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Ethical Negotiations of an Activist Anthropologist Jean McDonald, PhD

Abstract People living with precarious status face significant risks of detention and deportation in their daily lives, and this has important implications for how research is conducted. In this chapter, I examine the ways I negotiate my multiple roles as anthropologist and migrant justice activist. What is the role and responsibility of an anthropologist working with extremely marginalized and exploitable groups of people? How is this role impacted through prior political commitments? These two questions have become central to my ongoing thinking on issues of ethics, activism and anthropology.

Post-doctoral fellow, Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON

hrough the development of my research plan and during my year of fieldwork, I encountered a number of ethical issues related to my roles as both an anthropologist as well as an activist within the spaces of migrant justice activism and service provision that I was both studying and participating in. In this paper, I address the conceptual and theoretical framework of my topic of study and outline the political campaigns and central issues that I intend to address and build upon through my research. Finally, I examine my social location in relation to my topic of research and my involvement in migrant justice activism. What is the role and responsibility of an anthropologist working with extremely marginalized and exploitable groups of people? How is this role impacted through prior political commitments? These two questions have become central to my ongoing thinking on issues of ethics, activism and anthropology. In my concluding remarks, I include a number of questions for further consideration. These questions may be useful for graduate or undergraduate students in thinking about the design of their research project, their positionality and responsibility as researchers, and the ethical issues that they may encounter within their fieldwork experiences. Migrant Illegality and Access to Services My research question examines the making and unmaking of migrant illegality and conversely, citizenship, in the everyday lives of people with precarious immigration status (often referred to as non-status, undocumented, irregular or illegal migrants) in Toronto. I approach this question through an analysis of power using a synthesis of theoretical perspectives on hegemony and governmentality and by taking up the themes of sovereignty, nationalism and racism. I address this question through an examination of processes of illegalization that arise as people with precarious forms of immigration status access or avoid community services such as shelters and housing, health care, education, police and emergency services, and food banks. These processes of illegalization are manifested in policies, codes, regulations and practices in which immigration status can impact access to public services. The Dont Ask, Dont Tell campaign, affiliated with No One Is Illegal, a local migrant justice organization, works to challenge the production of illegality in the realm of service provision

Activism, Anthropology, Migrant Justice, Ethics

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Keywords

Playing the Field Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 by working with organizations and service providers to make services more accessible to marginalized groups by removing barriers facing people with precarious immigration status. By migrant illegalization, I am referring to processes that make people illegal, processes that illegalize certain bodies in particular spaces within the globalizing nation state system. Taking migrant illegality as a process rather than as a fixed status, I ask: How is illegality, and conversely citizenship, made and unmade, through access and/or barriers to community services within the city of Toronto? Access to services is not a homogenous process, and as such I aim to examine ambivalences and contradictions through the ways in which service provision works to both include and exclude, to both make and unmake citizenship and illegality. Furthermore, because precarious immigration status is not experienced homogenously, it is necessary to develop nuanced understandings of the various ways in which multiple forms of precarious status are experienced differentially. More specifically, in my research, I examined the impact of immigration status on womens vulnerabilities to violence and abuse. Because I was working with an extremely marginalized and vulnerable population, ethical considerations were of key concern. During my year of ethnographic fieldwork, I worked as a volunteer at two local shelters for women fleeing or experiencing violence or abuse. Engagement with service provision in this way allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by front-line workers in their efforts to assist women in gaining access to health care, counseling services, housing, employment, English language classes, skillsbuilding workshops, legal representation and meeting any other needs women in the shelter may have. Although I assisted with the day-to-day operation of the shelters, I tended to assist clients who had needs specific to having precarious immigration status in Canada. Over the second half of the year I assisted with community support and outreach, focusing on advocacy for women with precarious status at an office separate from the shelter location. Over the course of this research and through subsequent analysis, a number of key issues emerged: Precarious status is produced through immigration policy the fluidity of precarious status (from refugee claimant to failed refugee claimant, from visa holder to visa overstayer, etc) results in an increased risk of abuse and violence. The threat of deportation and detention is a form of violence that impacts womens lives on a daily basis. Deportability and detainability are social determinants of health, most notably mental health. The inability to plan for the future often results in depression, hopelessness, etc for women with precarious status. Precarious immigration status increases womens vulnerability to multiple forms of abuse through a variety of relationships family, partner/domestic, landlord, employer, etc. Precarious status is a pathway to homelessness. Homelessness and abuse is often triggered/intensified by pregnancy for women with precarious status. The social isolation and marginalization imposed through forms of precarious status increases womens vulnerability to abuse and violence in multiple forms. Activism and Research My interest in issues of citizenship and processes of migrant illegalization primarily arose out of political engagement with an activist organization based in Toronto called No One Is Illegal (NOII). Interest in issues facing people in local communities began to gain political ground in Toronto, as people formerly or simultaneously involved in anti-capitalist globalization struggles

