Can the Irregular Migrant Woman Speak?

  • Synnøve BendixsenEmail author
Part of the Citizenship, Gender and Diversity book series (FEMCIT)


This chapter provides an anthropological perspective on how public space and political mobilization becomes gendered and racialized. Drawing on fieldwork with a group of Ethiopian irregular migrants who demonstrated in the public sphere against the Norwegian government, it draws attention to how representations, the voices and frames of action, are shaped by the nation-state context in which the migrants mobilize. It asks what are the opportunities and limitations for representing ones’ claims as a noncitizen woman, and for representing oneself as a particular political subject.

By examining the dynamic interplay between Ethiopian irregular migrants’ claim-making on the one hand and how this mobilization was framed in the media on the other, I discuss how the demonstrators became shaped by gendered and socio-cultural perceptions of the “good citizen” in Norway. The chapter thus bring attention to how participation in public life is structured, how representation of migrants shapes participation in gendered ways, and the difficulties involved in contesting discourses around citizens that become, in the process, dominant.

Contributing to the scarce research that examines the process through which irregular migrants become political agents, this chapter thus shows how their political agency is constituted by the interrelated process of the socio-historical definition of who should belong in the nation-state and the responses that follow from their public voices. The nation-state sovereignty—by means of governing the public discourse on who is a potentially good citizen—shapes the lives, self-representation and subjectivation of irregular migrants because it fundamentally sets the conditions of recognition. At the same time, migrants protesting in the public become part of a genealogy of citizenship through which they also rupture and transform the content of the political community and its conditions of recognition.


Public Sphere Asylum Seeker Subject Position Good Citizen Good Mother 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social AnthropologyUniversity of BergenBergenNorway

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