Accepted paper:

'Foyers' but not homes: practices of urban space and logics of place in African migrants' hostels in Paris


Aïssatou Mbodj-Pouye (CNRS)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the discursive and embodied sense of place of West-African residents in Parisian migrant hostels called ‘foyers’. It investigates the ambivalent affective attachments to these places and the ways the migrants make sense of them as their living space.

Paper long abstract:

Contrary to transit residences aptly described as "non-lieux", the foyers, hostels for single labor migrants, have come to be actual places of living for African migrants in French cities. The foyers have been analyzed as political instruments of the state to control the immigrants, as well as places where migratory networks reproduce village communities and their hierarchies, but the way their inhabitants make sense of them has been left unexplored. Based on an ethnographic research with West-African residents of Parisian foyers, this paper intends to investigate the embodied logics of the space they display. Residents have ambivalent discourses and attitudes towards the foyers: while negating that these buildings count as a "home" for them, they also express forms of affective attachments; while consciously not settling, and keeping stuff in suitcases, they finally make these inhospitable space a place of their own. This paper will follow the migrants, their moves and discourses on three intertwined dimensions. As urban dwellers, they demonstrate a sense of belonging, especially when fighting for their right to stay there in the face of the massive rehabilitation scheme currently undertaken in Paris. As inhabitants of the foyer, their practices of collective and private spaces run against the architectural design of these disciplinary buildings. Though they contrast harsh living conditions in France with the proper houses built back home, I will also explore the continuities in the ways they make sense of a living place, rooted in cultural practices and representations of space reorganized in the migratory experience.

panel P121
Spirit of place