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SoA Lecture Series: Dr. Hilary Parsons Dick, Arcadia University


Oct 28 2021 - 2:00pm

Thursday, October 28, 2021
2:00 p.m.

Via Zoom

Title: Reprivatizing Domestic Violence in US Asylum Claims: Discriminatory Ontologies of Migration in the Matter of A-B-

Abstract: Since the early twentieth century, US immigration policy regimes have created a discriminatory ontology of migration that conflates the legal category of the “illegal alien” and a cultural image of Mexican and Central American migrants as inherently corrupt beings whose lives are disposable. The production of this ontology is rooted in a racialized process of gendering that reinscribes long-standing white supremacist views of “dangerous brown men.” I explore these processes through an investigation of the massive regulatory changes the Trump administration made to the US asylum system, which have disproportionately affected women and children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. I focus on a precedential ruling by Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions on an asylum case called the Matter of AB,which played a central role in facilitating Trumpian changes to the asylum system. In the Matter of AB, Sessions reinvigorates apreviously dominant framing of domestic violence as a private matter through the production of a semiotics of singularity. The semiotics of singularity is an interdiscursive strategy that establishes, verifies, and authorizes “truth” via a denial of patterns and a focus on particularity and simplicity, which together narrow the field of reference by severing links with contradictory discourse.
Hilary Parsons Dick is the 2019-2021 Frank and Evelyn Steinbrucker ‘42 Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of International Studies at Arcadia University. She completed her Ph.D. in cultural and linguistic anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Dick investigates Mexico-U.S. migration from the perspectives of discourse analysis; the political economies of language; and gender, class, and ethno-racial relations. In 2016, she was awarded the Wenner-Gren Hunt Fellowship to support the completion of her first book, Words of Passage: National Longing and the Imagined Lives of Mexican Migrants (The University of Texas Press), which was recognized by the Society for Linguistic Anthropology as a Distinguished Book in Linguistic Anthropology (2017-2018). Her new research entails a two-pronged engagement with US immigration law. One is her second book (under contract, Oxford University Press), which examines how the juridical and vernacular construction of "asylum seekers" in the US function as racializing and gendering practices that--in their contemporary manifestation--marginalize and dehumanize migrants from Central America. The other engagement is a long-term ethnographic research project examining how asylum seekers and their legal advocates work collaboratively to resist this gendered racialization and gain legal recognition for migrants.


For more information, contact: Dr. Linda Green (
or Catherine Lehman (

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