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The biopolitics of otherness

Undocumented foreigners and racial discrimination in French public debate

DIDIER FASSIN The immigration debate in France was marked in the independent administrative body to address this question.
Didier Fassin is Professor at 1990s by two important events: the growth of the sans- As a result of this report, in March 2000, Prime Minister
the Ecole des hautes tudes en papiers movement which brought the issue of undocu- Lionel Jospin announced the appointment of a national
sciences sociales and at the
University of Paris North, and mented foreigners to the fore, and the admission of the Commission for the Study of Discrimination (Groupe d-
Director of the Centre for existence of racial discrimination in various social con- tude des discriminations). The state thus recognized and
Research on Public Health texts. The significant issue here is less the phenomena in revealed the gap between the ideology promulgated in the
Issues. He has conducted
research in Senegal, Ecuador,
themselves than their eruption into public space, and the name of the republican ideal and the reality reflected in the
Southern Africa and France, consequences for French self-perception and for French daily lives of foreign residents and their families.
and his main interest is in the peoples relationship to otherness. In sociological terms these two phenomena sudden
political anthropology of On the one hand, confronted with the social movement increased awareness of undocumented foreigners and
health. His email is: of undocumented foreigners and the support it received recognition of racial discrimination are distinct, one
from community associations, intellectuals, artists and referring to the legal status of men and women moving
even elected officials, the French public became aware transnationally in the context of globalization (Kearney
I am grateful to Miriam that those it had been accustomed to viewing as illegal 1995), the other linked with social representations and
Ticktin for her valuable help in workers were in reality often men and women who had practices vis--vis immigrants and their descendants
the translation from the
French, to Dalby, Pancho,
been settled legally in France for long periods of time. within a national framework (Bonilla-Silva 1997).
Pessin and Plantu for agreeing These immigrants were a heterogeneous group, and had Nevertheless, at the level of individual experience they are
to reproduction of their work, entered into clandestinity for various reasons: they more closely connected than they might seem, since, for
and to AT referees for helping included wives or children who had joined husbands or example, the illegitimate status of undocumented for-
me clarify my perspective on
some of the issues discussed in fathers, themselves legal residents for years, young people eigners nurtures the negative perception of immigrants in
this text. who had come as children and been prosecuted for petty general and, reciprocally, racism provides an ideological
1. For the consequences of crimes in adolescence, students who had had to abandon basis for restricting the legitimacy of transnational move-
the sans-papiers movement on their studies after failing exams, and asylum-seekers ments. More importantly, however, the two phenomena
intellectual and political life,
whose claims had been rejected. In other words, this hith- have an anthropological trait in common which has passed
see J. Benthall (1997). For an
analysis of the issue as a erto distant and illegitimate Other suddenly appeared to largely unnoticed in the heated debates that they have pro-
whole, see D. Fassin, A. be humanly close and socially acceptable. Furthermore, voked in France. Albeit in different ways, both manifest an
Morice and C. Quiminal (eds) the effects of the increasingly restrictive legislation and unprecedented form, at least in the French context, of man-
2. Publicization of racial
administrative practices of the past 25 years brought to agement of immigrant populations.
discrimination is also a major light the extent to which the state and civil society were In the case of undocumented foreigners, as all other pos-
issue in the British and North responsible for the very production of this illegality.1 The sibilities of getting a residence permit were progressively
American debate, as shown by sans-papiers movement was widely supported, as a 1998 restrained by successive legislation, health and illness
M. Banton (1999). For an
approach to the phenomenon poll bears out: one in two French people, rising to two in have increasingly become the most legitimate ground for
in France, see P. Bataille three young people, were of the opinion that all undocu- awarding legal status from the point of view of both the
(1998). mented foreigners should be given legal status. In a similar state authorities and lawyers and advocates of the immi-
3. While Foucault did not
spirit, the socialist government elected in June 1997 was grants cause. In the same way, while civil and political
discuss the theme of
immigration explicitly, his prompted to issue a ministerial instruction defining criteria rights have been increasingly eroded by repeated modifi-
analyses are pertinent, from for legalization from which 80,000 immigrants subse- cations of the law and by unmonitored administrative
the administration of the quently benefited, and promulgated a new law on the entry practices, the widely recognized legal right to health care
suffering body which is
inscribed in the logic of help
and residence of foreigners. has hardly been challenged, even by the most conservative
to live and allow to die of On the other hand, French peoples belief that France participants in the immigration debate. The suffering body
biopolitics (1976), to the was promoting an almost unique model of republican inte- has imposed its own legitimacy where other grounds for
handling of the racialized body gration, bypassing both the communitarianism and the recognition were increasingly brought into question.
