Reclaiming Agency through the Politics of the In_Visible Body

Illegalized Migration and Self-Representation of Women Domestic Workers in Switzerland

1_Introduction [1]

Over the past two decades, studies on the securitization of migration have represented one of the most fertile lines of inquiry in the field of International Relations (IR). Securitization refers to the process through which a subject—here migration—is socially (re)constituted as an existential threat to a referent object—for instance the collective identity of a nation-state. [2] As such, when migration is constructed as a critical danger, the manner it is perceived and dealt with changes, giving way to a security rationality made of urgency, survival and antagonism. The literature shows that such a phenomenon is not innocuous: it is charged with power. As the securitization of migration unfolds, its agents (e.g. politicians, the media, bureaucrats, the police or the military) amass social resources and capital, while migrants—perceived as ‘menacing’—are exposed to multiple types of violence (e.g. discrimination, physical abuses, exploitation, etc.). [3] In other words: the securitization of migration leads to the insecuritization of migrants, visibilizing them as existential threats and simultaneously shaping a gaze upon them. To date, this body of scholarship has mostly focused on the agents of securitization, their discourses and their practices, that is, how migration is securitized. [4] It has, however, paid less attention to the experiences of migrants themselves in the face of securitized migration, and even less so to their agency.

This article contributes to our understanding of agency in the context of (in)securitized migration by engaging with the experiences of ‘undocumented’ women [5] domestic workers in Switzerland. Due to the securitization of their migration, these women are pushed into situations of insecurity and marginality, meanwhile their labor remains crucial to the economy. Thereby, (in)security discourses on ‘illegal migration’ make these women both visible as abstract threats to the nation-state and invisible as (exploited) workers. [6] At the same time however, these women negotiate their agency by mobilizing a politics of visibility and invisibility. It is through concealment (i.e. camouflage, spatial strategies of avoidance) that they resist police control. It is also through conscious visibilization that they resist the abjectifying gaze imposed on them—and reclaim their agency. [7] In the spirit of this journal’s special issue, the experiences of these women reveal that visibility and invisibility should not be seen as dichotomous mutually excluding notions: resistance emerges within the liminal spaces of their productive interplay.

To account for this politics of in_visibility, the article embraces an ontology focused on the body—an object that remains overlooked in IR [8]. It draws upon the feminist insight that bodies are not just individual organisms that predate politics and house a sovereign subject. [9] Contrary to this liberal understanding, bodies are here understood as social, that is, discursively inscribed, marked by power relations and connected. Conceiving the body as a site of power allows to apprehend the concrete, material and embodied effects of (in)securitization on migrants. Such a conception also lays the ground for an understanding of their agency that complexifies liberal models of autonomous agency. This article argues that crucial forms of resistance to (in)securitization take the form of embodied and often collective performances, whereby the in_visibilization of the body becomes an agential tool. This claim is substantiated by exploring how ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers do not only mobilize strategies of ‘clandestinization’ and invisibilization of their bodies as a mode of resistance to avoid repression and deportation, but equally draw upon practices of bodily display to reappropriate self-representation and challenge underlying power asymmetries. The article presents three of such practices: protesting, dancing and testifying.

The article is structured as follows. After this introduction, the second section will discuss the theoretical and methodological groundings of the article. Drawing on gaze theories and feminist ontologies centered on the body, the securitization framework will be reexamined to allow space for migrants’ experiences of insecurity and agency to be considered. To capture this, the methodological approach that will be presented is a combination of interviews and the making of an anthropological film, Elles les (in)visibles. The third section will open the analysis by explaining how (in)securitized migration, gender norms and needs for domestic labor in Swiss households intersect and produce a regime of domination that subjugates migrant women’s bodies to exploitation. Then, the fourth section shows that these bodies are not mere receptacles of power but are capable of resistance through performances of in_visibility. Finally, the last three sections will be devoted to protesting, dancing and testifying—three forms of resistance to (in)securitization that demonstrate that agency is embodied and relational.

2_Centering Migrants’ Experiences of (In)Security and Agency

It has been about 25 years since Securitization Theory (ST) was developed by Ole Wæver, Barry Buzan and their colleagues, [10] opening one of the most innovative and vibrant research agendas in IR [11]. The initial intuition behind this theoretical framework is that security should not be understood as self-explanatory or as a given (i.e. state security traditionally conceived in military terms and ‘objectively’ measurable), but as a logic that transforms the domains to which it is applied. In other words: the question should be less what security is than what security does. Indeed, speaking security is a performative act because it “carries with it a history and a set of connotations” [12] that are deeply entwined with ‘reason of state,’ war, survival and friend-enemy dichotomies. That is, naming a subject a security issue remodels this subject in that it becomes intelligible through the lenses of urgency, critical danger and extraordinary means of defense. The process through which agents successfully (re)cast a subject as an ‘existential threat’ that needs to be responded to in priority and by all necessary actions has been theorized as securitization. [13] This theoretical framework has been mobilized to account for developments in domains as diverse as the environment, cyberspace or global health. [14] Yet the domain of migration has arguably been the most fecund habitat for this framework, giving rise to an abundant literature that illuminates a large body of cases, coercive policies and technologies of exclusion and mobility control. [15] While researchers in the ST tradition have mostly concerned themselves with securitization as ‘speech acts’ (linguistic constructions formulated by politicians, the media or other authoritative voices), authors inspired by Pierre Bourdieu, such as Didier Bigo, have been more interested in practices enacted by security professionals (the police, the military, bureaucrats, etc.). [16] In either case, research has been fruitful in explaining how these elites ‘securitize’ migration and increase their power in the process.

