HomeLabour and Migration in the Age of Borders

HomeLabour and Migration in the Age of Borders

Labour and Migration in the Age of Borders

Travail et migrations à l’ère des frontières

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Published on Monday, April 20, 2020


The recent focus in politics and the media on the “migration crisis” and the rise of populisms in Europe is an invitation to interrogate migrations in the light of geopolitical, ethical or identity approaches. With this thematic issue we wish to complement, not contradict, these approaches by reintroducing the economic dimension of migration through a study of the multiple forms of work and labor; and address the entanglements between migration policy and work. This special issue asks the following question: what can we learn from the exploration of migrant labor in an age of advanced capitalism and border consolidation? It will look at the relation between migratory statuses, legal and professional situations, under a juridical and socio-economic perspective: at the articulation of power relations within forms of migrant labor; at the impact of processes of borderization on the various worlds of labor; at the forms of resistance to exploitation and subjugation of migrant workers or employees working with migrants. These multiple forms of action at the margins indicate that rather than being depoliticized, labor — and especially labor as it is transformed by migration — remains today a privileged site for understanding the political effects of greater flexibility when it comes to working conditions, the denial of recognition for workers and the hidden face of authoritarian capitalism.



Introduction. Work and migration in the Era of Borders

The recent focus in politics and the media on the “migration crisis” and the rise of populisms in Europe is an invitation to interrogate migrations in the light of geopolitical, ethical or identity approaches. Over the past few years research on migrations has dwelled on refugee camps and the proliferation of borders, control and deterrence policies, the geography and historiography of fear, hospitality as a practice and an ethos, and the violence of migration journeys. With this thematic issue we wish to complement, not contradict, these approaches by reintroducing the economic dimension of migration through a study of the multiple forms of work and labor.

Labor in the field of migration studies

In her work on the Algerian “ouvriers spécialisés” after the Second World War, Laure Pitti noted the importance of “keeping together” the figure of the worker and that of the immigrant (2006). This special issue proposes to adopt the same type of approach by mobilizing researchers in several fields in order to explore how the evolution of international migration, changes in production systems and the reshuffling of public policies (migration and asylum policies but also measures related to the labor market and the welfare state) are intertwined.

The disciplines that comprise the social sciences have several active sub-fields researching labor (social history, working-class studies, social geography or labor sociology) but the question of immigrant labor has often been marginalized despite the historic importance of some studies on the subject (Sayad 1977, Noiriel 1984, 1988; Green 1985). This is not, however, the case in the field of migration studies, for which immigrant labor is a central concern. Migration studies emerged after the Second World War and were consolidated in the 1970s and 1980s when the role of immigrants was examined through the lens of post-Fordist studies of labor market segmentation (Piore 1978). Until the 1990s, this structuralist paradigm inspired a number of studies cross-examining the national segmentation of labor markets and the international division of labor (Harris 1995). These works were complemented and nuanced by feminist theory and gender approaches highlighting the historical role of female immigrant workers in many production systems (Morokvasic 1984; Green 1998). In the 1990s the paradigm of globalization led to studies on global circuits of labor and their concentration in global cities (Sassen 2000) as well as on the international division of care and reproductive labor (Parrenas 2001; Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2003, Kofman, Raghuram, 2015).

While migration studies has largely explored issues around labor, at the end of the 1990s a large part of the research produced in migration studies veered away from that theme to focus on other questions like law or discrimination. If undocumented migrants constituted a well-studied category in the 1990s, it was not necessarily explored in terms of labor and exploitation until the end of the 2000s, to the exception of a few studies (Fassin, Morice, and Quiminal 1997, Moulier Boutang, 1998, Terray, 2008). After the implementation of family reunion policies and the end of official labor migration, most research studies in Europe seem to have followed the same direction as migration policies themselves by focusing on other aspects of the immigration process (settlement, integration, family dynamics, etc.) rather than on production forms and regimes (Valentin-Marie 2004) or the arrival of “alternative” or autonomous figures in migration and labor like the transnational entrepreneur (Peraldi 1999, Tarrius 2000), the qualified migrant or knowledge diasporas (Meyer 2004, Nedelcu 2010), or family shops or businesses (Ma Mung and Simon 1990, Martini 2001, Raulin 2000, and Zalc and Bruno 2006).

Over the past few years, while migration studies have become more concerned with the question of paid employment, this surge of interest remains moderate and relatively marginal compared to the bulk of studies on borders and humanitarian questions. Firstly, activism in the last decade or so has resulted in the figure of the undocumented worker becoming well-known in the public space (Barron et al. 2008). Several studies focus on the struggle of undocumented migrants and how this struggle is organized, on the fragmentation of employment status and how migration policies organize labor mobility (Rea 2013; Mezzadra and Neilson 2015; Tourette, Jounin and Chauvin 2008; Jounin 2009). Materialistic criticism is also regaining its foothold in the field by assessing how migrant labor mobility is linked with capital in a post-Fordist or neo-liberal context as well as the utilitarian nature of labor demand (Morice and Potot 2010; Zeneidi 2013; McDowell 2016).

