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Engaging with the State. Illegalized migrants, welfare institutions and the law in French-Speaking Belgium

by Sophie Andreetta

Submission summary

As Contributors: Sophie Andreetta
Preprint link: scipost_202110_00016v1
Date submitted: 2021-10-12 00:40
Submitted by: Andreetta, Sophie
Submitted to: Migration Politics
Academic field: Political Science
  • Migration Politics


By highlighting informal strategies and solidarities on the one hand, and protests on the other, current studies of citizenship and illegalized migration describe two main forms of political subjectivities among illegalized migrants: ‘without’ the state or ‘against’ it. In contrast, this article unpacks how migrants make use of state laws and institutions, voice expectations, and pursue their claims using official venues – in short, how they act ‘with’ the state. It builds on ethnographic fieldwork on illegalized migrants’ welfare requests in French-speaking Belgium and the various sets of actors involved in assessing or furthering their cases. Migrants’ discourses and expectations of the welfare office provide insights into their understandings of the state, highlight the crucial role of immigration lawyers in brokering cases, and ultimately allow for a more nuanced reading of the idea that welfare dependency leads to deportability. On a theoretical level, this article contributes to ongoing debates both in the study of statehood and in migration studies, showing how procedural fairness can be a central aspect of – in this case – migrants’ relationship to and expectations of the state, and how migrants’ strategies and practices of inclusion can also be formal ones, based on existing state laws and institutions.

Current status:
Editor-in-charge assigned

Submission & Refereeing History

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Submission scipost_202110_00016v1 on 12 October 2021

Reports on this Submission

Report 1 by Sébastien Chauvin on 2021-11-28 (Invited Report)


1. The paper provides an original take on how illegalized migrants make use of existing laws and formal venues as strategic resources to claim health benefits, expecting procedural fairness (while meeting many obstacles)
2. The paper qualifies the assumption that welfare "dependency" is always a source of legal undeservingness.
3. The paper explores the legal consciousness of (unauthorized) non-citizens or "ordinary subcitizens", while most studies of legal consciousness focus on citizens.


1. Although instances of working "with the state" are well emphasized, this risks giving the impression that article's informants can be reduced to this strategy. Perhaps a few hints here and there of how the "with the state" strategy might be combined with others in some instances may counterbalance this impression (although the article already does give examples of the non-take up of social rights).

2. The last section (n.6) on the possibility that being a benefits claimant can enhance their legal deservingness remains rather underdeveloped, so that proofs brought in to support it could be perceived as still anecdotal or mostly virtual. The section could be expanded a bit (so as not to read as a side point or an afterthought) as the argument is original.


This is a fine draft making original arguments about the relationship between illegalization, health-related deservingness, and chances of eventual legalization.
The article mostly engages with the anthropological literature on the state, the socio-legal literature on legal consciousness, and the migration studies literature on legal deservingness.
Perhaps the article does not engage enough yet with the existing literatures on health-related deservingness, especially that related to legally precarious migrants. I'm thinking in particular of the work of Sarah Willen.
Also, only passing mention is made of Myriam Ticktin's study of the illness clause in France and there is no mention of Didier Fassin and Estelle D'Halluin's work, especially this article:
Although these pieces deal mostly with asylum seekers, their object is close enough to that of the present article (including the role of intermediaries and guarantors of vulnerability) so as to warrant more engagement with them earlier in the literature review (rather than just occasionally in section 6).
Finally, the legal consciousness literature does include some works on the legal consciousness of undocumented migrants (rather than that of "ordinary citizens"), which the author could do a better job reviewing.
For an example, I'm thinking of the following piece by Helen Schwenken:
Other occasional remarks:
p.2, in the first sentence of the first paragraph, not sure placing the sentence part "Mainly focused ... legal status" ahead of the main proposition is colloquial in English.
p.2, in the last but one paragraph, the term "administrative guidelines" is ambiguous: does this refer to formal guidelines or to an administrative decision in a given case?
p.7, 1st paragraph, not clear if "The first type of exceptions" refers to previously mentioned "constitutional guarantees" or starts a new list not related to the two "bases" mentioned above.
p.13, the word "emergent" should be replaced with "urgent", I believe.
p.14 in the last paragraph of the conclusion, the author mentions "a more nuanced reading of two ideas" but it was not entirely clear to me what these two ideas were.
Finally, in the same paragraph, I wasn't entirely convinced by the division between "laws" and the "state", where the authors argues that laws can be deployed against the state. Although this is true, these laws are also part of the state, so that it could equally be said that the state is strategically used against the state.

Requested changes

see in report & weaknesses section

  • validity: high
  • significance: high
  • originality: top
  • clarity: high
  • formatting: perfect
  • grammar: excellent

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