The Myth of Humanitarianism

The Myth of Humanitarianism: Migrant Deservingness and Neoliberal Reason

Sébastien Chauvin

Talk at Venice International University, October 10th, 2016

Immigration regimes and policy categories seem to confront international migrants seeking entry or legalization with diametrically opposite ways of assessing and asserting deservingness: one based on vulnerability, another based on civic, economic or cultural performance. Are these moral and legal routes so separate from one another? Combining the sociology of migration with a deconstructive approach to frame analysis, I argue that host country concerns for redeemable victimhood often construct the vulnerability route not so much as an alternative to, but rather a variant of the performance route.

Sébastien Chauvin is a sociologist and an associate professor at the Centre en Etudes Genre of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. His work uses field methods, historical sociology and social theory to explore arenas where different axes of social inequality are enacted, reproduced and contested. His past research has dealt with labor, employment, immigration and citizenship in France and the United States. With Blanca Garcés-Mascareñas, he has been developing a theoretical framework for the moral economy of migrant illegality, undocumented migrant incorporation and frames of civic deservingness in contemporary international mobility. In recent years, he has been expanding a multi-sited research program on social and symbolic capital and the cultural sociology of economic elites, together with Bruno Cousin. His ongoing writing explores the intersections of race, nationalism, sexuality and citizenship in the Netherlands, France and the U.S.

S. Chauvin and B. Garcés-Mascareñas, “Becoming Less Illegal: Deservingness Frames and Undocumented Migrant Incorporation.” Sociology Compass, 8(4),2014, 422–432