Exploring the many forms of migrant labor today

This special issue will accompany this renewal of interest in migrant labor by asking the following question:  what can we learn from the exploration of migrant labor in an age of advanced capitalism and border consolidation (Balibar 2010)? Labor remains first and foremost a structuring dimension of the “migrant condition,” a continuity that should not be eclipsed by today’s reconfigurations. Of course the labor market works in very different ways today than it did after the Second World War or the 1980’s as state regulation has changed (both in terms of bilateral and multilateral agreements), political agendas are now increasingly prioritizing readmission agreements rather than labor agreements, and attempts to set up “selected migration” failed to actually select workers before their arrival in France. This “rolling back” of the state puts private companies in a position where they de facto regulate the job market in sectors like construction and catering, and borders are more and more insidious and multi-localized at infra-national (interpersonal negotiations) and global scales (Neilson, Mezzadra, 2015). The question of migrant labor transfers to the supra-national level questions that for the most part pertain to national politics and state prerogatives. The internationalization of labor through the international mobility of workers is struggling to find an adequate frame of regulation.

But whose labor are we talking about exactly? Recent migrants (undocumented or asylum seekers), who have usually reached our shores in conditions that are made increasingly difficult by restrictive policies of entry control, are leading us to reexamine labor. Whether they are called “migrants” or “exiles,” the people who have no choice but to wait and experience the uncertainties of constrained mobility in the long “refugee corridors” are particularly vulnerable when they enter the labor market (Michalon 2012, Agier 2011). The conditions of their access to labor also shed light on the mechanisms that tolerate or, depending on the setting, integrate “clandestine passengers.” This leads us to interrogate the tension between uprooting, wandering and anchorage in very specific local contexts. Among them, the fate of  undocumented working females who go from emergency housing to emergency housing all the while working in somebody else’s home; the undocumented who clean the hallways of the Metro every morning but change residences frequently; foreign agricultural laborers who follow the seasons and live in temporary camps, etc. New forms of volunteer, distance, or home-based work outside of “standard” working hours may be also specially investigated. In this special issue, the multiple entanglements of productive and reproductive spheres will also be investigated in an intersectional manner.

Rootedness or anchorage, as well as the path of migratory trajectories, can be affected by work without access to a stable residence even when considering precarity or, in many cases, the undocumented status of such workers. These social worlds of work mix together legality and illegality, formality and informality, contractual and uncontracted labor, and the racialization of work relationships. This can be done to different degrees, depending on whether this concerns detached European workers or precarious non-European workers. The “half-open door” legitimizes such constraints through the legal recognition of the newly arrived and the widespread acceptance of precarious, flexible labor at the margins of the law. This creates hierarchies of lesser or greater rigidity that are rendered tolerable via the “promise of a contract” (Jounin 2009) or the “promise of regularization” (Di Cecco forthcoming).

Measures to securitize borders and control entries have become so intensified since the 1990s that they have become a separate, specialized economy (Hernandez-Leon, 2012 ; Rodier, 2012 ; Gammeltoft-Hansen, Sorensen, 2012), putting under pressure or threatening the right to asylum and protection of vulnerable persons, a group that not only includes refugees but also border control employees and asylum caseworkers. The issue of the right to work for refugee seekers is in this respect crucial but also unresolved, leaving in suspense the difficulties settled refugees have to put in place a career corresponding to their professional qualifications and experience. At the same time, restrictions concerning legal ways of entry and regularization reinforce the tension placed on asylum seekers. In this way the sphere of asylum is itself questioned when it comes to the issue of work. The spaces controlling and channeling entry connect the issue of labor to a humanitarian logic, especially when it comes to granting labor rights to asylum seekers and the rise of work linked to the management of the flux of migrants, which is couched between a humanitarian and security logic, the so-called “humanitarian rationale” (Fassin 2001).These jobs – either public or, in most cases, private – are confronted with a lack of funding and contradictory injunctions that put into doubt the meaning of the job and the working conditions (Kobelinsky 2012, Tcholakova 2014). We thus see different “worlds of work” emerge. On the one hand, there is the work of people who intervene in welcoming, accompanying, and aiding migrants, often voluntarily, thus blurring the distinction between paid and unpaid work. On the other hand, control, identification and selection measures towards new entrants involve numerous staff (border police, security guards, transport or security professionals) and contribute to multiplying the mistreatment and contractualization of such work through open bids. It is also the case that freedom of movement, put in place gradually throughout European states, puts different mobility regimes in competition and creates new hierarchies within the immigrant labor force. Finally, we can see in a number of European countries a “refugeeization” of the labor force (Dines and Rigo 2015): asylum seekers, in particular, are led to work by new regulations that are underpinned by moral as well as economic considerations concerning access to certain rights. 

