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The uses of disorder

Recerca | 05/06/2008

Urban strategies of foreigners in a situation of administrative irregularity

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A domestic worker wearing a blue-collar uniform to avoid being stopped. A young man carrying a newspaper, a university card or a folder with Catalan militant stickers. Using ethnic and family networks. Crossing borders to exploit differences in EU regulations, dressing politely, addressing the police in Catalan. All kinds of skills, tricks and disguises are common among immigrants to survive in a hard environment.


This paper is part of the result of an ethnographic research project carried out in Barcelona between October and December 2007 with the aim of offering a qualitative approach to the relationship between the labour market and the immigrant population in a situation of irregularity. The article deals with the strategies devised by foreigners who have in common, on the one hand, that they are or have been in a situation of administrative irregularity and, on the other hand, that they all come from Africa, Asia or Latin America. This paper on the perceived specificities in relation to social order and disorder analyzes the data obtained from the study in order to focus on three fundamental aspects: social capital (educational origin and cultural skills), cross-border networks (informal resources such as friendship or country networks) and, finally, the uses of disorder or how to make yourself invisible (how the population studied tries to make the stigma which condemns them imperceptible). The population is equipped with skills which we have called cultural capital which grant a large part of this population specific opportunities to do their best despite the legal environment. A very important part of this cultural capital about which we have been talking is not exploited, but rather ignored or considered to be useless by immigration policy makers. These statements may again conceal a symptom of Catalan society’s deficit when it comes to taking advantage of human capitals, whether national or foreign.

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