which is incorporated in his
piece on the race wars xenophobia which often characterized other countries In the case of racial discrimination, the political change
(1997). policies, was confronted with evidence that discriminatory resulted from another form of bodily inscription. Until
4. The collected works of practices based on assumed racial differences were multi- very recently, as far as immigrants were concerned, the
Godelier and Panoff (1998)
shed light on this question in
plying in French neighbourhoods, schools, factories, only differences that the French were prepared to
relation to societies that are courts, hospitals and night clubs, mostly targeting people acknowledge related to culture, either promoted or stig-
either socially or of African origin. It became clear that inequalities had to matized; the only inequalities that they allowed them-
geographically distant, but are be analysed not simply in terms of the traditional cate- selves to examine derived from nationality, i.e. from a
totally silent on the production
of the body in the gories of social class, profession, or even nationality, but legal definition of identity. All other distinctions, particu-
contemporary Western world. also from the point of view of origin, real or presumed, as larly those based on physical traits or biological character-
5. These statistics for the identified through skin colour or foreign-sounding names. istics, were unanimously condemned, to the point of
period 1988-97 are published Officially presented as an effort to avoid further stigma- defining the political boundary between the acceptable and
by the French Office for the
Protection of Refugees and tizing immigrants and their descendants, the denial of unacceptable, between legitimate political parties and the
Stateless People (OFPRA). these practices had long served to enforce a law of silence extreme right. Thus denied, racial discrimination was
The rise in 1998 does not within both the political and the scientific spheres. assumed to be inexistent, in spite of all proofs to the con-
contradict this analysis, since
half of the agreements concern
However, during the 1990s a series of studies, investiga- trary. For the state and also for civil society, the current
children of refugees who have tions, legal actions and public interventions by human recognition of a discrimination apparently based in
reached the age of majority, rights and anti-racist groups gradually began to expose this nature, unacceptable though it is, is thus a radical inno-
leading Legoux (1999) to blind spot.2 In 1998, for the first time, an official report by vation. The racialized body has become the most illegiti-
estimate the real number of
new refugees at 2200. the High Council on Integration (Haut conseil lintgra- mate object of social differentiation, yet one whose
6. These unpublished tion) focused on the issue of racism through an account of existence can no longer be denied.
figures were obtained from the discrimination in France and proposed the creation of an The two phenomena in fact correspond to two different


Departmental Directorate of political approaches to the immigrant body: the legiti- account by drawing new boundaries of legitimacy for
Social and Health Welfare macy of the suffering body proposed in the name of a immigrants.
(DASS) of the Seine-Saint-
Denis dpartement, where the
common humanity is opposed to the illegitimacy of the
statistics were gathered as part racialized body, promulgated in the name of insurmount- Asylum and humanitariarism
of a research project run by D. able difference. In the first case, the Other comes from Two changes are particularly remarkable, both for the
Delettre (1999), and from the outside and the treatment of his/her body depends on the inverse relationship of their statistical trends and for the
Directorate of Public Liberty at
the Home Office, where hospitality of the host country. In the second, the Other is underlying significance of these trends. These concern the
statistics were gathered from a already inside and the treatment of his/her body calls into right to asylum and the humanitarian rationale.
pool of 38,000 appeals to the question the social order. The body has become the site Over a period of ten years from the end of 1980s, the
of inscription for the politics of immigration, defining number of foreigners granted political asylum in France
7. In fact, this right is
limited by the knowledge of what we can call, using Foucauldian terminology,3 a decreased sixfold, gradually stabilizing at under 2000
and usage by administrative biopolitics of otherness. Analysis of this issue can pro- refugees per year. This decrease results from two distinct
officials and social workers vide a means to understand the unprecedented anthropo- but related changes: the number of claims submitted fell
with whom immigrants come
into contact (Bourdillon,
logical dimensions of the production of the body4 in by a third, and the proportion of claims accepted was
Lombrail, Antoni et al. 1991); contemporary societies. halved.5 The significant decrease in the number of
however, reminders of the law refugees obviously does not derive from a more peaceful
issued by both the state and world in the 1990s; it essentially results from the intensifi-
community associations
contributed to greater access in cation of border officials practice of driving back asylum
the 1990s. seekers, and from the strictness of administrators who
8. The role of physicians in assess the claims submitted. The prevailing attitude of
the recognition of the right of
sick foreigners to be treated,
officials at the French Office for the Protection of
whatever their legal status, has Refugees and Stateless People (OFPRA) is to view claims
been crucial, but it is with suspicion; in fact, only one in ten applications for
remarkable that their political asylum is approved. The Geneva Convention is
professional organizations and
unions have remained silent on thus applied in an increasingly restrictive manner, espe-
the subject, which, has become cially as France has introduced a ruling that restricts the
the central cause of medical granting of political asylum to victims of state persecution:
associations intervening in
this interpretation of the treaty has allowed officials to
general humanitarian issues
(Mdecins sans frontires, reject nearly all applications from Algerians as coming
Mdecins du monde, etc.) or from victims of Islamic terrorism (at least until the end of
more specifically for Cartoon by Thierry Dalby illustrating Tahar Ben-Jellouns article on
the 1990s, when a specific right to territorial asylum was
immigrants (Comede, Remede, racism in Le Monde, 29-30 March 1998.
