Coming Out of the Shadows: How the French Government Regulates Citizenship for Migrant Women in Polygynous Unions

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:43
Oral Presentation
Melanie HEATH, Sociology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Cynthia Joseph (2013, 2014) made significant contributions to scholarship on how migrant women shape their identities to negotiate the social, cultural, and political boundaries of dominant national discourses and structures in their receiving countries. Her research uncovered the marked and unmarked work in which migrant women engage to acquire citizenship as an interplay of structure and agency (Lamont and Molnar 2002).

This paper builds on Joseph’s scholarship to examine the processes of visible and invisible boundary work that shape the inclusion and exclusion of migrant women in France who live or have lived in a polygynous union of one man and more than one wife (Pachucki, Pendergrass, and Lamont 2007). Drawing on 40 in-depth interviews with migrant women and men, representatives of organizations, activists, social workers, and government officials, this paper examines the interplay of state policy, gender hierarchies, sexual regulation, and individual agency involved in the boundary work that shapes or blocks pathways to citizenship and national belonging for migrant women in a polygynous family structure. By identifying the social processes at play in regulating this outlawed patriarchal family form, this analysis uncovers how state governance can provide autonomy to some migrant women, while pushing others further into the shadows outside the legible structures of society.