Despite this framework being prolific, the article critiques its propensity towards elitism, that is, its excessive focus on the agents of securitization. This top-down bias has had the effect of relegating migrants’ experiences of insecurity and their agency to the margins of the literature. ‘Securitization’ has been used as a powerful albeit homogenizing narrative that explains how ‘migration’ has come to be perceived and treated as an existential menace while, however, failing to show how migrants are differentially impacted—a nuanced understanding foregrounded in intersectional feminist scholarship. [17] In this respect, it is telling that a recent overview of the literature on the securitization of migration by Jef Huysmans and Vicki Squire misses the gender dimension, [18] in spite of its centrality to the lived realities of migrants in contexts of (in)securitized migration. Certainly, scholarship that adopts migrants’ perspective and that aims to display the diversity of their experiences is more prevalent in the interdisciplinary field of migration studies. [19] Overall, integrated analyses in which top-down processes of (in)securitization are studied in conjunction with its bottom-up concrete effects on migrants, the ways it is experienced and resisted remain, however, less common. This article puts forth an understanding which connects the two analyses by drawing on gaze theories and feminist ontologies focused on the body. Envisioning securitization through the theoretical lens of the gaze and the counter-gaze allows to nuance top-down, agent-focused narratives of securitization by identifying also agency for those who are (in)securitized and resist securitization.

Indeed, it is argued that (in)securitization can be conceived as a form of gaze in that it relates to the power dynamics between the gazer and the gazed upon as theorized by Michel Foucault. [20] These relations of spectatorship tend to be asymmetrical, subject to domination and mobilized as an apparatus of control. This is clearly reflected within the notion that securitization and insecuritization are the two faces of a same coin, [21] in that when constructing migrants as existential threats, they are vizibilized and seen as a danger that needs to be controlled externally (before and around the border through policies and practices of ‘containment’), internally (within the borders via police raids, detention and deportation for example) and in society (various forms of discriminations, such as exclusion from welfare benefits), as discussed by Ayse Ceyhan and Anastassia Tsoukala [22]. These extreme forms of control over migrants are obtained through their dehumanization, [23] a process described within the scholarship on the ethics of the gaze. In this regard, Eric Kramer and Elaine Hsieh as well as Axel Honneth have shown how the act of perceiving and being perceived is central to the scopic forces which can dehumanize subjects through processes of ‘othering’ and deny agency. [24]

Based upon this understanding, visual and cultural studies inspired by Laura Mulvey conceptualized the male gaze, which produces power and pleasure for the male viewer by objectifying women who are gazed upon. This literature is helpful here as it envisions the possibility of contesting the dominant gaze. Indeed, post-Mulveyan feminist scholars such as Ella Shohat, bell hooks, E. Ann Kaplan, Catherine Russel and Iris Brey [25] have concentrated upon notions of the female gaze, spectatorship and agency to challenge the dominant gaze; they have drawn resistance from ontologies of the visual—that is, the ability to counter the power of the look. In the context of this research, while the gaze imposed upon ‘undocumented’ women migrant workers has played an important role in their (in)securitization and exploitation, it has also allowed for its manipulation. As stated by bell hooks, who theorized the oppositional gaze as a ‘site of resistance’ in the context of decolonial feminism, “even in the worst circumstances of domination, the ability to manipulate one’s gaze in the face of structures of domination that would contain it, opens up the possibility of agency.” [26] Similarly, Melissa Crum theorizes the liberatory gaze as “an act of resistance that re-humanizes the subject in the face of images and structures that attempt to marginalize, dominate, and exclude,” [27] challenging the power of spectatorship. These authors actively confront oppressive gaze regimes by finding gaps and spaces within which resistance can emerge, and as stated by hooks, this is often seen “on and through the body where agency can be found” [28]. hooks’ notion of the body as a vehicle of resistance to the gaze is particularly relevant to the case study of ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers in Switzerland, as their body stands as the main tool available to destabilize the dehumanizing securitized gaze and ultimately reclaim their agency. As this article will further explore, the counter-gaze as born from bodily practices not only speaks to the agency of these women, but equally to their ability to de-securitize [29] the visual field and context within which they are situated. In this way, we can envision agency and de-securitization through corporeal practices which allow the shift of the gaze within the realm of the in_visible, an aspect that has been neglected within securitization studies in IR.