etc.). Nevertheless, the striking
created, although parsimoniously implemented).
phenomenon is the relative At the same time, another category of foreigners was
novelty of this commitment The recognition of bodies being granted an increasing number of legal permits:
and the public support it has In France, as in most Western European countries, the people with illnesses, or more specifically, people with
9. In fact, the productive question of illegal immigration has become a critical life-threatening pathologies who are declared unable to
value of the immigrant body public policy issue. The creation of the Schengen space receive proper treatment in their home countries. Once
has not completely represented an attempt to bring a policy solution at the these two criteria (severe pathology and absence of thera-
disappeared. It is maintained in
three main forms: the presence
European level but one whose limits are clearly revealed peutic alternative) have been confirmed by medical
of temporary and permanent by the continuing influx of immigrants from the Balkans to experts, the patient receives a temporary legal permit, for-
agricultural workers; the the Italian coast and from Africa to Spanish beaches. The merly endorsed for humanitarian reasons and now
development of active rhetoric surrounding this question has been clearly simply for medical care. This status is doubly precarious,
informal (illegal) economies in
sectors such as construction exposed in the public debate: on the one hand, the rich because it must be renewed every three to twelve months
and clothing; and more countries cannot absorb the poverty of the earth, as and because it is frequently accompanied by a prohibition
recently, the call for a highly former socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard put it; on against working. Although there are no national statistics
qualified workforce
the other hand, strict regulation of the undocumented is a available for this time period, local figures indicate that in
specifically in the computer
industry. In each of these prerequisite for integration of the documented, justifying the dpartement with the largest number of claims for
cases, we can nevertheless the slogan zero illegal immigration devised by Charles legalization, applications for this humanitarian permit
speak of a marginalization of Pasqua, former conservative Minister of the Interior. increased sevenfold over the course of the 1990s, reaching
the immigrant workforce,
corresponding to a
Yet this apparently coherent argumentation has been 1000 per year; three-quarters of these were favourably
globalization from below contradicted by the evidence that a rapidly growing assessed. At the national level, after the 1997-98 campaign
(Portes 1999). number of undocumented foreigners do not correspond for legalization, 10 per cent of residence permits were
10. The word race to the stereotype of the clandestine, but rather have a granted on medical grounds.6 This evolution reflects a
obviously does not designate a
biological or physical reality, certain legitimate claim to legal status through the political concern to respect the European Convention on
but refers to a social construct number of years they have spent in the host country, the Human Rights, transgressions of which have previously
based on the recognition of a services they have provided, the family ties they have led to several rulings against the French state by the
biological or physical
developed, or the threats they would face if they should European Court of Justice.
foundation of difference and
produced in a historical return home. This evidence debunks the official rhetoric, The correlation between the marked decrease in political
context of economic and indicating that the country is confronted not only with asylum and the increasing recognition of humanitarianism
political domination. poverty from abroad, but also with the results of its own is not mere coincidence. Associations defending the rights
11. This ideology and the
corresponding rhetoric relate
political processes, and that the boundary between docu- of immigrants and state immigration services alike are cur-
more to the national mented and undocumented is much less clear than was rently asking asylum-seekers whose claims have been
mythology than to social previously maintained, since it is possible to lose or gain refused whether they might have a pathology to put for-
realities. As demonstrated by residence permits depending on changes in legislation. ward, leading them to increasingly treat the humanitarian
Grard Noiriel (1988), the
stigmatization of immigrants Thus, the question is less about who is legally present rationale as a priority and political asylum by sub-
has been a permanent, albeit than who can legitimately claim legal status. In pub- sidiarity, as a senior official at the Ministry of the Interior
unrecognized, feature of lishing the ministerial instruction of 24 June 1997, which has put it. Thus greater importance is ascribed to the suf-
French history since the end of
the 19th century.
specifies the various criteria for legalization of undocu- fering body than to the threatened body, and the right to life
12. Cf. Socialist Prime mented migrants, and in proposing the law of 11 May is being displaced from the political to the humanitarian
Minister Laurent Fabius 1998 which defines the conditions of entry and residence arena. It is more acceptable for the state to turn down an
famous phrase about the for foreigners, the French government took this shift into asylum claim, declaring it unfounded, than to reject a med-


National Front leader: Mr Le between manipulation, which appears when medical
Pen asks good questions to records are falsified, and somatization, evident when
which he gives bad answers.
