Review: Heath Cabot, On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014, pp. 272, 5 illustrations – Reviewed by Theodoros Fouskas

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Heath Cabot, On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2014. Pp. 272. 5 illustrations. – Reviewed by Theodoros Fouskas

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On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece by Heath Cabot (review)

From: Journal of Modern Greek Studies
Volume 33, Number 1, May 2015
pp. 187-190 | 10.1353/mgs.2015.0006

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Heath Cabot’s On the Doorstep of Europe is an ethnographic study of the asylum system in Greece. The book traces the ways asylum seekers, service providers, and bureaucrats attempt to make sense of the multiple and challenging dilemmas of governance, information, ethics, rights discourse, humanitarian practice, and sociability that emerge through this legal process posed by both human rights law and European governance. By focusing on the work of the Athens Refugee Service (ARS), an asylum advocacy nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Athens, Cabot investigates the tragedies of asylum in Greece: ethical life, work of judgment, and new possibilities for belonging and citizenship resulting from political violence. Despite the argument’s lack of clarity in some sections, the book underlines the fact that what matters are not simply the observations made by the author that might be newsworthy and relevant, but the lessons and conclusions drawn from these observations on how aid candidates and service providers reshape dominant images of deservingness, victimhood, and vulnerability from within systems of aid distribution.

Through the MSS v. Belgium and Greece asylum-seeking case described in chapter 1, Cabot illustrates that the inadequacies of the Greek asylum procedure should be understood within the wider framework of European governance mechanisms, including legislative, policy, and advocacy trends, regional histories of displacement, and often more global forms of violence and inequality that have positioned Greece in the margins of Europe. Concerning migration and asylum management, Greece’s moral and political marginality in Europe is inextricable from its position in Europe’s land and sea borders. Policies and practices aimed toward safeguarding the EU as an area devoted to freedom of movement, security, justice, human rights, and humanitarian values interact with internal policing and legislative practices of Greece, which bears the main responsibility for maintaining and protecting the EU borders, while migrants and refugees remain in legal limbo.

The second chapter investigates the everyday conditions, processes, and interactions in the Aliens and Immigration Directorate of the Athens and Attica Prefecture, where new applicants meet with the state regulatory authority through encounters with the police. Also, the so-called pink card (identity document) is examined as an entry point into the multiple forms of limbo that characterize asylum seeking in Greece. Cabot follows the pink card’s process from its bureaucratic production by the authorities, through its circulation in the everyday discussions and survival practices of asylum seekers, to its final disappearance at the end of the asylum process. The chapter shows how the document acquires diverse meanings and uses through the interactions of police, bureaucrats, and asylum seekers.

Chapter 3 explores how ARS workers and asylum seekers attempt to navigate the tragic dilemmas that characterize Greek NGO cultures of assistance. NGO workers offer assistance to some while they turn others away, as a result of limitations in labor power and resources, constraints of law and bureaucracy, and ARS institutional commitments. Cabot frequently deploys the notion of tragedy and tragic dilemmas, that is to say, dilemmas that she marks with the word “tragedy” in order to underscore the circumstances that block access to services, recognition, and protection supposedly available to refugees and that reflect the deep structural ambivalence in Greece regarding state and NGO responsibilities to provide services to refugees and asylum seekers. These dilemmas effectively destabilize both the services offered and the capacity to claim them. Not only do they produce restrictions to which NGO workers and asylum seekers must respond and adjust, but they also stimulate engagements through which all parties manage the dilemmas of the asylum process, the work of service provision, and the encounters between them.

The fourth chapter centers on the factors that are important in making eligibility or ineligibility decisions for ARS services by NGO professionals. These factors include empirical and subjective elements such as the opinions and feelings of the NGO professionals and the interpreters, as they emerge in the larger picture of each case.

Aid candidates and service providers shape and refigure dominant images of deservingness, victimhood, and vulnerability from within the system of aid distribution. Cabot tracks the dialogical production of pictures of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors. She analyzes the narrative and performative dimensions of the interview process and…

Fouskas, T. (2015) “Heath Cabot, On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum & Citizenship in Greece”, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 33(1):187-190.


