Fixed abodes

Urban emplacement, bureaucratic requirements, and the politics of belonging among West African migrants in Paris

by Aïssatou Mbodj-Pouye

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Foyers, housing facilities for male migrants, are well-known institutions of postcolonial France and critical nodes in West African migratory networks. A nationwide plan to renovate the foyers presents distinct challenges to the arrangements established by the generations of migrants who live in them, arrangements that have long sustained the social reproduction of transnational migration. In response, residents foreground their long-established presence in Paris to stake claims in the renovation process. Their stories of urban dwelling are punctuated by postal addresses, bureaucratic tokens of identification that play a pivotal role both in migrants’ historical imagination and in the administrative modes of granting residency rights. The foyers are sites of emplacement, albeit fragile, and spaces from which West African migrants contest their political exclusion in present-day France.

A retired Senegalese migrant in his room, Foyer d’Hautpoul (Paris 19e), June 2013.
A retired Senegalese migrant in his room, Foyer d’Hautpoul (Paris 19e), June 2013. (Anissa Michalon)