During this period, successive
material conditions provoke an illness, is often all the
governments of both the right more difficult to discern, as immigrants live in precarious
and the left threw themselves situations productive of psychological as well as physical
into a legislative competition effects: depressive syndromes and gastric ulcers are
that aimed to set increasingly
restrictive immigration common pathologies. The everyday life of undocumented
policies. This contributed to foreigners thus often becomes a social experience of suf-
the immigration question fering, where the pathos expresses the harshness of cir-
being placed at the centre of
public debate (Lochak, 1997).
cumstances and simultaneously serves as a resource to
13. The figures are taken justify ones existence. The narrative relationship to ones
from two articles in Le Monde, own history and body, created by the repetition of self-
dated 16 March 2000 and 10 justifying accounts to state authorities, generates a
August 2000. According to the
authors of the study, the
pathetic self-image (Fassin, 2000b). The undocumented
percentage of people who call foreigner perceives him/herself as a victim reduced to
themselves non-racist 29% soliciting compassion.
is the lowest since the Unskilled immigrants have long been considered a nec-
creation of this poll. Seeing the way hes standing up to our beating, maybe he is a genuine
14. Drawing on the essary complement to the native workforce, required for
asylum seeker. Cartoon by Pessin accompanying an article on police
population projections made violence against asylum seekers, Le Monde, 23 December 1998. the economic development of rich countries. Their bodies
by the High Commission on were instruments in the service of the host country and
Population in 1980 and on the
polemical discussions that
ical opinion recommending a temporary legal permit for their labour conferred upon them a legitimacy that the law
appeared five years later in the health reasons. But this should not simply be seen as cynical often only confirmed a posteriori, as their work permit
general and scientific press, le pragmatism aimed at keeping France out of the European actually constituted their legal documentation (Weil
Bras (1997) questioned the courtroom: it also demonstrates the existence of shared 1991). In this context, the sick or injured body was sus-
ideological premises for equal
treatment of the foreign
moral principles that recognize the biological truth inscribed pect in the eyes of both doctors and the state, to the extent
population and the population on the body as the ultimate source of legitimacy (Fassin, that a specific pathological condition was created sin-
of foreign origin, producing 2000a). Bodily integrity threatened by ascertained illness is istrosis, an intermediary form between simulation and
dramatic demographic not only seen as legitimate, in contrast to bodily integrity hysteria (Sayad 1999). Today, as industrys need for
extrapolations (entitled Will
we still be French in 30 confronted with potential violence, but ultimately provides unskilled labour has diminished considerably, immigrants
years?). In her hostile the basis for the right to live legally on French soil. swell the ranks of the unemployed and are three times
response, despite criticizing his more likely than nationals to have no job. In a context
methodological and rhetorical
moves, Tribalat (1997) failed
Rights and pathos where their productive bodies have become useless
to address the central point of However, this right would make no sense if it were not even undesirable because of real or supposed competi-
his argument, which is about combined with access to health care. French law gives for- tion in the workforce, it is the suffering body that society
reliance on a biological eigners access to medical allowances nearly identical to is prepared to recognize.9 Far from evoking distrust or
definition of immigration.
15. Jacques Chirac, not yet
those offered to nationals, provided they are permanent suspicion, illnesses or accidents seem to be the only
at the time president of the and legal residents. Those who do not have legal status source of legitimacy to which many undocumented immi-
Republic, commented on the benefit from state medical insurance (Aide mdicale Etat) grants can lay claim.
