Date of Award

Summer 8-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Delores Phillips

Committee Member

Erika Frydenlund

Committee Member

Julia Romberger

Committee Member

Katrina M. Powell


A person is eligible to apply for asylum if they are able to effectively persuade the U.S. that they are “unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality . . . because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” However, when attempting to compose such credibility narratives, people seeking asylum are often within liminal spaces of their journey, such as detention centers or temporary shelters; these sites are complex spaces for someone to compose such a high-stakes narrative. This project inquired how the variety of stories displaced people tell about themselves is influenced by the rhetorical ecology— a varied and shifting context of narratives, events, people, materials, and policies— that is the U.S. asylum system.

To complete the project, I collaborated with an emergency shelter located in South Texas. I interviewed 17 people: 11 shelter clients (5 men and 6 women) representing 9 countries from 6 different geographical regions; 1 full-time staff member who was also a previous client; 2 full-time staff members; 2 seasonal volunteers; and 1 student intern. To better interpret their quotidian experience, I used audio-recorded interviews, as well as participants’ own visualizations (drawings and photos they created themselves).

Through a methodology of located-listening, a community-based research approach I have created, I was able to center participants’ contextualized expertise about their own lived experiences. This blended methodology relies on cultural rhetorics, rhetorical ecologies and Chicana feminisms, as well as concepts from the field of refugee and forced migration studies. A critical discourse analysis of participant’s stories and visuals helped me analyze both participant interviews and their visualizations because it scrutinizes how ideology and context are connected to language (Cameron; Rose).

Ultimately, I argue that the shelter operates as an influential “Third Space” for asylum hopefuls as evidenced through distinct shared rhetorical practices of daily life— like silence and routine—that both safeguard vulnerabilities and enact agency for individuals within precarious spaces. I term these practices shelter rhetorics. Third Space, as articulated by respective Chicana feminists such as Candace Zepeda, Lisa A. Flores, and Adela C. Licona, posits that in-between sites, such as LHB, may provide space for marginalized people to cultivate alternative perspectives and shared rhetorical practices which speak back to hegemonic and fixed representations of their experiences. This scholarship adds to the conversation by analyzing how the underlying ideologies of tangible materiality liberates and constrains the stories the shelter composes about asylum experience (Bennett; Edbauer; Reynolds).


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