[OPE-L] The suffering of the immigrant" by Abdelmalek Sayad,

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Mon Nov 07 2005 - 01:25:54 EST

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Pierre Bourdieu
Collège de France
Loïc Wacquant
University of California-Berkeley and Centre de sociologie européenne
Adelmalek Sayad passed away two years ago at this 
writing, leaving behind him one of the most
original and fertile contributions to the 
anthropology of immigration of the past century.
Throughout his voluminous and varied writings " 
close to a hundred publications, including
eight books spanning the destruction of 
Algeria⤁s traditional peasantry at the hands of 
colonialism, the dynamics of migration chains 
from Kabylia to France, the impact of
decolonization on the reception of Algerian 
workers in Marseilles, the odyssey of those 
and their children through the layers and 
institutions of French society, the social uses 
political abuses of ⤦immigrant culture,? and 
the everyday life of Algerian slums on the 
periphery during the fifties, all informed by an 
acute awareness of the political-economic roots
and import of human transhumance
" the Algerian sociologist both elaborated and
demonstrated the potency of three pivotal 
principles for the study of migration.
The first is the simple but fundamental 
proposition, whose implications remain to be fully
drawn out by scholars and policy makers alike, 
that before he or she becomes an immigrant, the
migrant is always first an emigrant, and that the 
sociology of migration must therefore
imperatively start, not from the concerns and 
cleavages of the receiving society, but from the
sending communities, their history, structure, 
and contradictions. The common contraction of the
emigration-immigration doublet to its second 
component mutilates the phenomenon and entraps
the study of migrants into an artificial 
problematic of ⤦lack? and deficiency 
explained away by
ritualized references, now to their lower class 
composition and substandard conditions of living,
now to the peculiarities of the culture they have brought with them.
Resisting such ethnocentric
imposition, the sociology of migration must take 
as its object not the ⤦problems? that migrants
pose for the advanced societies which attract 
them, in matters of employment, housing, schooling
and health, but the dynamic ⤦relationship 
between the system of dispositions of emigrants 
the ensemble of mechanisms to which they are 
subjected owing to this emigration? (Sayad
These books are respectively (in English titles): 
The Uprooting: The Crisis of Traditional 
Agriculture in Algeria
(Bourdieu and Sayad 1964), Algerian Immigration 
in France (Gillette and Sayad 1976), The Social 
Uses of the
Culture of Immigrants (Sayad 1978), Towards a 
Sociology of Immigration (Sayad and Fassa 1982), 
Migrating - A
History of Marseilles: The Shock of 
Decolonization (Temime, Jordi and Sayad 1991), 
Immigration, or the
Paradoxes of Otherness (Sayad 1991), and An 
Algerian Nanterre, Land of Slums (Sayad with 
Dupuy 1995). The
culmination and quintessence of Sayad⤁s five 
decades of incessant research is Double Absence: 
From the Illusions
of the Emigrant to the Suffering of the Immigrant (Sayad 1999).
A rare and remarkable exception to this pattern, 
deserving of a wide readership for its 
multi-level, comparative,
and interdisciplinary approach, is Massey, Durand 
and Alarcon (1987). Recent work on 
communities? has fostered a belated if limited 
recognition of the double-sidedness and dual 
determinacy of
migration (see the special issue of Ethnic and 
Racial Studies on the topic edited by Portes, 
Guarnizo and Landolt
1999, and Portes 1999).

Page 2
1999a: 57). Which necessitates that one 
reconstitutes the complete trajectory of the 
households and groups involved in the 
peregrination under examination, in order to 
uncover the
full system of determinants that first triggered 
exile and later continued, under new guises, to
govern the differentiated paths they followed.
Recognizing that ⤦immigration here and 
emigration there are the two indisassociable
sides of the same reality, which cannot be 
explained the one without the other? (Sayad 
15) enables Sayad to revoke, both empirically and 
theoretically, the canonical opposition
between ⤦labor migration? and ⤦settlement 
migration.? The former always contains the 
latter in
nuce and always eventuates in it: the individual 
departure of wage-seeking men gradually saps
the ⤦work of prevention and preservation? 
whereby the group seeks to maintain moral control
over its members, and sooner or later the latter 
⤦abandons itself to family migration,? which
further accelerates the erosion of group boundaries.