The methodology is fundamentally reflective of the article’s theoretical groundings in that it aims to focus on the lived experiences of insecurity and agency, namely those of ‘undocumented’ women workers in Switzerland and particularly in Geneva. In alignment with this, empirical data has been collected through interviews in addition to the making of an anthropological film. Interviews are drawn from Victor Santos Rodriguez’s PhD dissertation, which delves into Switzerland’s historical relationship with migration and the political economies associated with the (in)securitization of migration. [30] While the dissertation presents a ‘structural’ analysis of how migrants have been historically exploited through their (in)securitization (see next section), it aims to tell this story from the embodied perspective of the migrants, so as not to reproduce their invisibilization in the analysis as is often the case in the abovementioned literature on the securitization of migration. This was mostly achieved through interviews. Among the fifty-seven interviews conducted between 2015 and 2020, fourteen were with current or former ‘undocumented’ migrants—seven being women domestic workers and one being the daughter of a domestic worker—from various regions of Switzerland (Geneva, Vaud, Fribourg, Bern and Zurich). The interviews espoused a semi-structured format, that is, they were structured around a set of key questions about the experience of migration in Switzerland, while leaving as much space as possible for the discretion of the interviewees. This absence of rigidity in the interview structure was useful to avoid imposing preconceived ideas and let the interlocutors represent themselves in their own accord. While there certainly existed an epistemological/ontological gap between the interviewer and the interviewees as the former has not experienced the situations of danger and extreme precarity of the latter, the interviewer’s migration background (as a child of migrants in Switzerland) has often facilitated access, communication (including in Spanish with the Latin American women domestic workers) and understanding. In addition to this, three interviews have been specifically conducted by Victor Santos Rodriguez and Maevia Griffths for the present article. [31]

The anthropological documentary film, Elles les (in)visibles (2021), was directed and produced by Maevia Griffiths for her MA thesis. [32] The film explores the political and social in_visibilities of four ‘undocumented’ women in Geneva and is accompanied by a written analysis which explores how the medium of filmmaking can be mobilized as a tool to incorporate visuality into qualitative social science research. The filmmaking process included five filmed interviews with field experts [33] and several filmed interviews with the four women protagonists over a period of six months (three to six filmed interviews per woman between December 2020 and June 2021). Through repeated interviews and participant observation, this film process enabled a deep and intimate insight into the four women’s realities of migration. Acknowledging the power asymmetries between the protagonists and the filmmaker who is a white woman with Swiss citizenship, the latter attempted to work as an ally with the women in providing them a platform to translate their lived experiences in the most faithful ways possible throughout the process of the film. It should also be noted that the presence of a camera during the interviews created an extra relationship and dynamic. While most interviews were anonymized for the safety of the participants (e.g. framed to the shoulder, out of focus, adding animation film), the women felt accountable for their claims in a stronger way than through oral testimony. This tripartite relationship between the participants, the filmmaker and the camera invariably shaped their stories and influenced what was disclosed. This film, rather than being a claim of truth and authenticity about the lived reality of these women, became a tool for them to tell their stories for the first time and to visibilize their presence within Geneva’s visual field, resisting mainstream and securitized (mis)representations of ‘undocumented’ workers.

Both authors subscribe to the epistemological notion that researchers are never ‘external’ to their environment and their object of study. In other words, research accounts for and transforms the realities it approaches. The authors are, therefore, particularly attentive to the impact of their interventions, especially since the case study involves people in positions of vulnerability. Although the aim is to bring to light the narratives of ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers, it was decided to omit or anonymize some details in order to ensure their safety. Names have been pseudonymized (indicated with an asterix*), except for Silvia Mariño-Mamani and Floreta Jashari who are no longer ‘undocumented’ in Switzerland and who decided to reveal their identity. Overall, by combining their research, the authors attempt to participate in social transformation through the analysis and visibilization of populations, experiences and practices of resistance that remain understudied and devalued. The aspiration of this research, through its process and diffusion, is to contribute to building a community which is sensitive to the condition of ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers and which works towards supporting the recognition of their work and humanity.

While, as it will be highlighted in the next section, ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers undergo multiple forms of oppression, the authors wish to avoid their victimization by showing not only the (in)securitized context they are experiencing but also their practices of resistance. These practices have mainly been studied in Geneva as both authors are located there and thus retain deep understanding of the field through their prolonged years of in situ socialization and work which provides facilitated access to the networks of concerned populations. In addition, the singularity of Geneva in the Swiss context allowed easier identification of ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers’ realities and practices. First, Geneva is an urban, globalized and economically strong canton where domestic work is in particularly high demand and thus where migrant women represent a majority of the ‘sans-papiers’ population. [34] Second, Geneva’s historical relationship with the ‘sans-papiers’ phenomenon is interesting from an analytical point of view because it shows an important evolution over the last thirty years, from denial and repression to gradual institutional acknowledgment—in contrast to most other Swiss cantons—leading to the regularization project of “Operation Papyrus” (see Section Five). This evolution has as much to do with Geneva’s political culture as with the multiple mobilizations of the ‘sans-papiers’ themselves, which are central to this article. It is important to note, however, that the Geneva case is not entirely reflective of the Swiss context as a whole, where spaces of resistance exist but are generally more limited. The next section will uncover how (in)securitized migration, gender and economic demands converge within the wider Swiss context to further understand the condition of ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers.

3_(In)Securitized Migration, Gender and Exploited Bodies: The Case of ‘Undocumented’ Women Domestic Workers in Switzerland

Switzerland is an emblematic case of securitized migration. While most studies on the securitization of migration (e.g. in France, Greece, the United Kingdom or Canada) [35] describe it as a relatively recent phenomenon, securitization in Switzerland can in fact be traced back to the early 20th century. It was at this time, within a context where the ‘issue of foreigners’ had become central in Swiss public debate, that the notion of Überfremdung emerged. Überfremdung refers to the excessive alteration of ‘national identity’ induced by foreign ‘overpopulation.’ [36] It frames, in this sense, migration as a security issue, namely as an existential threat to national identity that the state must fight in priority. This securitized conception of migration was not confined to far-right ‘extremist’ groups: it was embraced institutionally. Indeed, the notion of Überfremdung had gradually been institutionalized until it became a central criterion for the deliverance of residence/work permits in the first national immigration law of 1931. [37] This served as the guiding legislation on migration for nearly three quarters of a century before being replaced by the coercive new law on foreign nationals. [38] Historically, migration has thus been regarded through a securitized gaze in Switzerland, explaining the singular harshness of some of its policies over the last century—e.g. the comparatively restrictive access to citizenship [39] or the infamous seasonal work status that will be discussed below.

