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The politics of discretion: authority and influence in asylum dispersal

Darling, J. (2022) 'The politics of discretion: authority and influence in asylum dispersal.', Political Geography, 94 . p. 102560.


This paper considers how discretion, understood as both a capacity to make decisions and a form of influence that is often hidden, operates within the accommodation and support of asylum seekers. Combining critical discussions of discretion with accounts of a ‘local turn’ in migration policy, I argue that discretion plays a key role in shaping how policy is implemented and offers insight into the changing governance of asylum at national and local levels. Drawing on empirical material examining the development of the UK's asylum dispersal system, the paper extends accounts of discretion beyond ‘street-level’ to argue for a focus on how discretion reflects different claims to institutional authority. Addressing four accounts of discretion in dispersal, I argue that tracing discretion can offer insights into how ‘implementation gaps’ in asylum policy are negotiated and how tensions between national and local governments are contained. Tracing discretion in this way may advance critical interrogations of power relations in welfare bureaucracies and develop understandings of institutional agency and influence within liberal democracies.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 23 December 2023.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 4.0.
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:© The Authors 2021. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Date accepted:07 December 2021
Date deposited:16 February 2022
Date of first online publication:23 December 2021
Date first made open access:23 December 2023

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