Relinking emigration and immigration
points also to the second pillar-proposition 
anchoring Abdelmalek Sayad⤁s work: that 
is the product and expression of an historical 
relation of inter-national domination, at once
material and symbolic. Immigration is a 
⤦relation from state to state? but one that 
is ⤦denied as
such in everyday reality? no less than in the 
political field (Sayad 1991: 267), so that its
management may fall within the sovereign province 
of the receiving society alone, of its laws,
administrative rules and bureaucratic dictates, 
and be treated as the ⤦domestic? issue which 
it is
not. Sayad (1979) shows, in the paradigmatic case 
of France and Algeria in the post-colonial and
post-Fordist era after the flow of ⤦migrant 
laborers? has been officially stopped, that the
⤦negotiations? between countries that lead to 
international conventions and regulations
concerning immigration are ⤦bilateral 
transactions? in name only since the dominant 
power and former colonial ruler is in a 
structural position to impose unilaterally the 
terms, goals,
and means of these agreements.
But there is more: every migrant carries this 
repressed relation of power between states
within himself or herself and unwittingly 
recapitulates and reenacts it in her personal 
and experiences. Thus the most fleeting encounter 
between an Algerian worker and his French
boss in Lyon " or a Surinamese-born child and 
his schoolteacher in Rotterdam, a Jamaican
mother and her social worker in London, an 
Ethiopian elderly and his landlord in Naples " 
fraught with the whole baggage of past 
intercourse between the imperial metropole and its
erstwhile colony. The relation of the emigrant to 
his homeland is likewise invisibly over-
determined by decades of conflictual and 
asymmetric relations between the two countries he
links: the ⤦suspicion of treason, even of 
apostasy? that enshrouds him there (Sayad 
1999a: 171)
finds its root in the fact that emigration has 
shaken the very foundations of the social order, 
the one hand, by corroding the established 
frontiers between groups in the sending society 
on the other, by affording the migrant and his 
kin an accelerated path of mobility but in an
allochtonous hierarchy, one devoid of legitimacy 
in the moral and cultural codes of the
originating community.
Sayad (1999a: 422-424) points out that, however 
virulent they may be in the society of 
immigration, the reactions
of protest and opposition to migration are 
initially even stronger among the emigrating 
community, so strong indeed
that they often make nativist and xenophobic 
resistance to foreigners in the receiving country 
The same is true, mutatis mutandis, for the 
United States with Mexico and the Caribbean, or 
Germany with
Turkey, Spain with Morocco, Japan with Korea, etc.
This explains why public accusations against 
emigration typically ⤦aim primarily and more 
violently at the
emigrated female population and, more precisely, 
at the bodies of women,? perceived as the 
ultimate repository and
vector of the values of the group (Sayad 1984).

Page 3
A third proposition animates Sayad⤁s tireless 
inquiries: like other key processes of group
making and unmaking, migration has for requisite 
collective dissimulation and social duplicity.
Emigration, and later immigration, operates in 
the way it does only to the extent that it
continually mystifies and misrecognizes itself 
for what it is " or, to put it more precisely, 
magical denegation (Verneinung) of the objective 
reality of migration is part and parcel of its 
objectivity, its ⤦double truth.? Thus, 
throughout the twentieth century, the French 
Algerian society, and the migrants themselves 
colluded in concocting a triple lie that allowed 
three to justify to themselves the trek of 
millions of peasants from the Maghrib to the 
that migration was provisional and transitory, 
that it was determined solely by the quest for 
(⤦I came here to work so I drown myself in 
work,? intones a Kabyle factory hand), and that 
was politically neutral and without civic 
consequence on either side of the Mediterranean 
1991: 17-18). All three of these beliefs were 
glaringly and continually disputed, if not 
refuted, by
social reality, yet none of the parties to the 
Algerian migration was willing to face that 
Emigration is never an ⤦export of raw labor 
power and nothing more? (Sayad 1999a: 20)
because, as a ⤦total social fact? in Marcel 
Mauss⤁s (1990) sense of the term, it disrupts 
the whole
array of institutions that make up the 
originating society. Conversely, at the other 
end, immigrant
workers are but exceptionally ⤦birds of 
passage,? to recall Michael Piore⤁s (1977) 
book, for they too are changed in and by 
migration: they become irrevocably distanced and 
located from their originating milieu, losing a 
place in their native circle of honor without
securing one in their new setting; they acquire 
this false and disjointed 
that is source of both succor and pain; they are 
consumed by doubt, guilt and self-accusation,
worn down by an ⤦unjust and uncertain? battle 
with their own children, these ⤦sociological
bastards? who personify the horrifying 
impossibility of the ⤦return home? (Sayad 
1988). A
retired Algerian laborer settled in a 
working-class banlieue of Paris puts it pithily:
France, I⤁m gonna tell you, is a low-life 
woman, like a whore. Without you know it, she 
you, she takes to seducing you until you⤁ve 
fallen for her and then she sucks your blood, she
makes you wait on her hand and foot. (?) She is 
a sorceress. She has taken so many men with
her? she has a way of keeping you a prisoner. 
