resistance in situations of subjugated unfreedom within realms of forced labour. The backdrop for this paper is a broader research project that aims to gain an in-depth understanding of the experiences of severe labour exploitation and unfree labour among asylum seekers and refugees living in the UK (see The lives of many refugees and asylum seekers are widely recognised as characterised by poverty, social exclusion and destitution (Crawley 2001; Phillips 2006), yet there is little research documenting their experiences of exploitation and unfree labour and the reasons why they may be engaged in it. It was such a research gap that spurred our broader project, together with concern that government policy is potentially influential in propelling asylum seekers and refugees into severely exploitative working conditions including unfree elements (see fuller discussion in Lewis et al 2014a). This paper homes in on the particular issue of whether, and how, resistance may manifest for asylum seekers and refugees in landscapes of extreme labour precarity.




How to Cite

Waite, L., Lewis, H., Dwyer, P., & Hodkinson, S. (2015). Precarious Lives: Refugees and Asylum Seekers’ Resistance within Unfree Labouring. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 14(2), 479–491. Retrieved from