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Playing the Field Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 and anti-war and occupation movements started to turn their critical gaze back towards their own communities. This shift in interest emerged largely from internal critiques that saw connections between capitalist globalization, war and occupation (more specifically in the Middle East) and the displacements of people around the globe. Political technologies, such as secret trials, detention and deportation, that relied upon discourses of security and fear began to be questioned. In Toronto, people first began to mobilize under the banner of No One Is Illegal in opposition to a border security summit held in March 2002. The ad hoc grouping then developed into a more formal organization over the next few months and years. I provide this background because my political engagement with No One Is Illegal in Toronto has direct implications for the development of my doctoral research. My own long-standing assumptions around national citizenship and belonging were challenged as I participated in this group, helping to organize conferences, speaking events, demonstrations, information pickets and press conferences. Participation in NOII forced me to confront my own positionality as a white Canadian-born citizen and my own reasons for engaging in this work. I have done a lot of thinking over the years about my role in this particular struggle, and these thoughts continue to evolve and grow. Many of my activist colleagues would likely ask why I am politically committed to a struggle that is not my own, and that I am not directly affected by. These kinds of questions are important and raise important issues around the politics of representation and identity. Yet, I would argue that there is something fundamentally wrong with the dynamic that is set up in this political question, which assumes that I am not directly affected by processes of migrant illegalization mobilized through the regimes of citizenship in Canada and globally. Indeed, I would argue that I am directly affected by this regime of citizenship, but that the effects tend to be positive rather than negative. If the privilege of formal citizenship and national belonging as white and Canadian-born are mine based upon the exclusion, marginalization and exploitation of non-citizen others and indigenous peoples then I would like to challenge and hopefully change those regimes of citizenship. As well, these issues are not divorced from my own daily reality as they do impact people living in my neighbourhood the downtown West end of Toronto where there is a significant population of people living with precarious status, as indicated by service providers working in this area. When I refer to my whiteness, it is not to uncritically reproduce taken-for-granted racial categories, but instead to recognize the privilege of this socially constructed categorization and to acknowledge how people of colour and aboriginal people are often negatively racialized and marked as other within Canadian society. Rather than understanding whiteness as a biologically determined racial category, Frankenberg demonstrates that to be classified and accepted as white is to be conferred with a set of socio-structural and cultural advantages within society. Whiteness, like all racial categories, shifts and evolves over time and from place to place. Furthermore, whiteness tends to hegemonically function as the norm within North American society. As Mackey (2002) has argued, liberal discourses and policies of multiculturalism function to reproduce the hegemony of whiteness in the Canadian context. In her study, white Canadians understood dominant rules, laws and policies as universal norms rather than historically and politically specific to the Canadian context, which emerged through colonization of Native peoples and explicitly (until 1962) racist immigration policy. According to Dyer, whiteness has colonized the definition of normal, having come to stand for the natural, inevitable, ordinary way of being human (1997: 45). My body has been coded and classified as white and through the place of my birth (Newmarket, Ontario) I have been conferred with Canadian citizenship. These aspects of my life have provided me with certain structural advantages. On the other hand, these aspects also set me apart in significant ways from the processes of illegalization that I aim to study and from many of the people that have insight into these processes based upon their own lived experiences. In some ways, the activist work

