A Blog post by Nerges Azizi (PhD Law)
Diversity100 / ESRC UBEL studentship award holder
My name is Nerges Azizi and I recently started the MPhil in Law at Birkbeck, University of London. My research addresses ways of resisting the European border regime, with a particular focus on the role of strategic litigation. I chose this topic because of the experiences I have had working with refugees as a translator and interpreter. In the course of that work, the law again and again surfaced as an obstacle and an instrument of power designed to regulate their existence, behaviour and expectations. Despite the disciplinary and oppressive function of the law, the people who I was working with were forced to appeal to the law in order to receive protection. This provoked me to question whether there could be alternative uses of the law, ones less geared towards regulating and disciplining the lives of refugees, towards ones that hold states accountable. During my preliminary research, I came across strategic litigation, which describes the tactical use of legal tools to hold states accountable for their human rights obligations.
At present, I am sceptical about the prospects of this tool, however, I am looking forward to examine all the ambivalences and difficulties of engaging with the law. I am particularly interested in what the resort to legal means might be able to reveal about the ways in which the European border regime is constituted and contested. My geographical focus is the Mediterranean Sea, which presently has been transformed into a site of death and racial violence by European policy makers and border guards. I aim to place this sphere into a longer historical perspective, in which the sea was not partitioned into north and south, east and west – nor was it necessarily functioning as a border – rather, it might have worked as a space of encounter, connection or a bridge. At the same time, I will be attentive to the colonial, imperial and racial violence shaping the history of its human crossings. Tracing histories of the Mediterranean, as well as conceptually departing from the sea, hopefully allows me to imagine another function for it and opens the possibility of an alternative future. I am very excited to work on the project and look forward to the writing that will emerge from it.
When applying for the PhD, considering who my supervisors would be, and who else would be working at the department and at the school where I would be based, was of high importance to me. This is because I consider my environment to shape me intellectually; we learn from the people around us. A PhD is a long project and is potentially accompanied with some anxieties and self-doubt, therefore working with supervisors whose work I am familiar with and respect ensures that I can trust that my research will be guided in the right direction. Of course, having the financial stability of a scholarship is indispensable and crucial to be able to concentrate on researching and writing. This is particularly so for students of working class background and ethnic minorities. I would recommend everyone to apply to existing scholarship opportunities.