Existing scholarship on the active citizenship of undocumented migrants is inconclusive on its perils and promises. While some scholars see it as symptomatic of the moral economy that makes legal recognition dependent on demonstrating civic deservingness, others argue that it represents a potential site of contestation against illegalisation. In this paper, we argue that we need to focus on the complex processes that drive undocumented migrants’ quest for recognition in order to understand the political ambiguities implicated in how they civically engage themselves. We use the case of CollectActif (CA), an undocumented-led anti-food waste collective in Brussels, to argue that methods of participatory action research (PAR) are better placed than ex-post analyses to show how recognition processes unfold and evolve over time. We show that recognition depends on establishing ‘equivalence’ to prevailing norms and forms of civic organisation. Hence, CA members generated solidarity and created new publics by behaving as active citizens. Yet, despite increased visibility, CA struggled to be recognised by established actors in the field as actors with equal rights to being and speaking. Based on these findings, we argue that tensions between equivalence and equality help to explain the political ambiguities of active citizenship.

Active citizenship, equality, equivalence, irregular migration, participatory action research, recognition
dx.doi.org/10.1080/1369183X.2020.1772044, hdl.handle.net/1765/128182
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Swerts, T.W.C, & Oosterlynck, S. (Stijn). (2020). In search of recognition: the political ambiguities of undocumented migrants’ active citizenship. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. doi:10.1080/1369183X.2020.1772044