Yes, she is a prison, a prison from which you
cannot get out, a prison for life. This is a 
curse. (?) Now I have no more reason to return 
[to my
home village in Algeria]. I have nothing left to 
do there. It no longer interests me. Everything 
changed. Things no longer have the same meaning. 
You no longer know why you are here in
France, of what use you are. There is no more 
order. (cited in Sayad 1991: 126-127, 137)
A corollary of these three analytic principles is 
that the sociology of migration must be
reflexive, turned back onto its own conditions of 
possibility and effectivity. It must include a
social history not only of the double-sided fact 
of emigration-immigration but also of the lay and
scholarly discourses that swirl about this fact 
in the two societies involved. For the collective
perception of migration, its symbolic elaboration 
and its political construction (of which social
science partakes every time it takes over the 
presuppositions of the official viewpoint) are an
integral constituent of its objective reality. 
Sayad inspects the loaded semantics that have
governed the framing of the question of North 
African entry into France since World War II,
Here the writings of Sayad evoke strongly those 
of W.E.B. DuBois. Compare, for instance, his 
discussion of the
⤦sociological doubling-up? of the emigrant, 
who ⤦bears within himself, as a product of his 
history, in the manner of
the colonized, a two-fold and contradictory 
system of references? in his brilliant essay 
⤦The Illegitimate Children?
(Sayad 1977) and DuBois⤁s (1903) classic 
analysis of the ⤦two-ness? or 
⤦double-consciousness? of African
Americans in the United States in The Souls of Black Folks.

Page 4
from ⤦adaptation? (to the requirements of 
industrial labor) and ⤦assimilation? (to the 
national culture) to ⤦insertion? and 
⤦integration? (into the social fabric and 
institutions of the
society of settlement), to reveal that discourses 
on immigration are always performative
discourses which help effect the wondrous social 
alchemy whereby a ⤦foreigner? is made into a
⤦national? (Sayad 1987 and 1994).
All this Sayad knew or discovered because he was 
more than a scholar of immigration:
he was the phenomenon itself. As a native son of 
the province of Sidi Aïch, in the Little Kabylia
mountains, who had risen to the rank of primary 
school teacher before receiving his training in
philosophy, psychology and sociology at the 
universities of Algiers and Paris during the war 
national liberation and who then became a 
Research director at the French National Center 
Scientific Research (CNRS), the brute facts of 
imperial oppression, chain migration, community
dislocation and fractured acculturation were 
constantly with him because they were within him:
they were his entrails, his eyes, his soul.
Yet he faced them with a moral intrepidity and an
intellectual deftness that astonish the reader 
who knew him, his history, and that of his people 
on both sides of the Mediterranean " and that 
cannot but impress even those who do not. For
forty-some years, Sayad was present in the field, 
in his home village of Kabylia, in the military
⤦relocation settlements? of the Ouarsenis and 
Collo regions, in the slums of Constantine and the
bazaars of Algiers, and later still in the social 
housing estates of Saint-Denis, Nanterre, and
Villeurbanne. There, he displayed all these 
personal virtues of which textbooks of methodology
say nothing but which all too often decide the 
depth and justness of ethnographic work, in
listening, observing, recording, transcribing and 
transmitting the words he elicited and
welcomed, with a sympathy devoid of pathos, a 
complicity shorn of naiveté, a comprehension
stripped of complacency and condescension. A 
frail, soft-spoken and self-effacing person, Sayad
was among this very small group of individuals 
with whom one feels genuinely at home when
introduced to a farmer from Kabylia or Béarn, or 
entering the abode of a Berber-speaking
manual worker from Sétif or the Parisian Red 
Belt. The uncommon combination of discretion
and dignity he displayed, the sensitivity and 
modesty he invested in every exchange with his
informants can be readily detected in the 
adroitness with which he accounts for their 
words, the
sensitivity with which he pries into the causes 
and the reasons behind their actions.