Special Section on Modern Greek Studies and Public Scholarship
Yiorgos Anagnostou, Guest Editor

Introduction Modern Greek Studies and Public Scholarship: Intersections and Prospects

pp. 1-13 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0009

Public Scholarship and Greek America: Personal Reflections, Intellectual Vocations

pp. 15-23 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0013

The Academy in Crisis and Scholarship in the Public Sphere

pp. 25-35 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0017

Myths and the Academy: Greek Studies as a Form of Humanistic Enquiry

pp. 37-56 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0020

Response On the Road with Panza and Quixano: Ingenious Stories of the Public Humanities

pp. 57-60 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0001

Response Public Scholarship and Neoliberalism

pp. 61-66 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0004

Response Politicizing Modern Greek Studies

pp. 67-72 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0007

Modern Athens: Illuminating the “Shadows of the Ancestors”

pp. 73-103 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0011

Who Gets Translated and Why?: Anthologies of Twentieth-Century Greek Poetry in Poland

pp. 105-125 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0015

The Nation of Saints: The National Theological Rhetoric of Archbishop Makarios III (1913–1977)

pp. 127-153 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0019

From Resistance to Counterstate: The Making of Revolutionary Power in the Liberated Zones of Occupied Greece, 1943–1944

pp. 155-184 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0000

Book Reviews

The Sacrificed Body: Balkan Community Building and the Fear of Freedom by Tatjana Aleksić (review)

pp. 185-187 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0003

On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece by Heath Cabot (review)

pp. 187-190 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0006

Capricious Borders: Minority, Population, and Counter-conduct between Greece and Turkey by Olga Demetriou (review)

pp. 191-193 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0010

Daddy’s War: Greek American Stories by Irene Kacandes (review)

pp. 193-195 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0014

History and National Ideology in Greek Postmodernist Fiction by Gerasimus Katsan (review)

pp. 195-198 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0018

Children of the Dictatorship: Student Resistance, Cultural Politics, and the “Long 1960s” in Greece by Kostis Kornetis (review)

pp. 198-200 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0021

Greek Americans: Struggle and Success by Peter C. Moskos and Charles C. Moskos (review)

pp. 201-202 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0002

Orthodox Christians in the Late Ottoman Empire: A Study of Communal Relations in Anatolia by Ayşe Özil (review)

pp. 203-204 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0005

Greek Paradoxes: Patronage, Civil Society and Violence ed. by Katerina Rozakou and Eleni Gkara (review)

pp. 205-207 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0008

Colonizing the Greek Mind? The Reception of Western Psychotherapeutics in Greece ed. by Charles Stewart (review)

pp. 208-210 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0012


pp. 211-214 | DOI: 10.1353/mgs.2015.0016


Book: Heath Cabot (2014) On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece, University of Pennsylvania Press

On the Doorstep of Europe
Asylum and Citizenship in Greece

Heath Cabot

272 pages | 6 x 9 | 5 illus.
Cloth 2014 | ISBN 978-0-8122-4615-5 | $65.00s | £42.50
Ebook 2014 | ISBN 978-0-8122-0980-8 | $65.00s | £42.50
A volume in the Ethnography of Political Violence series


On the Doorstep of Europe is particularly timely, as the international community weighs what are sometimes seen as competing interests of rights and security and as asylum regimes are themselves threatened. Importantly, Heath Cabot’s work illustrates ways that protections can fall short in that the systems that are set up to ensure that persecuted individuals receive safe haven can become unworkable for the very individuals they are designed to serve.”—Susan Bibler Coutin, University of California, Irvine

“Original, vividly written, and ethnographically rich, On the Doorstep of Europe breaks new ground as a contribution to the anthropology of law, globalization studies, and the ethnography of the eastern Mediterranean. In particular, it illuminates the increasingly complex dynamics of a country newly confronting cultural diversity and rapid urbanization.”—Michael Herzfeld, Harvard University

Greece has shouldered a heavy burden in the global economic crisis, struggling with political and financial insecurity. Greece has also the most porous external border of the European Union, tasked with ensuring that the EU’s boundaries are both “secure and humanitarian” and hosting enormous numbers of migrants and asylum seekers who arrive by land and sea. The recent leadership and fiscal crises have led to a breakdown of legal entitlements for both Greek citizens and those seeking refuge within the country’s borders.

On the Doorstep of Europe is an ethnographic study of the asylum system in Greece, tracing the ways asylum seekers, bureaucrats, and service providers attempt to navigate the dilemmas of governance, ethics, knowledge, and sociability that emerge through this legal process. Centering on the work of an asylum advocacy NGO in Athens, Heath Cabot explores how workers and clients grapple with predicaments endemic to Europeanization and rights-based protection. Drawing inspiration from classical Greek tragedy to highlight both the transformative potential and the violence of law, Cabot charts the structural violence effected through European governance, rights frameworks, and humanitarian intervention while also exploring how Athenian society is being remade from the inside out. She shows how, in contemporary Greece, relationships between insiders and outsiders are radically reconfigured through legal, political, and economic crises.

In addition to providing a textured, on-the-ground account of the fraught context of asylum and immigration in Europe’s borderlands, On the Doorstep of Europe highlights the unpredictable and transformative ways in which those in host nations navigate legal and political violence, even in contexts of inexorable duress and inequality.

Heath Cabot teaches anthropology at the College of the Atlantic in Maine.