Another factor impacting the way in which migration is collectively perceived in Switzerland lies in its political system of semi-direct democracy. This voting system regularly draws Swiss citizens to the ballot box to decide on migration-related issues; no less than 42 referendums and popular initiatives on such issues took place at the federal level between 1848 and 2016. [40] These votes are preceded by campaigns whereby political posters are displayed widely in public space (streets, bus stops, train stations, etc.). Swiss political poster culture is significant as these visual productions contribute to the normalization of certain ‘regimes of truth’ [41]. Over the years, migrant bodies have been staged in political posters as abusers of social benefits, thieves, rapists, terrorists or the radical ‘others’ wearing the burka. [42] Migrants were even depicted as a black sheep in a poster [43] expansively advertised in Swiss public space by the first political party in the country, the Swiss People’s Party (SPP), in 2007; the poster was designed to support the initiative “against criminal foreigners” and features a white sheep kicking out a black sheep from the Swiss territory for “more security,” exemplifying how the securitization of migration operates visually and on an explicitly racial basis. These recurrent practices of representation are constitutive of Switzerland’s visual field and reproduce frames through which migration is seen as hostile to the nation-state.

This long-standing securitization of migration has not, however, meant the interruption of migration flows. Switzerland is a country of immigration: its migratory balance is largely positive as for the last century and a half (overall), and today its permanent resident population comprises around 30% of immigrants and one quarter foreign nationals [44] (placing it among the top OECD countries on these two accounts [45]) [46]. In fact, Switzerland’s dynamic economy and the major workforce that it requires have traditionally led the authorities to pursue a series of pro-migratory policies. [47] In other words, liberalization of migration has historically coexisted with its securitization. Studying Switzerland’s historical relationship with migration, Santos Rodriguez’s PhD dissertation [48] shows that securitization and liberalization of migratory movements have not been opposed phenomena as it is often assumed in the literature [49]. Rather, they have been logics of power relying on each other in ambiguous ways to attract masses of migrant workers while generating their insecurity for the economy’s benefit. Ambivalently seen as both threatening to Swiss identity and indispensable to the economy, migrants have been welcomed with ‘closed arms’: they have been dehumanized, that is, dispossessed of their fundamental rights and reduced to their productive body.

The most vivid expression of these dehumanizing dialectics was the seasonal work status, the so-called “A permit.” The national immigration law of 1931 provided the legal basis for this status, which was only eliminated in 2002. From 1948 to 2002, Switzerland issued some seven million “A permits” [50] to nourish the labor-intensive and low value-added sectors of the economy (notably construction, hotel and restaurant industry and agriculture). Recruited from Italy, then Spain, subsequently Yugoslavia or Portugal, seasonal workers were insecuritized by the many coercive structures attached to their status, among others: humiliating entry controls on their bodies, strict interdiction of family reunification, prohibiting of employment, sector and canton mobility, inability to sign a rental lease in their name, discrimination in matters of tax and social security as well as obligation to leave the country during ‘seasonal breaks’ without guarantee of return the following season. [51] “A permit” holders only existed through their ‘labor-body’: productive yet invisible, desocialized from the host society because not meant to stay. The insecurities induced by the seasonal status—in particular the permanent fear that the contract would not be renewed—placed these workers in a position of extreme vulnerability with respect to their employer and exposed them to a myriad of labor abuses. In this sense, it can be stated that the (in)securitization of migration fulfilled an economic function by shaping a fragile and thus (self-)disciplined workforce.

From the 1990s onwards, this migratory regime of exploitation mutated. Switzerland sought to modernize and specialize its economy. For this purpose, it officially focused its foreign labor recruitment on ‘qualified workers,’ which eventually translated into the elimination of the seasonal work status in favor of the Free Movement of Persons with the European Union. Switzerland’s increased openness to Europe was based on—and legitimized through—the exclusion of extra-European and ‘low-skilled’ immigration: the new ‘threatening’ migrants would not come from Southern Europe but from countries of the Global South that are ‘culturally distant.’ [52] Thereby, their migration has been illegalized and criminalized while the Swiss economy has attracted and recruited them to do the ‘dirty jobs’—those once occupied by seasonal workers as well as those in the care economy due to Swiss households’ growing outsourcing of care work. [53] A new political economy of (in)securitized migration has emerged from the gap between economic needs and the absence of residence/work permits to meet them. This structural ambivalence explains why the ‘sans-papiers’ (‘undocumented’ migrant workers) phenomenon has exploded since the 1990s in Switzerland. Estimates are difficult to make and diverge, [54] but most specialists concur to say that there are around 100,000 ‘sans-papiers’ today [55]. ‘Undocumented’ migrant workers are by no means a Swiss phenomenon, but their prospects for regularization have been extremely limited in the Alpine country. Contrary to other European countries that have implemented programs of collective regularization, Swiss authorities have never considered such a solution. [56]

