Dr William Wheeler

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

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My research concerns the lives of those living at the sharp end of the current hostile politics surrounding asylum and migration. Through long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Manchester, I have explored how people seeking asylum encounter the opaque bureaucratic structures of the Home Office and its subcontractors in the private and third sectors. My research draws out the patterns of coercive control to which people are subjected, as well as the ways in which people strive to move forward with their lives while stuck in limbo, and the fragile networks of care that sustain lives through years of legal struggle and extended periods of destitution.   

Through my involvement in a Manchester-based Migration and Destitution Action Group, I have been involved in setting up a Migrant Destitution Fund. Established at the outset of the pandemic, the fund seeks to mitigate destitution among those who are denied the right to work or access benefits on the basis of their immigration status.

My previous research was much further afield - in the Aral Sea region of Kazakhstan, where I traced how the sea's dramatic regression over the second half of the twentieth century, and its recent partial restoration, have been entangled with the demise of state socialism and Kazakhstan's postsocialist transformation. Complicating images of environmental disaster for which the region is famous, I followed the fluctuating fortunes of the fishing industry, which have not mapped neatly onto sea levels, to draw out the multiple meanings of environmental change. Environment and post-Soviet transformation in Kazakhstan's Aral Sea region: Sea changes will be published in autumn 2021 by UCL Press.


  • asylum, refugees, bureaucracy, destitution, care, Aral Sea, environmental change, disaster, fisheries, post-Soviet

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