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Playing the Field Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 that I have been involved in has allowed me to circumvent some of these boundaries marking me as a trustworthy person, and someone who will not morally (or otherwise) place judgment on someone living with precarious status. Conclusions In this chapter, I have examined some of the ethical considerations that emerged during my fieldwork with people living with precarious immigration status, and as an activist working with migrant justice organizations. Several questions emerged for me when examining the roles and responsibilities I had as an anthropologist and activist. What considerations should an anthropologist bear in mind when conducting ethnographic research with marginalized populations vulnerable to state violence? In my case, the threats of detention and deportation were the modes of state violence experienced daily by research participants. I found that extra vigilance was necessary to ensure confidentiality of participants, and to ensure they were comfortable in the setting in which we met. I also found that the confidentiality of the organizations and community spaces that I worked within was also important, in that I did not want to inadvertently supply information with immigration enforcement through research surveillance. Do anthropologists working with marginalized and highly exploited populations have a responsibility to work towards political and social change? From my perspective, I cannot imagine doing this work any other way. After getting to know the people that I worked with, becoming familiar with their life stories and everyday struggles, I felt I needed to continue to be actively involved in movements for social and migrant justice. I also found that I became an informal advocate for some of the participants in my study, and did my best to assist any of them if they called me post-interview with particular kinds of needs, whether assistance dealing with a landlord or help to find community health care. Because I came to this topic of research through my work with a migrant justice organization, I felt that I had a responsibility to develop and address questions meaningful to movements for political and social change. My social location in relation to many of the people who participated in my study is one of relative privilege and power, and in order to address this imbalance of power, I have actively taken a political position and vocal stance on issues of migrant justice in Canada, by participating in struggles for migrant justice through No One Is Illegal, and by presenting my research findings and sharing the stories of study participants through speaking engagements, journal articles, book chapters and popular media.
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Playing the Field Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009
Foucault, M. 1991a Governmentality. In The Foucault Effect. G. Burchell, C. Gordon, and P. Miller (eds.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp. 87-104. 1991b Questions of Method. In The Foucault Effect. G. Burchell, C. Gordon,and P. Miller (eds.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp. 73-86. 1988a Technologies of the Self. In Technologies of the Self. L. H. Martin, H. Gutman and P. H. Hutton (eds.). Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. Pp. 16-49. 1988b Politics and Reason. In Politics, Philosophy, Culture. L. Kritzman (ed.). New York: Routledge. Pp. 57-85. 1978 The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books. Goldberg, D. T. 2002 The Racial State. Oxford: Blackwell Books. Gordon, C. 1996 Governmental Rationality: An Introduction. In The Foucault Effect. G. Burchell, C. Gordon, and P. Miller (eds.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Pp. 87-104. Gramsci, A. 1997 [1971] Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers. Kurtz, D. V. 1996 Hegemony and Anthropology. Critique of Anthropology 16 (2): 103-35. Lowry, Michelle and Peter Nyers. 2003 No One Is Illegal Refuge 21(3): 66-74. Mackey, E. 2002 The House of Difference. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Mishra, Mohan and Faria Kamal. 2007 Regularization from the Ground Up: The Dont Ask, Dont Tell Campaign. New Socialist 61, Summer 2007. Nyers, Peter. 2003 Abject Cosmopolitanism: The Politics of Protection in the Anti-Deportation Movement Third World Quarterly 24 (5): 1069-93. Omi, M. and H. Winant. 2002 Racial Formation. In Race Critical Theories. P. Essed and D. T. Goldberg (eds.). London: Blackwell. Pp. 123-45. Sharma, Nandita. 2002 Immigrant and Migrant Workers in Canada: Labour Movements, Racism and the Expansion of Globalization. Canadian Woman Studies 21(4): 18-26. Sharma, Nandita. 2001 On being not Canadian: The social organization of Migrant Workers in Canada. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 38(4): 415-440. Tactaquin, Cathi. 1994 Illegal Immigrants are Treated Unfairly. In Illegal Immigration. W. Barbour (ed.). San Diego: Greenhaven Press. Pp. 138-144. Walters, William. 2002 Deportation, Expulsion, and the International Police of Aliens. Citizenship Studies 6(3): 265-292. Welch, Michael. 1999 The Immigration Crisis. In Immigration. S. Jonas and S. D. Thomas (eds.). Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc. Pp. 191-206. Wright, Cynthia. 2003 Moments of Emergence. Refuge 21(3): 5-16.

Jean McDonald is a SSHRC post-doctoral

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fellow at the Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition at McMaster University. Her research examines migrant illegalization within the realm of service provision in Toronto, focusing on gender violence, racism, nationalism and global capitalism. Recent publications include, Migrant Illegality, Nation-Building, and the Politics of Regularization in Canada, (2009) Refuge 26(2): 65-77, and Citizenship, Illegality and Sanctuary, (2007) in Interrogating Race and Racism, ed. by Vijay Agnew. Jean is a long-time member of No One Is Illegal.