annoyance of African families and have free access to medical care, including examina- When economic transformations in the Western world
odours in French inner cities;
this shocked a portion of the tions and prescriptions. The main restriction is for those have made immigrants into workers without work, that is,
French public, because the who have lived in France for less than three years, whose deprived of the only activity left for them, as Hannah
cultural practices that were access is limited to hospital care. The legislative remodel- Arendt (1958) phrases it, the body expresses no more than
denounced (their table
manners) evoked physical
ling of the social security system, introduced on 1 January what Giorgio Agamben calls bare life existence
characteristics at the same time 2000 to bring in universal medical coverage (CMU), has reduced to its physical expression or, in this case, the
(and thus represented an resulted in modified arrangements, but retains free treat- recognition of the human being through its pathology. The
ordinary form of racism). ment for undocumented foreigners. Thus, the right to biopolitics of otherness must here be understood as an
16. The most famous
promoter of this discipline in health care appears to be the most extensive of all rights extreme reduction of the social to the biological: the body
France, Tobie Nathan, pleaded given to immigrants, whatever their legal status: it is more appears to be the ultimate refuge of a common humanity.
for ghettos so that a family comprehensive than any civil or political right, greater
would never have to abandon
than all other social rights (Marshall 1965).7 Not even the The racialization of difference
its cultural system and
denounced children of African most restrictive legislation, such as the Pasqua laws of The idea of race can also be seen as a reduction of the
parents raised in France as 1993 and the Debr laws of 1997, has actually called this social to the biological, but in an inverse sense (Banton
janissaries whitened in right into question. 1977). It challenges the notion of a common humanity by
republican schools (Fassin
The privileged status assigned to the body in legaliza- differentiating among people at the deepest level of their
tion procedures and in access to health care has affected being, looking for the marks of origins.10 Racial discrimi-
Agamben, G. 1997. Homo immigrants consciousness of their identity. In legit- nation is founded on an insurmountable difference,
sacer: Le pouvoir souverain imizing illness to the point where it becomes the only jus- because it is inscribed in the body, indeed even in the
et la vie nue. Paris: Seuil.
Amselle, J.L. 1990. Logiques tification for their presence in France, society condemns genes (Simpson 2000). Twentieth-century France gave
mtisses. Paris: Payot. many undocumented foreigners to exist officially only as less credence to racial discourse than did many other
Arendt, H. 1958. The human people who are ill. It is in this sense that we can speak of European and North American countries, despite the fact
condition. Chicago:
the embodiment of a social condition of immigrant that certain French intellectuals and doctors were attracted
University of Chicago
Press. (Fassin, 2001). Having become a resource for undocu- to racial theories associated with eugenics, and that in cer-
Banton, M. 1977. The idea of mented foreigners in their struggles with the administra- tain periods the French state developed conceptions of the
race. London: Tavistock tion, the suffering body is placed before physicians who nation which employed biological referents (Wiewiorka
1999. Reporting on race.
must then decide whether or not to grant legal status: the 1993). Any suggestion that difference or inequality is
Anthropology Today 15 (3): immigrant searches in his/her history and his/her symp- founded on biology has been considered illegitimate and
1-3. toms for something that will help obtain the hoped-for even illegal, since it can be prosecuted under the 1881 law
Bataille, P. 1998. Le racisme legal authorization, at the risk of hearing the doctor say prohibiting the incitement to acts of discrimination, hate
au travail. Paris: La
Dcouverte. that the pathology offered is not serious enough to back or violence on the basis of origin or racial or religious affil-
Benthall, J. 1997. up the claim.8 In this social interaction, where the immi- iation. In this respect, French republican ideology is
Repercussions from the grant must offer proof of his/her illness, the distinction grounded in the universalism of natural law (Amselle


Eglise Saint-Bernard. proportions of immigrants and their families. Thus,
Anthropology Today 13 (4): although restrictive policies were efficiently reducing
Bonilla-Silva, E. 1997.
flows from abroad (between the 1990 and 1999 censuses,
Rethinking racism. the number of foreigners fell by 9%), the populations seen
American Sociological as outsiders paradoxically became more visible.