While exploitation operated through a precarious and coercive status in the past (“A permit”), it is nowadays obtained through the absence of legal status. Illegality is a powerful vector of insecuritization. ‘Undocumented’ migrant workers are tolerated in Switzerland as a population that is vital to the economy, but they are always individually exposed to police and legal repression. This ambiguous context means that they live under the permanent insecurity and threat of being arrested, incarcerated and deported; this is particularly significant for racialized bodies that are read as potential threats in public spaces and thus more likely to be checked by the police. Anita* (protagonist in Elles les (in)visibles), a single mother from Brazil who arrived in Switzerland in 2013 with her four children, expresses how this insecurity impacted their lives on a daily basis:

I started to get really scared, I started to panic. I didn’t leave the house anymore, because I thought the police were watching me. […] The fear of being arrested one day, they say you have to leave, that the police will come to our house and they will send us back to Brazil some way or another. I don’t know, these things are always on our minds.

This sense of ‘deportability’ as conceptualized by Nicholas De Genova [57] has (self-)disciplining effects and produces asymmetrical power relations between employers and ‘undocumented’ migrant workers. Domination is internalized: fear of losing their job and being deported, even when the threat is not explicitly verbalized by the employer, pushes them to accept exploitative working conditions: low wages, long working hours, unpaid overtime, deprivation of rest, disregard for basic safety rules, enduring various iterations of violence. Vulnerabilized by her ‘undocumented’ condition, Anita* recounts experiencing work until exhaustion for a miserable wage: “I slept almost only two hours a night, without a single day off, from Monday to Monday. It’s not easy, and all this to earn eight francs an hour—sometimes six francs—because you don’t have a paper. […] I didn’t miss a single day of work, even when I was a little sick.”

This migratory regime of exploitation is highly gendered. [58] In Switzerland, the sector which employs the most ‘undocumented’ migrant workers is domestic work, and this work is mostly done by women who come for the most part from Latin America or the Philippines for instance. [59] Women are overrepresented in this sector due to gendered essentialization of women as ‘caretakers’ and ‘mothers.’ As explained by authors such as Grace Chang, Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez and Ayşe Akalin in the literature on gendered care economies, [60] domestic work creates specific vulnerabilities by virtue of being carried out in the private sphere. Indeed, work done by women at home has traditionally been seen as ‘unproductive’ and is thus devalued. [61] “Domestic work is not considered as real work,” deplores Silvia Mariño-Mamani (interviewed on 10/31/2018), a former ‘sans-papiers’ from Bolivia who arrived in Switzerland in 1996 at the age of 19, full of hope for her future, but not speaking a word of French and with only 50 dollars in her pocket. This devalorization translates into incomplete legal and union protection, [62] which places ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers in a uniquely fragile situation at work. Their fragility is also spatially structured: working in the domestic sphere forces them to face their employer(s) alone, [63] with no witnesses to potential abuse, and excludes them from in situ solidarity from colleagues in ways that ‘undocumented’ men construction workers would have for example. Their isolation is worsened when they carry out their work cama adentro, that is, living and working in their employer’s home. This was the case for Mercedes* (interviewed on 03/26/2020), a Dominican domestic worker who arrived in Zurich in 1997 and who is still ‘undocumented’ today. She describes her experience cama adentro in those words: “I felt like a prisoner, I was a slave […] a hell without rest, without escape.” As articulated by Erin Hatton, unique conditions of vulnerability are produced when social, legal and spatial mechanisms of invisibilization converge. [64] These considerations demonstrate how the (in)securitization of migration is not gender neutral, a point which has not always been made explicit in the literature presented on securitized migration in the previous section.

Theoretically, the elements underlined in this section uncover the ways in which bodies are social and political. Bodies can be seen as a surface on which ‘regimes of truth’ are inscribed through visual artifacts that mobilize the body as a narrative tool (such as political posters) and through bodily techniques of (in)securitization (such as police control). Bodies can also be seen as a material site where domination operates (labor exploitation) and—as explored below—where forms of resistance appear. While this section has shown how ‘undocumented’ women are structurally made visible as ‘threats’ and invisibilized as workers through intersecting forms of domination, in_visibility is used, in the next section, as a lens to approach their embodied agency.

4_Embodied Agency and the Politics of In_Visibility

‘Undocumented’ women domestic workers do not merely stand at the receiving end of multiple oppressions but agentially position their bodies within the politics of in_visibility. The upcoming sections engage with the ways in which these women navigate the liminal spaces between the realms of the visible and the invisible—the grey zone [65]—to enact their own agency.

Contemporary understandings of agency are commonly framed through liberal rationality of individualist free choice and ability to act. [66] These conceptions of agency, developed from a privileged point of view (i.e. white male upper class), function as a benchmark detached from social and intersectional contexts. This disembodied understanding of agency—which posits individuals as equally agential within a system—is devoid of a fundamental recognition of structures of power and control, which disenfranchise along lines of class, race and gender. Such an interpretation cannot conceive of resistance, as resistance itself can only exist in relation to forces to be dismantled. Moreover, assuming unobstructed access to the public sphere for free agents, this clear-cut reading of agency as only situated within the visible refutes nuanced comprehensions of agency as fluidly situated within the spectrum of in_visibilities. Thus the prospects of agency within these liminal spaces are ultimately denied, impeding our understanding of how women enact their agency within the realm of the in_visible. Similarly, the securitization framework itself, as presented in Section Two, conveys a conception of agency that can only operate within the realm of the visible, that is, through powerful agents whose ‘speech acts’ and practices ‘securitize’ migration.

