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Irregular Worlds: Senegalese Struggles for Moral Meaning in Barcelona

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Migrant “illegality†gives way to “irregular†livelihoods in Spain and around the world. Studies on migrant “illegality†have generally focused on its political, legal and economic production and the social impact of a state’s specific biopolitics. While invaluably important, there remains the need to better understand the modes of life people create “outside of the law†and the various ways everyday practice engenders social worlds of profound personal meaning that traverse state borders. In this dissertation, I approach migrant “illegality†as a historically constituted social field in which people create social worlds despite the overt and covert affront to personhood. I argue such social worlds are marked by a unique quality of waiting embedded in the category of the “illegal†migrant that precipitate an everyday suspension of normative systems of moral meaning. ', 'Rather than focus on migrant “illegality†as a nullification of personhood, in this dissertation I approach “irregular†status as a state of exception that must be managed at the local level without violating strict state laws. Based on two years of fieldwork in and around what came to be known as “irregular settlements†in Barcelona, Spain, this dissertation interrogates local government strategies to regulate an “irregular†segment of the non-citizen population in the city and the everyday struggles of “irregular†working class citizens to maximize tenuous spaces into transnational places of heightened autonomy. Deportation has been codified in Spanish immigration law as a natural conclusion to “illegal†status but its execution at the local level is often inviable. I draw from my ethnographic fieldwork in buildings transformed into sites for housing and informal labor by working class non-citizens Barcelona to explore local institutional mechanisms to incorporate “undocumented†residents within its immediate realm of action. While migrant “illegality†implies a kind of conscribed existence that today pivots on a humanitarian imperative to maximize life, I argue these “irregular settlements†shed light on the value of spaces marked by a radical autonomy to people as they waited for “papers†or an opportunity to use them. In other words, these settlements were much more than a humanitarian crisis in need of an immediate intervention; they represent a complex social world of profound transnational value.', 'Turning to everyday experience, I argue the ill effects of migrant “illegality†are mitigated when a person has access to spaces in which they manage a sense of self informed by transnational economies of moral value. To wait “with one’s arms crossed†was untenable to the Senegalese men who participated in this study, despite the fact that they were often accused of “doing nothing†by interlocutors in public and private institutions. This dissertation examines this disjuncture between competing models of “being a correct person†by turning to an analysis of moral and ethical codes. Whereas from an institutional perspective such marginal spaces were morally and ethically untenable, I found everyday activities aimed at “getting by†consolidated into routines that progressively engendered a social world of special value to people bearing the brunt of migrant “illegality.†To explore the moral and ethical codes emergent in the interstices of laws and policies, I suggest the term outpost to designate a place that is politically and legally tenuous but of special value to working class non-citizens struggling to remain in Spain and sustain a sense of self within the context of structural violence. The outpost makes possible ways of being and belonging that transverse state borders.

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  • 10/28/2019
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