His active solidarity with the most dispossessed 
was the basis of an exceptional
epistemological lucidity that allowed Abdelmalek 
Sayad to dismantle a good many prefabricated
representations about immigration " such as the 
economistic problematic of its ⤦costs and
benefits,? which journalists and policy-makers 
periodically invoke, with the diligent help of
economists, so as better to mask the specifically 
political dimension and springs of the
phenomenon " and to uncover and confront 
head-on the most complex issues " such as the
orchestrated lies of collective bad faith that 
fuel migration streams or the existential roots 
of the
⤦migration malaise? that afflicts the 
immigrant worker even after he has been medically 
cured of
occupational illness
" just as he would enter an unknown household to find himself
immediately greeted with respect, trust, and 
affection. It allowed him to find the right 
words, and
the right tone, to speak of and to experiences as 
contradictory and chaotic as the social conditions
of which they were the product and to anatomize 
them by mobilizing with equal perspicacity the
intellectual resources of traditional Kabyle 
culture, rethought through ethnological works (as
Sayad describes his early intellectual and 
political experiences as well as his intellectual 
training in Arfaoui
(1996); read also Sayad (1995).
Cf., respectively, Sayad (1977, 1986, 1981a, 
1981b) and his vivisection of exile as a fall 
into social darkness in
⤦El Ghorba? (Sayad 2000, in this issue).

Page 5
with the notion of el ghorba or the opposition 
between thaymats and thaddjjaddith), and the
conceptual arsenal elaborated by the research 
team at the Centre de sociologie européenne of
which he was, from its very inception, an active and influential member.
In the hands of so skilled an analyst, the 
immigrant functions in the manner of a live,
flesh-and-blood analyzer of the most obscure 
regions of the social unconscious. Sayad 
shows us how, like Socrates according to Plato, 
the immigrant is atopos, a quaint hybrid devoid
of place, dis-placed, in the twofold sense of 
incongruous and inopportune, trapped in that
⤦mongrel? sector of social space betwixt and 
between social being and nonbeing. Neither citizen
nor foreigner, neither on the side of the Same 
nor on that of the Other, he exists only by 
in the sending community and by excess in the 
receiving society, and he generates recurrent
recrimination and ressentiment in both (Sayad 
1984 and 1988). Out-of-place in the two social
systems which define his (non)existence, the 
migrant forces us, through the obdurate social
vexation and mental embarrassment he causes, to 
rethink root and branch the question of the
legitimate foundations of citizenship and of the 
relationship between citizen, state, and nation.
For the physical and moral suffering endured by 
the e-migrant reveals to the ethnographer who
follows his slow and painful metamorphosis into 
the im-migrant everything that native (i.e.,
natal) embededness in a definite nation and state 
buries into the deepest recesses of the organism,
in a state of quasi-nature, beyond the reach of 
consciousness and ratiocination, starting with the
viscerally felt equation most societies establish 
between nationality and membership in the
citizenry. Through experiences (in the sense of 
Erlebnis) which are, for she who knows how to
dissect and decipher them, so many 
experimentations (in the sense of Erfahrung), he 
enables us
to discover those ⤦statified? (étatisés) 
minds and bodies, as Thomas Bernard calls them
(Bourdieu 1994, Sayad 1999b), which a highly 
peculiar history has endowed us with and which
all too often prevent us from recognizing and 
respecting all the manifold forms of the human
As the organic ethnologist of Algerian migration, 
the witness-analyst of the silent drama
of the mass exodus of the Berber peasants of 
Kabylia into the industrial underbelly of their
former colonial overlord, Abdelmalek Sayad gives 
us an exemplary figure of the sociologist as
⤦public scribe,? who records and broadcasts, 
with anthropological acuity and poetic grace, the
voice of those most cruelly dispossessed of it by 
the crushing weight of imperial subordination
and class domination, without ever instituting 
himself as a spokesperson, without ever using
these given words to give lessons, except lessons 
in ethnographic integrity, scientific rigor, and
civic courage.
Arfaoui, Hassan (1996) ⤦Entretien avec 
Abdelmalek Sayad.? Le monde arabe dans la 
scientifique 6 (Spring): 13-31.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1994) ⤦Rethinking the State: 
On the Genesis and Structure of the Bureaucratic 
Sociological Theory 12 (March): 1-19.