In contrast, agency is here understood through feminist theories as socially embedded and embodied, produced and performed through intersectional and relational dynamics, acknowledging the relationship between social stigmas and migrant women’s bodies, as imbued within society and politics. [67] In this way, agency is crucially conceived as a form of resistance, whereby it exists precisely in relation to a socially structuring ‘matrix of domination,’ that is, as developed by Patricia Hill Collins, dynamics of subordination that intersect and produce unique, personal experiences of oppression. [68] Forms of corporeal resistance, through concealment and display, draw upon the politics of in_visibilities and enable agency to be claimed, outside of the liberal model.

Indeed, it is apparent that the ways ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers practice and perform agency is incarnated in the political body. The simple fact of being, staying and working where their presence is unwanted, excluded and illegalized already stands as a fundamental form of bodily resistance. Even motherhood, in a context where only the ‘labor-body’ is valued, becomes subversive. Most ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers are simultaneously mothers who care for their children from afar and/or in their country of immigration, having to handle the ‘double burden’ of being concomitantly a worker and a mother in such an insecuritized context. Anita* navigates that exact situation, anchoring her presence in Geneva as dually resistive through her precarious night job as an ‘undocumented’ caretaker for elderly clients while still looking after her own children. She explains:

My children were at school, but as I was working during the night, they stayed at home alone. For me it was not easy to leave my three children at home alone while I worked through the night. In the morning I needed to come home to see them and take them to school, then to the after-school care as well, and in the evening, and I went back to work.

Here, the corporeality of resistance is distinct when these women ‘sacrifice’ their bodies through multiple forms of labor to offer new life opportunities to their families, thus highlighting the underlying resistance potential of these corporeal manifestations.

To resist power, their agency is not only embodied but it also tends to operate through the politics of the in_visible. These women can choose to conceal their bodies, which is manifest when they embrace camouflage techniques such as wearing ‘Swiss’ clothes and adopting ‘Swiss’ gestures and body language. It is also evident when they mobilize spatial practices of avoidance in order to protect themselves from dangerous ‘hotspots’ and public spaces where police could be present, such as borderlands or bus and train stations. Silvia speaks about how she had to learn to navigate her situation of illegality through these strategies of invisibilization:

With time, we understand that we are here illegally, that we have to be careful with the police, that we can be expelled, that there are places to avoid. As far as clothing is concerned, we try to do as the Swiss do, we try to have the same style as them. We had to be careful not to wear external signs that could betray us.

The way these women mold, disguise, hide and locate their bodies all stand as methods to resist the existing (in)securitization of their migration.

While camouflage and spatial practices of avoidance relate to the invisibilization of the body, protesting, dancing and testifying pertain to its visibilization—although, as it will be uncovered below, these various strategies show how the visible and the invisible are never mutually exclusive, they merge in fluid and complex ways, highlighting the permeability of the spectrum of in_visibilities. In addition to the ambiguous shift between the invisible and the visible, these three practices of bodily display mark the transition from rather individual to collective and relational expressions of agency. These practices can be seen as mobilizations following Judith Butler’s theorization, that is, as sites where political signifiers of resistance through collective performativity exceed words. [69] In this way, agency is crystalized through what Butler calls “plural and embodied performativity,” [70] which ‘speaks’ through its visual collective incarnation. “Showing up, standing, breathing, moving, standing still, speech, and silence are all aspects of a sudden assembly, an unforeseen form of political performativity that puts livable life at the forefront of politics,” discusses Butler. [71] This conception is helpful to understand how ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers’ appearance within Switzerland’s visual field through embodied performances of agency resist and confront the production of (in)securitized epistemologies of representation, creating a counter-gaze.

Drawing back on the present article’s theoretical understanding of the gaze and how it can be opposed, forms of counter-gaze propose new ways of resisting power asymmetries and domination through re-humanizing and embodied strategies of self-representation. When taking up public spaces through instances of embodied plural performativity—making their presence and realities visible—‘undocumented’ women domestic workers politicize Switzerland’s visual field and thus destabilize the securitized gaze imposed upon them. In other words, the embodied practices explored in the next sections—protesting, dancing and testifying—foster agency, not only through collective form, but also through the capacity to induce spectatorship upon bodily incarnation, shifting the abjectifying gaze through the conscious mobilization of social and political signifiers of in_visibilities.


In Switzerland, “Operation Papyrus” is an emblematic example of the power of collective embodied mobilizations and protests for the rights of ‘undocumented’ populations in the face of insecuritized migration. Papyrus was a regularization initiative that primarily targeted ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers. The initiative took place in the canton of Geneva from February 2017 to December 2018 and is expected to deliver residence/work permits to around 3000 people (some files are still under review). [72] Papyrus was not a program of collective regularization: it was based on an existing mechanism in the national law on foreign nationals that allows the submission of a regularization application for cas de rigueur, that is, for individual cases of extreme gravity. [73] While the assessment of compliance with the criteria is normally left to the discretion of the authorities, the innovative aspect of Papyrus was that it established clear criteria that introduced a fundamental element of predictability for applicants. This predictability—namely, the ability to know in advance if the application would be accepted—was essential for ‘sans-papiers’; they would have been compelled to leave the country in the case of rejection. Certainly, Papyrus did not constitute a paradigmatic shift: the initiative was time-bound and Geneva-specific, excluded refused asylum seekers and the criteria were very hard to meet, in such a way that the majority of ‘sans-papiers’ (13,000 estimated in the canton) [74] did not qualify. Papyrus remains, however, a remarkable occurrence in the very securitized migration landscape of Switzerland, [75] which begs the following question: how was it made possible?