Review 62: 465-479. Meanwhile, practices of racial discrimination became
Bourdillon, F., Lombrail, P.,
Antoni, M. et al. 1991. La more and more obvious on the labour market where
sant des populations industry could ask for bleu-blanc-rouge candidates
dorigine trangre en (meaning whites), in access to private housing where
France. Social Science and
black skin or Arabic names were common negative selec-
Medicine 32 (11): 1219-
1227. tion criteria (as proved by testing), and in interactions
Delettre, D. 1999. Le maintien with administrative bodies, especially within welfare serv-
des trangers pour raison ices (Simon, 1998). According to the annual poll of the
mdicale sur le territoire
franais. Rennes: Ecole
National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, in
nationale de sant publique. 2000, 70% of French people found the presence of people
Fassin, D. 1999. Lindicible et of non-European origin disturbing. And the 500 calls
limpens: La question received each day by the hotline for victims of racial dis-
immigre dans les
politiques du sida. Sciences crimination, opened in 2000, indicate that this opinion
sociales et sant 17 (4): 5- poll does translate into fact.13 It would certainly be incor-
36. rect to assume that racism is a novelty for France: collec-
Sorry, but my clients wouldnt like the colour of your tie... Cartoon by
2000a. Politiques du vivant
et politiques de la vie. Pour
Pancho from Le Monde, 7 April 1999. tive violence against foreigners, whether Italians at the end
une anthropologie de la of the 19th century or Algerians in the 1960s, shows how
sant. Anthropologie et 1990): the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man and far xenophobia could go. Two new elements must never-
socits 24 (1): 95-116. Citizen serves as a totem protecting against attempts to theless be taken into account. First, discrimination is
2000b. La supplique:
Stratgies rhtoriques et impose ethnic divisions on social groups. Marceau Long, directed not so much against foreigners as against people
constructions identitaires president of the High Council for Integration, expresses seen as illegitimate members of French society, whatever
dans les demandes de this in locating Frances choices with respect to immi- their nationality (the majority of them are French and born
secours. Annales. Histoire,
grants and their descendants (the word minorities is ban- in France): racism can thus no longer be hidden behind a
sciences sociales 55 (5):
953-981. ished from public discourse) within a logic of equality legal definition. Second, discrimination has begun to be
2000c. Les politiques de which is true to Frances very essence.11 Officially then, recognized for what it is both by the perpetrators and by
lethnopsychiatrie: La the state has had a strategy to avoid the communitarian and the victims (on this point, there is a striking contrast
psych africaine des
colonies britanniques aux
racialized policies of other Western countries, which serve between the youth of the second generation and their par-
banlieues parisiennes. as a convenient foil for Frances own policies. ents): whether supported or denounced, racialization of
LHomme 153: 231-250. society has become a public reality.
2001. Une double peine: La Origin as a new frontier This recent shift is significant in that it clearly identifies
condition sociale de
limmigr malade du sida. However, this faade of a France of integration the object of discrimination. If racism was previously seen
LHomme, 158 (Schnapper, 1991) began to crumble in the 1980s, and the as the rejection of foreigners, the discovery of internal
(forthcoming). process intensified in the 1990s under the weight of the boundaries dividing a French community which finds it
, Morice, A. and Quiminal,
C. (eds). 1997. Les lois de
political and social racialization of French society. increasingly difficult to perceive itself as national contrasts
linhospitalit: La socit Politically there was the remarkable increase in electoral with the official discourse prevailing until the 1990s.
franaise lpreuve des support for the extreme right party, the National Front, Nationality no longer suffices to define the basis for exclu-
sans-papiers. Paris: La whose leitmotif is France for the French a unique post- sion of the Other: the concrete criteria according to which a
Foucault, M. 1976. Histoire de World War II phenomenon. Their support rose to one in landlord refuses housing, an employer rejects a job applica-
la sexualit, tome 1: La six voters at the national level and one in two or three in tion, a policeman decides to check for identity papers, or a
volont de savoir. Paris: some cities, with electoral victories in a few municipali- nightclub owner chooses who enters his establishment, must
ties. However, it would be wrong to attribute the rise of be considered. These are phenomenological criteria that tend
1997. Il faut dfendre la
socit. Cours au Collge racism in political life only to the extreme right, since at primarily toward appearance, particularly skin colour, and
de France 1976. Paris: the end of the 1970s, in a period when labour immigration, mainly target people not identified as European, specifically
Hautes Etudes-Gallimard- which had been abruptly halted, was giving way to perma-
Godelier, M. and Panoff, M.
nent settlement, the Communist Party was the first to sug-
(eds). 1998. La production gest that immigrants right to employment, housing and
du corps: Approches social services were unfounded. Furthermore, during the
anthropologiques et 1980s, when the National Front succeeded in exploiting
historiques. Amsterdam:
Editions des archives popular frustrations, the other political parties, including
contemporaines. the Socialists,12 followed its lead in questioning whether
Heller, A. 1996. Has foreigners might be the source of socio-economic difficul-
biopolitics changed the
ties (Schain 1996). While the political discourse did not
concept of the political?
Some further thoughts explicitly refer to race, which remains a prohibited term,
about biopolitics. In Heller, the populations targeted by this rhetoric and these laws
A. and S. Puntscher were increasingly those designated explicitly as unassim-
Riekmann (eds) Biopolitics:
The politics of the body,
ilable and whose children are often distinguished as
race and nature, 3-15. Beurs (youth of Arab origin). In fact, there has been a
Avebury: Aldershot. growing lexical confusion, leading to the designation of
Kearney, M. 1995. The local French people born in France as Maghrebins, Africans,
and the global: The
anthropology of foreigners or immigrants, revealing how skin colour
globalization and and supposed origin have overwhelmed the legal defini-
transnationalism. Annual tion of the Other.
