Temporalities of Non-knowledge Production: Acceleration and Repetition in the Italian Asylum System


23 January 2022

Migration management relies on the continuous production of knowledge about ‘people on the move’. Information about migrants’ movements and their identities is collected through data infrastructures which enable to monitor migration flows, to regulate access to Europe, to assess whether people qualify for international protection. Importantly, the infrastructures supporting the production and circulation of such ‘migration knowledge’ are shaped by more or less explicit temporal goals and demands: the crafting of future-risk scenarios, the quest for real-timeness and for acceleration. Most notably, the so-called ‘accelerated procedures’ have been introduced in many European countries in order to speed-up and streamline the processing of asylum applications. Such “time politics” of asylum (Cwerner 2004) is instantiated through different measures: the introduction of “white list” countries to automatically exclude asylum applications submitted by people of those countries; the decrease of the period available for the submission of the application form or for providing evidence after the first asylum interview; the fast-tracking of applications deemed unfounded at the time of the first interview. Several authors have recently illustrated how such ‘temporal borders of asylum’ (Tazzioli 2018) are articulated upon the modulation of acceleration and deceleration (Reneman & Stronks 2021, Eule et al. 2019), of waiting time and frenzied time (Griffiths 2014). Less attention, however, has been paid to understand what are the consequences of speedy procedures on the asylum process: what is the relation between acceleration and knowledge production and what are the consequences of the ‘struggle’ for acceleration on population management?

I suggest that such struggle for acceleration tends to produce non-knowledge. To illustrate this point, I analyze the case of the Italian asylum system through the lens of agnotology. Agnotology – the science of ignorance or, more prosaically, (non)knowledge – moves beyond classical epistemological questions about what is “not yet known” and it explicitly focuses on the “conscious, unconscious, and structural production of ignorance, its diverse causes and conformations, whether brought about by neglect, forgetfulness, myopia, extinction, secrecy, or suppression.” (Proctor 2008, 3). More specifically, it suggests that ignorance can be seen as an active construct, as something that is willingly crafted in order to organize doubts, uncertainty or misinformation. In this regard, Reyner’s (2012) work about the management of uncomfortable knowledge by organizations reveals how information is kept out, how certain ‘unknown knowns’ are actively excluded by societies or organizations “because they threaten to undermine key organizational arrangements or the ability of institutions to pursue their goals” (Reyner 2012, 108). Focusing on the production of (non)knowledge promises to uncover some of the power-relations at stake in migration management. Moreover, this theoretical move allows reversing the Foucauldian understanding of knowledge as power by asking how non-knowledge, rather than knowledge, can become a means through which articulating power relations and maintaining or exacerbating power-asymmetries.

The entanglement between acceleration, (non)knowledge production and power relations is well shown by Italian ‘accelerated procedures’ (‘procedure accelerate’). Introduced in 2015 to align the Italian asylum process to European directives, accelerated procedures operate upon the time-frames shaping the asylum process by reducing the period of time between the lodging of applications and the interview with the court, by diminishing the time available to courts for taking a decision about applications as well as the time for submitting appeals to negative decisions. These measures are applied in the case of applicants coming from a safe country of origin and in the case of reiterated, pretextual or ‘clearly ungrounded’ applications. The rationale is then to shorten the time processing of applications with low-chances of success in order to avoid what is perceived as time-wasting and worthless repetition in the process. It is worth underlining that accelerated procedures work symmetrically from a temporal perspective as they would represent a benefit both for the nation-states, whose goal is to remove illegitimate applicants as fast as possible, and for the applicants, who have interests in knowing their future as soon as possible. De facto, however, accelerated procedures amount to a substantial reduction of the right to asylum. By reducing the time-frames of the asylum process, applicants have considerably less time to prepare their cases, to be adequately informed about what they will be asked in the interview with the commission, to find lawyers and tell them about their stories, to bring evidence supporting their cases. Moreover, time is often mentioned by lawyers and intercultural mediators as a crucial resource for developing mutual trust and for an accurate preparation of applicants’ cases.

Accelerated procedures can then be seen as a strategy of dismissal of uncomfortable knowledge (Reyner 2012): knowledge about asylum seekers is willingly not (or partially) produced in order to speed up their removal. Moreover, a tautological understanding of repetition seems to underpin these procedures. Knowledge about some categories of applicants does not need to be properly produced because a collective judgment based on previous and allegedly similar cases define their applications as suspicious and undeserving of a longer, thorough assessment.


23 January 2022

Contributed by

Lorenzo Olivieri is a PhD candidate at the University of Bologna, where he conducts research focusing on migrants’ strategies of resistance to the data practices and infrastructures for migration management. More specifically, he investigates migrants’ temporalities of resistance, namely migrants’ ability to temporally appropriate the socio-technical infrastructures governing and controlling them and their movements. His research is part of the ERC-funded project Processing Citizenship. He holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society (PSTS) from the University of Twente and a Master’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Turin.

Contributed as part of Symposium: Making Sense of the High-Speed Society

Works Cited

  • Cwerner, S. (2004). Faster, Faster and Faster: The Time Politics of Asylum in the UK. Time & Society 13, 71-88.
  • Eule, T., Borrelli, L., Lindberg, A. & Wyss, A. (2019) Migrants before the law: Con-tested migration control in Europe. London, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Griffiths, M. (2014) Out of time: The temporal uncertainties of refused asylum seekers and immigration detainees. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 40(12): 1991–2009.
  • Proctor, R. (2008). “A Missing Term to Describe the Cultural Production of Ignorance (and Its Study)” In Agnotology: The Making & Unmaking of Ignorance, edited by Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, 1–36. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Reneman, M., & Stronks, M. (2021). What are they waiting for? The use of acceleration and deceleration in asylum procedures by the Dutch Government. Time & Society, 30(3), 302–331.
  • Rayner, S. (2012). “Uncomfortable knowledge: the social construction of ignorance in science and environmental policy discourses”, Economy and Society, 41:1, 107-125.
  • Tazzioli, M. (2018). The temporal borders of asylum. Temporality of control in the EU border regime. Political Geography, 64, pp. 13-22.