Association Française de Sociologie’s Congress 2017: Anti-migrants mobilisations

I had the luck to be present at the 2017 AFS’s Congress to present some of my indings in French. Four very packed days during which many a great talk was given. I could not attend all, but I wished to present at least one of the panels, organised by the Réseau Thématique 34, which specialises on political sociology. The papers I will present here were part of a two-sessions long panel on mobilisations around migrants, half of which I could not attend (on pro-migrants mobilisations) and the other half I could (on anti-migrants mobilisations). The authors have given their authorisation for these summaries, but as usual I must remind the reader that everything written here is the result of my note-taking, and I encourage them to refer themselves to the presenters’ actual writings for more accurate accounts of their work.

“Abu Zayd and al-Harith arrive in a village”, al-Wasiti

Kévin Vacher : From identity panics to localised mobilisations, a proposal to study anti-migrants mobilisations

The context of the study is Torre del Greco, where an anti-migrant mobilisation is feared after similar contention occurred in Rome. In Torre del Greco a small center expected to house a few Sudanese migrants is opened, which leads to a local identity panic. Vacher wants to explore this concept and see how frames shaped in other geographical locations can be imported and anchored locally. He observes how this happens by processes of politicisation, depoliticisation, and repoliticisation.

The polemic begins on the mayor’s Facebook page, with anti-migrants activists, associated with an echo chamber close to the city council (the Five Stars Movement), post comments to complain and give visibility to their grievances. The cause entrepreneurs are using the Internet, but they are not “uprooted”, they rely on existing resources and anchorings. Vacher shows how several networks of activists emerge, the further away from the Facebook public pages being the pro-migrant left. On the contrary the far right groups are very included to this arena.

Anchoring takes fully place with the move offline to a Neighbours Assembly, where a tacit agreement between the participants imposes a depoliticisation of the situation, with preference for “ordinary” participants. The antifascists, through whom Vacher entered the field, as well as the far right, maintain the most politicised cliques within them in this “apolitical” framework. Repoliticisation takes place later, with the far right activists multiplying forms of investigation on the theme of insecurity. Beyond the imported frames, what we can observe is the importance of local modes of perception and know-hows, local political capitals, and the activists capacity to anchor an identity panic.

Tristan Riffault, “Ours before Others!”, Anti-migrant mobilisations put in place by the Front National during the 2016-2017 election campaign

The title had been slightly changed but I sticked to the one advertised.

After the Calais camp was closed, its inhabitants were dispatched across the territory and the FN reinvested already existing elements to mobilise in different places. 3 logics can be seen in the party’s action: activation, sanctuarisation, and political framing.

  1. The activation logic begins with FN-organised demonstrations focused on the places where migrants are welcomed and housed, to publicise their existence and organise the politicisation of local feelings. The example taken is one of a FN local councilwoman who went to a public meeting to voice her anger at receiving migrants in her town, filmed herself doing so, and diffused the video online. Those local entrepreneurs of mobilisation are key to this logic of activation.
  2. The sanctuarisation logic takes various forms aiming at framing the problem in terms of protection of the locals: conception for example of a symbolic anti-migrant engagement, signed by elected officials at the local scales despite their lack of authority on the question, then public display of this lack of authority with placards explaining that the state wants to impose migrants on them. In Béziers, for example, where the mayor uses his mayoral information newspaper to show representations of coloured people rushing into a train for his town, expecting the taxpayers’ money upon arrival (see image below). The state/city opposition is essential as it allows opening to the third logic.
  3. Since the state is the problem, then the demands move to having a FN state, which is the political framing logic, to move local anger toward FN campaigning. The FN propaganda is extremely controlled by the party on these matters, relying on framings related to insecurity, sexual criminality, and terrorism, which existed against other groups before. The migrants are framed as not being actually refugees (“These Syrians are Black”) and framing actual war-fleeing refugees as liars (possible terrorists) and cowards (“Who do they not fight for their freedom?”). Finally their negative impact on locals (especially local homeless people, who would be “robbed” of social care by migrants) is used extensively.

The migrant crisis is not a crisis for the FN during the election year. On the contrary, it is a moment of continuity and remobilisation of older frames. The constitution of a refugees problem is something the party was already doing before the crisis, and it continues during it.

Béziers’ mayor anti-migrants campaign: “They’re coming!”

Camille Guenebeaud: Living as neighbours at the border, Anti-migrants mobilisations in Calais

Guenebeaud’s work, which is at the crossroads with geography, focuses on the production of the border in Calais through groups of inhabitants and the ways they legitimise their actions. Calais is appreciated for a field, as it is located at an important border (with the UK) and has since 2008 a very anti-migrants mayor in power, who becomes an essential part in local mobilisations. He looks at three sorts of mobilisations in the presentation: those around dwellers, those organised by the far-right, and those by professional groups.

  1. The dwellers’ mobilisation are essentially localised and defined as such by their actors, who will in later mobilisations refuse to ally with other groups as their only problem with the migrants was that they were close to their homes, not that they were in France. The mobilisatiosn begin in Sangatte, where the “Close the [Red Cross] centre” campaign is supported by local conservative representatives. The conflict is completely localised, around the idea of a “casting mistake” when choosing to settle the centre in Sangatte. Activists essentially display their cause in public space, using the colour yellow, which is used to dye a number of fountains, but also to cast a faux referendum, the “yellow ballot” being used to display anger at having migrants in the town. Later on another campaign, not in Sangatte and concerning other people in Virval, a Calais district, refers to this mobilisation to oppose the installation of showers for the migrants, one again essentially framing the cause as a mere problem of location. Opposed to what can be seen in other groups these mobilisations claim to be NIMBY and refuse to raise in (spatial) generality, in part to avoid being labelled as racist.
  2. The second moment is the use by the far right of the “angry residents” narrative in Calais. The mayor is an actor of the mobilisation as she makes public declarations against the migrants in her town, which is taken as an opportunity for the creation of a Facebook page, “Let’s save Calais!”, by a far right activist (later the city council takes its distances from him as he is revealed displaying Nazi symbols and tatoos). The “angry residents” narrative is very different from that of the former mobilisations, as it is not strictly localised anymore, and the rise in generality is not rejected. As with other cases, practices of vigilantism are developed as well, and turned in particular against no-borders squats where migrants are housed, with stones and Molotov cocktails thrown at the houses in the name of the locals. The no-borders to react try to develop good relations with the neighbours, which occasionally works. “Angry residents” mobilisations are rarely the action of “actual” residents, but done in their name.
  3. Professional mobilisations occur around the creation of the Jules Ferry centre, and are framed through the love of Calais by those who work in it (city council employees, farmers, truck drivers, etc.). The narrative employed is again used to distance themselves from accusations of racism, by speaking of the town which should be “freed” from a destructive presence. The image of Charles de Gaulle is used, in particular. The main result is to make the practice of the urban space effectively more difficult for migrants, by imposing a spatial division of the centre, in very far apart places (so the migrants’ navigation of the town is made harder).

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