Bourdieu, Pierre and Abdelmalek Sayad (1964) Le 
Déracinement. La crise de l⤁agriculture 
en Algérie, Paris, Editions de Minuit.
DuBois, W.E.B. [1899] (1903) The Souls of Black Folks, New York, Bantam.
Gillette, Alain and Abdelmalek Sayad (1976) 
L⤁Immigration algérienne en France, Paris, 
Entente (rev. and enlarge ed. 1984).

Page 6
Massey, Douglas, Jorge Durand, Ráphael Alarcon 
(1987) Return to Aztlan: The Social Process of
International Migration from Western Mexico, 
Berkeley, University of California Press.
Mauss, Marcel [1925] (1990) The Gift: Forms and 
Function of Exchange in Archaic Societies, New 
W.W. Norton.
Piore, Michael (1977). Birds of Passage: Migrant 
Labor in Industrial Societies. Cambridge, 
University Press.
Portes, Alejandro (1999) ⤦Towards a New World: 
The Origins and Effects of Transnational 
Ethnic and Racial Studies 22- 2 (March): 463-477.
Portes, Alejandro, Luis E. Guarnizo and Patricia 
Landolt (1999) ⤦The Study of Transnationalism: 
and Promise of an Emergent Research Field.? 
Ethnic and Racial Studies 22- 2 (March): 217-237.
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1977) ⤦Les ⤗trois âges⤁ 
de l⤁émigration algérienne en France.? 
Actes de la recherche
en sciences sociales 15 (September): 59-79 (included in La Double absence).
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1978) Les Usages sociaux de la 
culture des immigrés, Paris, CIEMM.
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1981a) ⤦Le phénomène 
migratoire, une relation de domination.? 
Annuaire de
l⤁Afrique du Nord 20: 365-406 (included in La Double absence).
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1981b) ⤦Santé et équilibre 
social chez les immigrés.? Pschychologie 
médicale 13-11:
1747-1775 (included in La Double absence).
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1984) ⤦Les effets culturels 
de l⤁émigration, un enjeu de luttes 
sociales.? Annuaire de
l⤁Afrique du Nord 23: 383-397 (included in La Double absence).
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1986) ⤦Coûts et profits de 
l⤁immigration. Les présupposés politiques 
d⤁un débat
économique.? Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 61 (March): 79-82.
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1987) ⤦Les immigrés 
algériens et la nationalité française.? In 
Smain Laacher (ed.),
Questions de nationalité. Histoire et enjeux 
d⤁un code, Paris, L⤁Harmattan: 127-197 
(included in
La Double absence).
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1988) ⤦La ⤗faute⤁ de 
l⤁absence ou les effets de l⤁immigration.? 
medica 4 (July): 5-69 (included in La Double absence).
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1991) L⤁Immigration ou les 
paradoxes de l⤁altérité. Brussels: Editions
Universitaires-De Boeck.
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1994) ⤦Qu⤁est-ce que 
l⤁intégration? Pour une éthique de 
l⤁intégration.? Hommes et
migrations 1182 (December): 8-14 (included in La Double absence).
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1995) ⤦Entrevista: 
Colonialismo e migraçoes.? Mana. Estudios em 
social2-1: 155-170.
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1999a) La Double absence. Des 
illusions de l⤁émigré aux souffrances de 
Edited and with a preface by Pierre Bourdieu, Paris, Editions du Seuil.
Sayad, Abdelmalek (1999b) ⤦Immigration et 
⤗pensée d⤁Etat⤁.? Actes de la recherche 
en sciences sociales
129 (September): 5-14 (included in La Double absence).
Sayad, Abdelmalek (2000) ⤦El Ghorba: Original 
Sin and Collective Lie.? Ethnography 1-2: this 
Sayad, Abdelmalek, with Eliane Dupuy (1995) Un 
Nanterre algérien, terre de bidonvilles, Paris,
Sayad, Abdelmalek and François Fassa (1982) 
Eléments pour une sociologie de l⤁immigration, 
Institut de Science Politique, Travaux de science politique n.8.
Temime, Emile, Jean-Jacques Jordi and Abdelmalek 
Sayad (1991) Migrance. Histoire des migrations 
Marseille. Vol. IV: Le choc de la décolonisation, Aix-en-Provence, Edisud.

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