Review of Anthropology 24:
On the social front, during the same period, the phe-
Le Bras, H. 1997. Dix ans de nomenon of segregation on the basis of nationality or eth-
Opening of European borders. In June 2000, 58 would-be-immigrants
perspectives de la nicity was increasing: on the outskirts of large cities, the from China suffocated in the sealed lorry in which they were being
population trangre. low-cost housing developments today concentrate high smuggled into Britain. Cartoon by Plantu, Le Monde, 20 June 2000.


Population 1: 103-134. those coming from North and sub-Saharan Africa. The affected children of foreign families, 92% of them
Legoux, L. 1999. Les ppites underlying division of the world is no longer French vs non- African. The denial of racial discrimination thus seems to
dor de lOFPRA. Plein
Droit 44: 7-10.
French, nor even French-origin vs non-French-origin, but reach its highest level where it is most tangible; that is, at
Lochak, D. 1997. Les European-origin vs non-European-origin. the site of biological inscription itself.
politiques de limmigration Scientific debate is not spared the effects of this change, In fact, everything we know about the social determi-
au prisme de la lgislation which bear on social realities as much as on scientific nants of health indicate that the racial discrimination
sur les trangers. In Fassin,
D., A. Morice and C. means of accounting for them. One of the most virulent which has been identified in diverse spheres of activity
Quiminal (eds) Les lois de intellectual controversies of the 1990s occurred between produces inequalities in life expectancy (Wilkinson,
linhospitalit, 29-45. Paris: two researchers at the National Institute of Demographic 1996). Republican universalism finds here its deepest con-
La Dcouverte.
Studies (INED) with respect to statistics about the foreign tradiction in the recognition that a difference read on the
Marshall, T.H. 1965. Class,
citizenship and social population: beyond the technical problems of definition body can produce an inequality in terms of sickness and
development. New York: and calculation, what was at stake was the scientific rele- death. In the terms of Jean-Jacques Rousseaus famous
Doubleday. vance of and the political justification for taking into discourse on inequality, the recognition that a natural or
Noiriel, G. 1988. Le creuset
franais: Histoire de
account origin in addition to nationality.14 Introducing physical difference, socially constructed as racial dis-
limmigration XIXe-XXe statistical distinctions based on this criterion using the crimination, can be at the origin of the most unacceptable
sicles. Paris: Seuil. category Franais de souche (of French stock) was tan- political or moral inequality of all inequality of life
Portes, A. 1999. La tamount to legitimizing a more profound difference than expectancy would probably be the most radical invalida-
mondialisation par le bas:
Lmergence des that which is established using legal status: it is only to rec- tion of the human rights rhetoric so deeply bound to the
communauts ognize a social reality, argued one; it officializes a racial- French self-perception.
transnationales. Actes de la ized discourse, replied the other.
recherche en sciences
A two-sided biopolitics
sociales, 129:15-25.
Rousseau, J.J. 1971. Discours The avatars of racial discrimination According to Agnes Heller (1996), biopolitics is inti-
sur lorigine et les One might ask at this point, is this difference racial, or is mately linked to the question of identity politics. I have
fondements de lingalit it possible to make a more socially acceptable argument tried to show that it also implies necessarily a politics of
parmi les hommes. Paris:
Garnier-Flammarion. 1st
that it is cultural? Is the distinction between European otherness. Based on the recognition of difference of
edition 1754. and non-European populations or more often and more bodies which have race, sex, ethnicity and genes as their
Sayad, A. 1999. La double implicitly, between populations of European and non- foundation, biopolitics, as she interprets it, is ultimately
absence: Des illusions de European origin not at heart a cultural incompatibility defending the Body itself, its nature, integrity and health.
lmigr aux souffrances de
limmigr. Seuil: Paris. more than a biological unassimilability?15 Indeed, this By renouncing membership in a common political body,
Schain, M.A. 1996. The argument has often served to keep discrimination free biopolitics thus exemplifies a retreat from, and even a nega-
racialization of immigration from the suspicion of racism (Taguieff, 1991). French tion of politics in the Arendtian sense of the recognition
policy: Biopolitics and public policy has for a long time maintained an ambiguity of human diversity from a universal perspective. However,
policy-making. In Heller,
A. and S. Puntscher on the subject of immigrant/immigrant-origin populations, examination of French immigration politics in the 1990s
Riekmann (eds) Biopolitics: promoting, on the one hand, a rhetoric of equality and uni- allows for a less pessimistic and more nuanced reading.
