Desperately seeking certainty? The case of asylum applicants and people planning an assisted suicide at dignitas

Naomi Richards, Rebecca Rotter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Uncertainty is often deemed to be a quintessential fact of life. The social scientific literature often references a generalised or 'global' uncertainty, akin to a worldview. Far fewer studies, however, discuss the specific effects of 'event' focused uncertainty: how it is managed by groups and individuals, or how this type of uncertainty relates to the concepts of risk, trust, hope and time. This article seeks to identify and analyse key aspects of the condition of uncertainty through an empirical exploration of two very different case studies: asylum applicants waiting for the state to decide whether to grant them the right to remain in the UK, and people with chronic or life-limiting illness who want to hasten their own death with the help of a Swiss right-to-die organisation. In both cases, participants experienced a heightened state of uncertainty because of specific and substantial threats to their well-being: deportation, and protracted suffering through illness. In both cases, the acquisition of knowledge was considered to aid predictions about future events. However, both sets of individuals encountered barriers to acquiring the right kind of knowledge - knowledge which was trusted to be accurate or which came with a guarantee. While all the individuals were constrained in their ability to act to relieve their uncertainty, they found limited ways of doing so. Knowledge and action are thereby found to be crucial to the condition of uncertainty and to the means of overcoming it through restoring a sense of control.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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