To build a research on undocumented migrants implies working on a field already saturated by a multiplicity of contradictory and controversial discourses: political, journalistic, activist, and coming from related social sciences. In order to have access to the retention places - where undocumented migrants are confined waiting for their deportation - I became a volunteer for an NGO providing legal assistance. Starting a research usually requires to get rid of those pre-existing discourses, especially in overinvested realities. But during this fieldwork, I had to occupy a specific place in the framework I was studying. This specific place comes with a particular point of view and specific tools of action - mostly the law - in order to help undocumented migrants avoid removal. Undocumented migrants' everyday life is characterized by disquiet and anxiety. In order to explore this reality, can the long-term fieldwork and the ethnographical uncertainty help us get rid of those pre-existing discourses and particularly the NGO situated point of view?
In this presentation I want to raise the question of this double engagement on the field - academic and linked to community life - not from an ethical perspective but trying to understand the epistemological issues it raises. The question is no longer whose side we should choose but what kind of anthropology we can do when we have chosen our side.
Stefan Le Courant (LESC / Paris Ouest)