Utrecht University Humanities Graduate Conference

Panel 1: Ethical Philosophy and Human Rights

Panel 1: Ethical Philosophy and Human Rights

Chair:           Jos Philips

Time:           11:30 – 13:00

Location:      Drift 21, 0.32

Differential Treatment of Distributive Justice Within State Constructs: A Normative Evaluation

Zane de Ponte, MSc in International Public Management and Policy Erasmus University Rotterdam


Keywords: distributive justice, coercion, relative deprivation, borders, citizenship


There are numerous formerly colonized islands and territories in the world that have used their right of self-determination to choose for assimilation within the state construct of their former colonizers. These territories exist outside of standard conceptions of state borders, despite their status as administrative units within the overarching state. The individuals that reside within these territories possess citizenship; however, social security and other public goods in these territories are subject to derogation. Derogation is the partial suppression of a law that diminishes its original intent or scope. In practice, this includes partial exclusion to social security and other public goods (healthcare, education, welfare, etc.), resulting in the tolerance of relative deprivation between citizens of the same state construct based on their place of residence.  Are there any legitimate justifications of the differential treatment between citizens of the same nation state, kingdom, commonwealth when it comes to the provision of social goods and other welfare benefits?

The positioning of these territories, as substantively inside state-borders (in terms of administrative coercion) but nonetheless geographically outside state-borders, is often not well understood and receives little attention in scholarly discussions about citizenship and distributive justice. I will be conducting a case study of the Netherlands to explore this issue using a Rawlsian approach to justice in combination with a discussion on coercion. The focus will be on the differential treatment of distributive justice between European and Caribbean citizens of the Netherlands. Given the recent devastation of the Dutch island of Saint Maarten due to Hurricane Irma and the political discussions concerning the scope of emergency relief Dutch citizens on Saint Maarten are entitled to, I believe my presentation and the discussion it may trigger is both timely and socially relevant.

Walk in! ‘Open’ Forms of Asylum Accommodation and their Effect on Contact and (un)familiarity Between Asylum Seekers and Neighborhood Residents.

Marielle Zill, PhD Candidate in Human Geography and Planning Department, Utrecht University


Keywords: asylum centers, openness, everyday social interaction, (un)familiarity, symbolic borders


Asylum centers in many European countries spatially isolate asylum seekers from their so-called ‘host society’. They are understood to be ‘closed’ spaces, either due to their spatial separation from residential areas, or due to material or institutional borders. Civil society initiatives have challenged the isolated nature of asylum centers and created alternative forms of refugee accommodation that seek to promote their inclusion into the ‘host society’. This paper discusses the case of the Grandhotel Cosmopolis, an asylum seeker center, as well as café and hotel for tourists in the city of Augsburg, Germany. The case study focuses on the different types of contact between neighborhood residents and asylum seekers as well as on the spaces in which these contacts occur. Data was collected via observations and semi-structured interviews between September 2016 and November 2017. The spaces within the Grandhotel Cosmopolis were found to provide for contact between asylum seekers, volunteers and local residents and contributed to a de-categorization of asylum seekers. The Grandhotel Cosmopolis as an example of an ‘open’ asylum center also demonstrates that in absence of spatial, material and institutional borders, symbolic borders may continue to structure contact between asylum seekers and local residents. The case study further highlights societal expectations around ‘open’ or ‘inclusive’ asylum accommodation and contact between asylum seekers and local residents. Findings show that even within the so-called ‘inclusive’ spaces, societal power-relations and inequality are not easily discarded and that the ‘inclusivity’ or ‘openness’ of a space may be seen as an end, rather than a means, to familiarity between groups.

Rethinking Borders and Migration

Timo Schmidt, MSc in Migration Studies, University of Oxford


 Keywords: migration, infrastructure, governance, saudization, congruence analysis


Rethinking paradigms on migration means to account for the relational and ecological systems that configure and distribute migratory capabilities. In this vein, the theoretical frameworks of governance and more recently infrastructure have been deployed in a growing number of studies to guide analyses on how migrants move, and particularly how they are moved. This paper seeks to critically examine how a focus on either infrastructure or governance can add to the scholarly discussion on how people are moved, and more specifically reveal how different migrancies are produced in the context of socio-political change. This paper is divided in two interconnected analytic parts: first, I will situate both approaches in their scholarly and historic context and delineate theoretical divergences between them. Second, I will apply a focus on infrastructure and governance to a real-life scenario by using the congruence analysis approach (CON). This methodology speaks to wider literature in small-N research design and proves particularly resourceful when testing the relative strength of two theories in front of empirical evidence. As a case study for this research, I will explore Saudization (nitaqat) programs that aim at regulating the number of foreign migrants in the Saudi labor market. Doing so allows for a comparison of infrastructure and governance and their individual implications for our understanding of contemporary migration phenomena and, in turn, reflect on the epistemic and ontological characteristics of the concept of migration.

Shifting the Narrative: What Does it Mean to be a Refugee? An Analysis on an Institutional and Individual Level

Hannah Sommer, MA in Philosophy, University College of London


Keywords: borders, migration, refugees, solidarity, recognition


Even though the majority of the world’s refugees are in the global South, in the past years political debates have been focused on the so-called “Refugee Crisis” in European Countries. The European Union is proud of its achievements in terms of valuing every individual’s dignity; yet, in practice, it looks like this mostly applies to people within EU borders. In theory, there is agreement for the right to life, liberty and the security of the person (UN General Assembly 1948, Art. 5), however, it is contested who has the corresponding obligation to secure these rights. Accordingly, the following questions arise: how can the above-mentioned inequalities between countries or between individuals of different countries be justified? If they cannot be justified, what can be done in terms of addressing the issues at stake? Related to this, there are important conceptual considerations: who is a migrant and who is a refugee? What consequences do these labels have for the people who are (unwillingly) defined by it?


Drawing on the literature of Andrew Shacknove (1985), Alexander Betts (2010) and Matthew Gibney (2015), I argue that the focus of the current debate must be shifted: the definition of ‘refugee’ must be broadened in terms of not only taking personal persecution as the basis for being entitled to the rights the refugee status entails. Rather, a state of origin’s inability or unwillingness to provide protection should be the decisive factor. Furthermore, in addition to framing these questions in humanitarian terms, I take the notion of solidarity in Hannah Arendt’s political thought to be crucial to the current debate about refugees. Finally, instead of talking about people like refugees and migrants, there should be a dialogue with them, in order to do justice in recognizing them as persons. This will be illustrated by testimonies of people currently living under the labels of ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’.