The exploitation and subjugation of either migrant workers or workers managing the flux of migrants has resulted in many forms of resistance or opposition that academics now study. The resistance can take the form of collective mobilization (strikes, occupations, demonstrations) or less visible, infrapolitical resistance which reveals the injustices associated with the status of being a migrant and showcases the hardening of social relationships. These multiple forms of action at the margins indicate that rather than being depoliticized, labor – and especially labor as it is transformed by migration – remains today a privileged site for understanding the political effects of greater flexibility when it comes to working conditions, the denial of recognition for workers and the hidden face of authoritarian capitalism. The question of labor thus becomes even greater in its mobilization and cannot be reduced to market mechanisms denuded of politics. 


  • Start of call: 15th April 2020
  • Texts due: 15th July 2020

  • Selection process and reply to authors: 30th August 2020
  • Final articles accepted for publication: 30th November 2020
  • Publication: 30th March 2021

Submission Modalities

Articles submitted for publication should be sent by email to Camille Schmoll (camilleschmoll@yahoo.fr) and Serge Weber (serge.weber@gmail.com).

Articles can be in French, English or Spanish.

Texts need to conform to house style (https://journals.openedition.org/remi/5848)

Selection Committee/Coordination

  • Camille Schmoll (Geographer, Université Paris-Diderot, UMR CNRS Géographie-Cités)
  • Serge Weber (Geographer, Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, EA Analyse comparée des pouvoirs)


Texts due 15th July 2020




Agier Michel (2011) Le couloir des exilés. Être étranger dans un monde commun, Vulaines-sur-Seine, Éditions du Croquant.

Albert Anaïs (Coord.) (2017) Déplacer les frontières du travail, Tracés. Revue de Sciences Humaines, 1 (32), [en ligne]. URL : https://traces.hypotheses.org/1930

Barron Pierre, Bory Anne, Chauvin Sébastien, Jounin Nicolas et Tourette Lucie (2014) Derrière le sans-papiers, le travailleur : genèse et usages de la catégorie de « travailleurs sans papiers » en France, Genèses, 94 (1), pp. 114-139.

Dines Nick and Rigo Enrica (2015) Postcolonial citizenships and the refugeeization of the workforce: migrant agricultural labour in the Italian Mezzogiorno, in Sandra Ponzanesi and Guido Colpani Eds., Postcolonial transitions in Europe: Contexts, practices and politics, Lanham MD, Rowman and Littlefield, pp. 153-174.

Ehrenreich Barbara and Hochschild Arlie Russell (Dirs.) (2003) Global woman: nannies, maids and sex workers in the new economy, New York, Metropolitan books.

Fassin Didier (2001) Quand le corps fait loi. La raison humanitaire dans les procédures de régularisation des étrangers, Sciences sociales et santé, 19 (4), pp. 5-34.

Fassin Didier, Morice Alain et Quiminal Catherine (Dirs.) (1997) Les lois de l’inhospitalité. Les politiques de l’immigration à l’épreuve des sans-papiers, Paris, La Découverte.

Gammeltoft-Hansen Thomas and Ninna Sorensen (Eds.) (2012) The Migration Industry and the Commercialization of International Migration, London, Routledge.

Green Nancy (1998) Du Sentier à la Septième Avenue. La confection et les immigrés, Paris-New York, 1880-1980, Paris, Seuil.

Green Nancy (1985) Les travailleurs immigrés juifs à la Belle Époque : le « Pletzl » de Paris, Paris, Fayard.

Guerry Linda (2009a) Femmes et genre dans l’histoire de l’immigration. Naissance et cheminement d’un sujet de recherche, Genre & Histoire, 5, [en ligne]. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/genrehistoire/808

Guerry Linda (2009b) Les grèves oubliées des immigrantes à Marseille, Plein droit, 82 (3), pp. 36-40.

Hernandez-Leon Ruben (2012) l’Industrie de la migration, Hommes et Migrations, 12 (1296), pp. 34-44.

Jounin Nicolas (2009) Chantier interdit au public. Enquête parmi les travailleurs du bâtiment, Paris, La Découverte.

Jounin Nicolas (2004) L’ethnicisation en chantiers. Reconstructions des statuts par l’ethnique en milieu de travail, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 20 (3), [en ligne]. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/remi/2025

Kobelinksy Carolina (2012) « Il n’y a que l’expulsion à l’horizon » : le dilemme des travailleurs sociaux des centres d’accueil pour demandeurs d’asile en France, in Michel Agier Dir., Réfugiés, sinistrés, sans papiers. Politiques de l’exception, Paris, Tétraèdre, pp. 24-35.

