Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Asylum decision making is at the very heart of refugee protection, yet frequently operates as a ‘black box’ – especially if State authorities choose to assess applicants on an individual basis. Because the 1951 Refugee Convention does not specify the processes through which an applicant may be recognized as a refugee, different States recognize refugees through different procedures. If States choose to evaluate applicants individually, it becomes challenging, if not impossible, to understand from the outside how decision makers come to their decisions. This book sheds some light on that process as it operates in one jurisdiction – Switzerland. Laura Affolter’s analysis critically explores how asylum decision making is operationalized in the Swiss Secretariat for Migration (SEM) on a daily basis. It shows us clearly that, although decision makers have the independence to make their judgments, their decisions do not occur in a void. Decisions are brought to life in a particular space, or what Affolter, borrowing from Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’, coins an ‘institutional habitus’ (p12).

Original publication




Book review


Oxford University Press

Publication Date



34 (1)


159 - 162