Temporal injustice and asylum reception centres in Norway: towards a critical geographies of architecture in the institution

  • Ragne Øwre Thorshaug Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Department of Architecture and Planning
  • Cathrine Brun Oxford Brookes University, School of Architecture


A temporal injustice is inherently built into the asylum-seeking system. Asylum seekers lack control over their biographical and their everyday time. In Norway, most asylum seekers live in reception centres while their applications are processed. This article develops a conceptual framework for understanding the asylum centre by drawing on geographical literature on architecture and contributions from migration studies on temporality. It analyses the ways in which the reception centre becomes a focal point in the asylum seekers’ lives and how people’s lived experiences, the asylum institution and the materiality of the buildings housing the centres come together in the particular temporalities produced by the asylum-seeking process. People’s agentic capacities within institutional and material structures are conceptualised as ‘orientations’. The paper analyses the lived experience of residents in three different reception centres in Norway. The temporal frames operating in the reception centres are expressions of power that produce blurred, uncertain and clashing temporalities. In this context, the reception centre operates as a material disorientation device where institutional durability, temporary dwelling and decaying as well as sub-standard materialities are significant aspects of the asylum seekers’ experience. However, some residents are able to re-orient their perspective and find ways of coping with the uncertainty and waiting. These strategies are identified as ‘reorientations’ to show how the governance and the inhabitation in the centres come together and how people engage with the reception centre through stubborn everyday strategies of inhabiting the centre. In conclusion, the paper reflects on the limited possibility that improving the material conditions may have for a better experience of the asylum-seeking process: it is the interaction between the material, the institution and the lived experience that creates the temporal injustice.

Research Papers
Dec 31, 2019
How to Cite
Thorshaug, R. Øwre, & Brun, C. (2019). Temporal injustice and asylum reception centres in Norway: towards a critical geographies of architecture in the institution. Fennia - International Journal of Geography, 197(2), 232-248. https://doi.org/10.11143/fennia.84758