Kofman Eleonore and Raghuram Parvati (2015) Gendered migration and Global Social Reproduction, Palgrave Macmillan.

Ma Mung Emmanuel et Simon Gildas (1990) Commerçants maghrébins et asiatiques en France, Paris, Masson.

Marie Claude-Valentin (1994) L’immigration en France dans les années quatre-vingt-dix : nouvelle donne pour l’emploi et nouveaux enjeux de société, Sociologie du travail, 36 (2), pp. 143-163.

Martini Manuela (2001) Famille et organisation du travail dans les PME de la banlieue parisienne au XXe siècle, Cahier des Annales de Normandie, 31, pp. 93-104.

Martini Manuela et Rygiel Philippe (Dirs.) (2009) Genre et travail migrant. Mondes atlantiques, XIXe-XXe siècles, Actes de l’histoire de l’immigration, 9 (numéro spécial), Paris, Publibook.

McDowell Linda (2013) Working Lives: Gender, Migration and Employment in Britain, 1945-2007, London, Wiley & Sons.

Meyer Jean-Baptiste (2004) Les diasporas de la connaissance : atout inédit de la compétitivité du Sud, Revue internationale et stratégique, 55, pp. 69-76.

Mezzadra Sandro and Neilson Brett (2015) Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor, Durham, Duke University Press.

Michalon Bénédicte (2012) La mobilité au service de l’enfermement. Les centres de rétention pour étrangers en Roumanie, Géographie et cultures, 81, pp. 91-110.

Morice Alain et Potot Swanie (Dirs.) (2010) De l’ouvrier immigré au travailleur sans papiers. Les étrangers dans la modernisation du salariat, Paris, Karthala.

Moulier-Boutang Yann (1998) De l’esclavage au salariat : économie historique du salariat bridé, Paris, PUF.

Nedelcu Mihaela (2010) (Re)penser le transnationalisme et l’intégration à l’ère du numérique. Vers un tournant cosmopolitique dans l’étude des migrations internationales ?, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 26 (2), pp. 33-55.

Noiriel Gérard (1988) Le creuset français. Histoire de l’immigration (XIXe-XXe siècle), Paris, Seuil.

Noiriel Gérard (1984) Longwy. Immigrés et prolétaires (1880-1980), Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.

Parrenas Rachel (2001) Servants of globalization. Women, migration and domestic work, Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Peraldi Michel (1999) Marseille : réseaux migrants transfrontaliers, place marchande et économie de bazar, Cultures & Conflits, 33-34, pp. 51-67.

Piore Michael (1978) Dualism in the Labour Market, Revue économique, 19 (1), pp. 26-37.

Pitti Laure (2006) La main-d’œuvre algérienne dans l’industrie automobile (1945-1962) ou les oubliés de l’histoire, Hommes et migrations, 1263, pp. 47-57.

Raulin Anne (2000) L’ethnique est quotidien, Paris, l’Harmattan.

Rea Andrea (2013) Les nouvelles figures du travailleur immigré : fragmentation des statuts d’emploi et européanisation des migrations, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 29 (2), pp. 15-35.

Rodier Claire (2012) Xénophobie Business, Paris, La Découverte.

Sassen Saskia (2000) Women’s burden. Counter-geographies of globalization and the feminization of survival, Journal of International Affairs, 53 (2), pp. 503-524.

Sayad Abdelmalek (1977) Les trois « âges » de l’émigration algérienne en France, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 15, pp. 59-79.

Tarrius Alain (2000) Les nouveaux cosmopolitismes, Mobilités, identités, territoires, La Tour-d’Aigues, Éditions de l’Aube.

Tcholakova Albena (2014) La relation de service comme rapport de reconnaissance : l’exemple de l’accompagnement des réfugiés vers le travail, Travailler, 32, pp. 99-129.

Terray Emmanuel (2008) L’État nation vu par les sans papiers, Actuel Marx, 44 (2), pp. 41-52.

Zalc Claire et Bruno Anne-Sophie (Dirs.) (2006) Petites entreprises et petits entrepreneurs étrangers en France (XIXe-XXe siècle), Actes des journées d’études des 23 et 24 octobre 2003, Paris, Publibook Université.

Zeneidi Djemila (2013) Femmes/fraises, Import/export, Paris, PUF.


  • Wednesday, July 15, 2020


  • frontières, travail, économie, main d’œuvre, salariat, production, reproduction, travailleur, travailleuse,borders, work, labor, economy, labor force, waged labor, production, reproduction, worker


  • Audrey Brosset
    courriel : remi [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr

Information source

  • Audrey Brosset
    courriel : remi [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr


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« Labour and Migration in the Age of Borders », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, April 20, 2020, https://doi.org/10.58079/14tt

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