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The Organic Ethnologist of Algeriani Migration Free essay! Download now

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The Organic Ethnologist of Algeriani Migration

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Adelmalek Sayad passed away two years ago at this writing, leaving behind him one of the most original and fertile contributions to the anthropology of immigration of the past century. Throughout his voluminous and varied writings ?close to a hundred publications, including eight books spanning the destruction of Algeria's traditional peasantry at the hands of French colonialism, the dynamics of migration chains from Kabylia to France, the impact of decolonization on the reception of Algerian workers in Marseilles, the odyssey of those workers and their children through the layers and institutions of French society, the social uses and political abuses of "immigrant culture," and the everyday life of Algerian slums on the Parisian periphery during the fifties, all informed by an acute awareness of the political-economic roots and import of human transhumance1- the Algerian sociologist both elaborated and demonstrated the potency of three pivotal principles for the study of migration.


The common contraction of the emigration-immigration doublet to its second component mutilates the phenomenon and entraps the study of migrants into an artificial problematic of "lack" and deficiency explained away by ritualized references, now to their lower class composition and substandard conditions of living, now to the peculiarities of the culture they have brought with them.2Resisting such ethnocentric imposition, the sociology of migration must take as its object not the "problems" that migrants pose for the advanced societies which attract them, in matters of employment, housing, schooling and health, but the dynamic "relationship between the system of dispositions of emigrants and the ensemble of mechanisms to which they are subjected owing to this emigration" (Sayad 1These books are respectively (in English titles): The Uprooting: The Crisis of Traditional Agriculture in Algeria (Bourdieu and Sayad 1964), Algerian Immigration in France (Gillette and Sayad 1976), The Social Uses of the Culture of Immigrants (Sayad 1978), Towards a Sociology of Immigration (Sayad and Fassa 1982), Migrating - A History of Marseilles: The Shock of Decolonization (Temime, Jordi and Sayad 1991), Immigration, or the Paradoxes of Otherness (Sayad 1991), and An Algerian Nanterre, Land of Slums (Sayad with Dupuy 1995). The culmination and quintessence of Sayad's five decades of incessant research is Double Absence: From the Illusions of the Emigrant to the Suffering of the Immigrant (Sayad 1999). 2A rare and remarkable exception to this pattern, deserving of a wide readership for its multi-level, comparative, and interdisciplinary approach, is Massey, Durand and Alarcon (1987). Recent work on "transnational communities" has fostered a belated if limited recognition of the double-sidedness and dual determinacy of migration (see the special issue of Ethnic and Racial Studies on the topic edited by Portes, Guarnizo and Landolt 1999, and Portes 1999). Which necessitates that one reconstitutes the complete trajectory of the individuals, households and groups involved in the peregrination under examination, in order to uncover the full system of determinants that first triggered exile and later continued, under new guises, to govern the differentiated paths they followed. Recognizing that "immigration here and emigration there are the two indisassociable sides of the same reality, which cannot be explained the one without the other" (Sayad 1999a: 15) enables Sayad to revoke, both empirically and theoretically, the canonical opposition between "labor migration" and "settlement migration." The former always contains the latter in nuce and always eventuates in it: the individual departure of wage-seeking men gradually saps the "work of prevention and preservation" whereby the group seeks to maintain moral control over its members, and sooner or later the latter "abandons itself to family migration," which further accelerates the erosion of group boundaries.3Relinking emigration and immigration points also to the second pillar-proposition anchoring Abdelmalek Sayad's work: that migration is the product and expression of an historical relation of inter-national domination, at once material and symbolic. Immigration is a "relation from state to state" but one that is "denied as such in everyday reality" no less than in the political field (Sayad 1991: 267), so that its management may fall within the sovereign province of the receiving society alone, of its laws, administrative rules and bureaucratic dictates, and be treated as the "domestic" issue which it is not. Sayad (1979) shows, in the paradigmatic case of France and Algeria in the post-colonial and post-Fordist era after the flow of "migrant laborers" has been officially stopped, that the "negotiations" between countries that lead to international conventions and regulations concerning immigration are "bilateral transactions" in name only since the dominant economic power and former colonial ruler is in a structural position to impose unilaterally the terms, goals, and means of these agreements.4But there is more: every migrant carries this repressed relation of power between states within himself or herself and unwittingly recapitulates and reenacts it in her personal strategies and experiences. Thus the most fleeting encounter between an Algerian worker and his French boss in Lyon - or a Surinamese-born child and his schoolteacher in Rotterdam, a Jamaican mother and her social worker in London, an Ethiopian elderly and his landlord in Naples - is fraught with the whole baggage of past intercourse between the imperial metropole and its erstwhile colony. The relation of the emigrant to his homeland is likewise invisibly over-determined by decades of conflictual and asymmetric relations between the two countries he links: the "suspicion of treason, even of apostasy" that enshrouds him there (Sayad 1999a: 171) finds its root in the fact that emigration has shaken the very foundations of the social order, on the one hand, by corroding the established frontiers between groups in the sending society and, on the other, by affording the migrant and his kin an accelerated path of mobility but in an allochtonous hierarchy, one devoid of legitimacy in the moral and cultural codes of the originating community.53Sayad (1999a: 422-424) points out that, however virulent they may be in the society of immigration, the reactions of protest and opposition to migration are initially even stronger among the emigrating community, so strong indeed that they often make nativist and xenophobic resistance to foreigners in the receiving country superfluous. 4The same is true, mutatis mutandis , for the United States with Mexico and the Caribbean, or Germany with Turkey, Spain with Morocco, Japan with Korea, etc. 5This explains why public accusations against emigration typically "aim primarily and more violently at the emigrated female population and, more precisely, at the bodies of women," perceived as the ultimate repository and vector of the values of the group (Sayad 1984).

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