The politics of the body, versalism, and on the other, special modes of treatment for The contemporary biopolitics of otherness in France
race and nature, 157-177.
Avebury, Aldershot.
these populations problems, such as housing or health. rests on one major foundation: the recognition of the body
Schnapper, D. 1991. La To take an example from the medical arena, ethnopsy- as the ultimate site of political legitimacy. But this recog-
France de lintgration: chiatry, funded entirely by public money, gives specific nition takes two parallel paths. On the one hand, the suf-
Sociologie de la nation en treatment to both psychological disorders and cases of fering body manifests itself as the ultimate (but not
1990. Paris: Gallimard.
Simant, J. 1998. La cause des
social deviance referred for diagnosis and treatment by unique) resource, supplanting all other social justifications
sans-papiers. Paris: Presses doctors, social workers, even judges, when the patients or for immigrants to be granted legal status and residing in a
de la Fondation nationale de the delinquents happen to be of non-European origin and basic right to keep oneself alive as long as possible. This is
sciences politiques. when this origin is presumed to be a source of particular a minimalist vision, but one which tends toward a uni-
Simon, P. 1998. La
discrimination: Contexte difficulties in interpretation and handling. Cultural singu- versal horizon. On the other hand, the racialized body
institutionnel et perception larity, advocated by those in favour of this type of therapy, extends from the foreigner to the national and introduces
par les immigrs. Hommes has in fact an essentially ethnic and even racial substrate internal frontiers founded on physical difference. This is a
et migrations 1211: 49-67.
Simpson, B. 2000. Imagined
which, along with the failure to take into account the social discriminatory concept, which creates hierarchies between
genetic communities: dimension of immigrant experiences, results in a form of people. In the first case, the reduction in political asylum
Ethnicity and essentialism naturalization of culture, explicitly considered as an is a corollary of the rise in the humanitarian rationale: the
in the twenty-first century. hereditary characteristic of the individual.16 More gener- recognition of the suffering body imposes a legitimate
Anthropology Today 16 (3):
ally, one can say that all extreme thinking about differ- order defining citizenship on purely physiopathological
Taguieff, P.A. 1991. Les ence, whether it be in the name of biology or culture, rests grounds. In the second, threats to human diversity lead to
mtamorphoses on an essentialist presupposition of otherness. a response by civil society and the state, reminding us of
idologiques du racisme et The ambiguity of public action on the matter is best shared political values: the recognition of the racialized
la crise de lantiracisme. In
P.A. Taguieff (ed.), Face au illustrated by the following paradox. While the sociolog- body as principle of an illegitimate order allows for a
racisme, vol. 2, 13-63. ical reality of the racialized body has recently been the measure of return to politics through the denunciation of
Paris: La Dcouverte. object of increasing recognition and denunciation, the con- this principle by the victims and their supporters.
Tribalat, M. 1997. Une
sequences of racism on the body itself as measured by That is to say, despite common perceptions, biopolitics
surprenante rcriture de
lhistoire. Population 1: morbidity and mortality have resisted evaluation (Fassin does not proceed by one logic. It demonstrates a tension,
137-148. 1999). Without instruments to measure discrimination or inscribed in the body, between the supreme universality of
Weil, P. 1991. La France et research to understand it, it is presumed to be non-existent. life (which allows a sans-papiers with AIDS to be recog-
ses trangers: Laventure
dune politique de
None of the numerous official and scientific reports on the nized by the state in the name of his/her pathology) and the
limmigration de 1938 health situation in France presents data referring to this exaltation of difference, for which biology offers an
nos jours. Paris: Gallimard. issue. In the case of AIDS, public health institutions apparently insurmountable foundation (allowing each
Wieviorka, M. 1993. La waited until 1999, 18 years after the beginning of the epi- person to perceive a natural source of inequality in the
dmocratie lpreuve:
Nationalisme, populisme, demic, to publish the first report revealing the profound physical characteristics of others). If we can recognize, in
ethnicit. Paris: La inequalities between French and foreigners in terms of an unusual form, the eternal anthropological theme of the
Dcouverte. incidence of the disease, earliness of detection and access unity and diversity of the human condition, the questions
Wilkinson, R. 1996. Unhealthy
to treatment. In the case of lead-poisoning caused by poor raised here certainly call for a renewed commitment from
societies: The affliction of
inequality. London: living conditions, official figures never mention the fact social scientists to the critique of the contemporary foun-
Routledge. that, in the Paris region, all cases of severe intoxication dations of politics !