JSP Student Profile

Abigail Stepnitz


Year: Advanced to Candidacy (ABD) - JSP

Email: astepnitz@berkeley.edu


Abigail Stepnitz is ABD in Jurisprudence & Social Policy where she researches law and culture with a focus on credibility in the asylum system. She is a 2019 researcher in residence at the UC Humanities Research Institute on the topic of "Truth," the 2019-2020 Legal Studies Honors Teaching Fellow, and affiliate faculty at the University of San Francisco where she teaches in Migration Studies.

Forthcoming publications:

Stepnitz, Abigail. Forthcoming 2019. “Between Convention and Resistance: Counter-narrative strategies in political asylum claims,” in The Routledge Handbook of Counter-Narratives, Klarissa Leug and Marianne Wolff Lundholt, eds. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Recent publications:

Stepnitz, Abigail. 24 October 2018. “Migrant caravan members have right to claim asylum – here’s why getting it will be hard.” The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/migrant-caravan-members-have-right-to-claim-asylum-heres-why-getting-it-will-be-hard-101005

Stepnitz, Abigail. 2018. “Re(art)iculating Refugees: Spectacle & the cultural contestation of law.” Berkeley Journal of Sociology Vol 61. http://berkeleyjournal.org/2018/03/rearticulating-refugees-spectacle-and-the-cultural-contestation-of-law/

Stepnitz, Abigail. 2012.“A Lie More Disastrous than the Truth: Asylum and the Identification of Trafficked Women in the UK.” Anti-Trafficking Review Vol 1. http://www.antitraffickingreview.org/index.php/atrjournal/article/view/25/45


BA, Political Science, 2004 University of San Francisco
Graduate Certificate, Conflict Studies, University of Cape Town, SA
MSc, Human Rights, 2007 London School of Economics and Political Science

Website: http://www.abigailstepnitz.com


Legal narratives
Law & culture
Refugees & asylum seekers
Legal and social construction of credibility
Mgration and migrant narratives
Gender, race and class in migration contexts


Outstanding GSI Award, Spring 2018
Teaching Excellence Award, Spring 2018

Academic Experiences:

Teaching as a Graduate Student Instructor, UC Berkeley Legal Studies:
Summer 2015: LS132AC Immigration and Citizenship
Fall 2015: LS 158 Law & Development
Spring 2016: 2015, LS132AC Immigration and Citizenship
Fall 2016, Fall 2017: LS100, Foundations of Law & Society
Spring 2018: Law 375: Teaching Learning in Higher Education
2019-2020: Legal Studies Honors Teaching Fellow
Teaching as Instructor of Record, UC Berkeley Legal Studies
Fall 2018: LSR1B Law, Language & Culture

Teaching as Instructor of Record, University of San Francisco, MA Migration Studies
Fall 2017 & Fall 2018: MIMS 603 Global Migration Policy & Politics

2015-2017: Prof. Catherine Albiston
2015-2017 Prof. Leti Volpp

Dissertation Abstract:

Title: Unsettled Truths: Law and culture in the construction and assessment of credibility in affirmative asylum claims

This dissertation is a textual examination of how asylum seekers legally and discursively construct credibility in written narratives, how that process is informed by the nature of the claimant’s identity and experience, and how these processes change over time. Focusing on four types, or genres, of asylum narrative—political opposition, sexual and gender-based violence, LGBT identity, and civil conflict –I analyze 120 claims to show how claimants frame identities and experiences, and provide evidence of past persecution or fear of future harm. This reveals identifiable patterns in the way that different genres of claim are narrated. I argue, therefore, that for asylum seekers, narrative truth and credibility are more than just an accurate recounting of events. Theirs must be a truth legible across different times and spaces that is familiar enough to be plausible but unique enough to be individual. I also demonstrate the role of institutionalization of certain patterns of language, in particular reliance on stereotypes, and how they diffuse throughout narratives over time. This process further complicates the space in which claimants are expected to articulate their experiences by creating conflicting expectations. They must on the one hand use terms that become a familiar shibboleth to decision-makers and yet also bolster these claims with unique, robust detail. Lastly, the project speaks to a contemporary political and social moment, elaborating on what it means to consider credibility, citizenship and belonging in a “post-truth” world. Asking what asylum can tell us about the function of truth-telling in assessing claims to membership, I argue that the legal and social construction of immigration is informed by a political understanding of truth.

Curriculum Vitae