When the ‘sans-papiers’ phenomenon gained in amplitude between the nineties and the beginning of the two thousands, it was approached through a repressive lens in the canton. Juana* (interviewed on 03/25/2020), former ‘sans-papiers’ from Bolivia, arrived in Geneva in 1999, recalls this period: “I know of people who were checked and sent straight back to Bolivia. I know of someone who was coming out of work, was checked, had to get in the van, was taken to the police station for identification and then was directly sent back.” Today, although the situation remains precarious and dangerous, crackdowns on ‘sans-papiers’ are no longer a priority for the canton’s police, and Geneva is by far the Swiss canton where the most ‘sans-papiers’ have been regularized, including before Papyrus. [76] If the issue has come to be perceived differently, this is due to the mobilization of the ‘sans-papiers’ themselves, in alliance with associations and trade unions. As Silvia puts it:

Papyrus is the result of a long term work carried out since 2001 on the ground, with symbolic acts and specific campaigns. […] It is true that it is politicians who then took the cause to Bern. […] But it was us who constantly put the pressure on. Our grassroots mobilization helped change the way people look at undocumented migrants, which then made political action possible.

About twenty years ago, Silvia was one of those ‘sans-papiers’ who mobilized. She was active in the “Collective of Workers Without Legal Status” (CTTSL by its French acronym) and, in particular, its women group composed of domestic workers who shared the same intersectional challenges. By meeting regularly, these women came to realize that their situation was shared; this realization was empowering because it neutralized the “individualizing morality”—to borrow Butler’s words [77]—that was making them believe that they were alone in the responsibility of their fate. This sense of shared experiences gave them the courage to step out of the shadows and become publicly visible to advance their cause collectively. Their resistance took multiple forms (e.g. information sharing, advocacy work, training, etc.), but one of the most significant practices was the reappropriation of public space through protest. As we can see in Fig. 1 below, in which members of the CTTSL gather for their rights, they came out of the shadows and did not intend to ever go back (“On est sorti-e-s de l’ombre et on n’y retournera plus jamais”). While these words strongly resonate in a context where these women are often unheard, the ways in which they mobilize their bodies collectively, as an embodied plural performance, goes beyond their vocalized demands. It is through this collective embodiment of their claims in the public space that they visibilize their condition. It is by putting their bodies “on the line” [78]—namely in danger of deportation—that they rehumanize their presence. This threat of being deported is itself collectively mitigated by engaging with the grey zone: they are visible but anonymized through the crowd (and, as seen on Fig. 1 below, through strategies of camouflage, such as the red caps and sunglasses).

people protesting
Fig. 1: Picture issued from CTTSL’s 2004 activity report © CTTSL

Their bodies ‘speak’ in ways that reclaim their humanity within the existing securitized visual field. The securitization of migration has amalgamated migration with illegality, abuse, crime and even terrorism; this amalgamation has been encapsulated in the threatening figures of the ‘Clandestin’ or the ‘Illégal’ [79]. The collective embodied assembly has offered an alternative to this securitized gaze, that is, a counter-gaze. Indeed, giving a face to the ‘illegal immigrants’ demystified them or, in more theoretical terms, has worked towards the de-securitization of migration. Back then, Silvia and the collective CTTSL elucidated the raison d’être of their mobilization in this same light:

Well, we want to respond to those people who criminalize us, who use the fear of foreigners to justify a xenophobic policy and to dictate unjust laws aimed, according to them, at protecting Switzerland and the indigenous people of this country. Protect them from what? From the hands that clean the offices, the houses? From the arms that carry your children? From the voices that break the solitude of your grandparents? […] Yes, we are foreigners. But […] we are not dangerous. [80]

Overall, it becomes clear that these ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers have exercised embodied agency in shaping a de-securitized gaze that rendered “Operation Papyrus” possible.


This section looks at folkloric dance shows as collective embodied performances of agency, exemplary of the ways in which liminal zones of in_visibilities are used to reappropriate self-representation through cultural expression in a context of insecuritized migration. While folkloric dance is commonly practiced by ‘undocumented’ migrants from diverse origins and in many other cantons, [81] this section focuses on the Bolivian community in Geneva. The Bolivians of Geneva have been particularly impacted by ‘undocumented’ status and are, for an important part, women who found work in the care economy since the 1990s. [82] Over the years, this community has organized numerous events on stage or in the street, in which dance takes on a central role. These dance events are unifying and bring people together as a whole: Bolivians, people from other origins as well as Swiss nationals all gather, merging those with legal status or Swiss citizenship with those who remain ‘undocumented,’ such as ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers who occupy those spaces in large numbers. Preparation for these events requires regular rehearsals where people do not only talk about dance. Groups that form around dance respond to a whole series of needs and tend to morph into solidarity networks in which mental support, mutual financial help, job opportunities or cleaning advice for domestic work can be found, as revealed by Guillermo Montano (interviewed on 12/28/2021), an active member of the association Bolivia-9, working for the integration of Bolivians residing in Geneva.

For ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers, dance performances allow them to visibilize their bodies by literally placing themselves in the spotlight. These moments contrast with their everyday lives as ‘undocumented’ living in forced conditions of clandestinity, hidden, invisible. Guillermo has participated in the organization of such events for over a decade and discusses the importance of such performances. He states: “Dance liberates them from their everyday condition: life without breathing. Dance moments are moments of breathing, moments of visibility, dignity and pride.” Indeed, as discussed by Butler (see Section Four), breathing as a form of “political performativity” which places “livable life at the forefront of politics” [83] renders essential bodily functions as a powerful vehicle for resistance. The idea that dance permits resistance through bodily visibilization needs, however, to be unpacked. As depicted in Fig. 2 below, a key component of these dance events is the wearing of traditional masks and costumes. “These masks hide the face, but at the same time, they reveal—like the costumes—other things,” says Guillermo before referring to the Zapatistas’ statement: “To make ourselves visible, we had to put on the balaclava.” Indeed, wearing a mask and costume allows dancers in the spotlight to hide parts of their everyday ‘undocumented’ realities while nonetheless “revealing aspirations, for example aspirations of respect,” insists Guillermo. Agentially shifting from their situation of clandestinity into one of being an artist on stage becomes a fundamental form of resistance to their condition. Guillermo explains: “‘undocumented’ immigrants are vulnerable at the tram stop in Cornavin, but they will feel safe on stage. This visibility as artists protects them. The visibility of the stage protects them. The public protects them. It’s a safe space.” The collective aspect of these disguised performances also plays a role in providing a platform for ‘undocumented’ workers to blend in amongst people with legal status, allowing to draw upon the power of anonymization—similarly to the crowds during protests (see Fig. 3 below).

bolivian folk dancers
Fig. 2: Bolivian folkloric dance in Geneva with masks (Eduardo Herrera, 2013 Fiesta de la unidad) © Eduardo Herrera
bolivian folk dancers
Fig. 3: Collective Bolivian folkloric dance in Geneva (Eduardo Herrera, 2013 Fiesta de la unidad) © Eduardo Herrera

Here, dance places itself at the intersection of those ambiguous lines of in_visibilities where hiding and revealing are used in synchronicity as “moments of control” (in Guillermo’s words) over self-representation towards an audience. During performances, dancers can ‘show’ their bodies in a controlled manner; through choreographies, chosen clothing, setting, etc.—they are in charge of the image created of themselves reflected to the audience. Guillermo points to the intersubjectivity of dance: “Without an audience, the interest in dance disappears, the notion of performance disappears.” As for other members of the community, “being in the audience is therefore an essential way to participate in dance, it is a way to complete the dance.” Talking about the importance of dance for the Kosovan community, which is pejoratively stereotyped in public discourse [84] and also highly impacted by the ‘sans-papiers’ phenomenon, Floreta Yashadi (interviewed on 11/22/2021), former ‘sans-papiers’ from Kosovo who arrived in Geneva in 2009, highlights how dance events are a way to “share my culture with Swiss friends who do not know much about Albanian culture.” In other words, this form of spectatorship created through performance retains the potential to challenge the securitized gaze imposed upon ‘undocumented’ migrant bodies, shifting the threatening spectacle, or specter, into one of humanized collective cultural expression.


This last section shows how filmmaking served as a medium for four ‘undocumented’ women working in the care economy in Geneva to tell their stories for the very first time, mobilizing the space between the visible and the invisible to create a counter-gaze to their (in)securitized migration. Indeed, from December 2020 to June 2021, these women participated in the making of an ethnographic documentary film, Elles les (in)visibles, directed by Maevia Griffiths. Filmmaking stands as a unique medium to make sense of embodied relational agency as it is able to capture what text and still images cannot convey alone. Through a combination of visuals and stories, it can propel the audience into the depth of these women’s lived realities, encapsulating emotional, relational as well as material aspects of their experiences. This does not imply that filmmaking allows ‘absolute reality’ to be seen: rather, what is shown is necessarily framed and intertwined with subjectivities and power relations, which David MacDougal points out when he writes that “filmmaking is a way of looking.” [85] By rendering visible these (unseen) realities, the filmmaker in alliance with these women are able to challenge dominant representations about ‘illegal migrants,’ that is, to agentially shape a counter-gaze. Herein, this is discussed through the three methodological phases of the filmmaking process.

The first stage of the documentary involved hours of filmed interviews with the four women independently. Testifying as an ‘undocumented’ person on camera plays an important role in the reappropriation of their own self-representation. Similar to the process of dance, they place their bodies and, in this case, their personal stories on the forefront of the stage—on the screen. When speaking directly to an audience, it creates a relationship of spectatorship. Conscious about the presence and power of the camera, the women were able to address the audience, the people and society within which they wish to be integrated, directly and in awareness of the ways in which this might reshape the securitized gaze. [86] This practice of reappropriation of self-representation through testimonies is, however, not carried out through complete visibility. These women engage with the ambiguities of the in_visible, as three of them appear on screen anonymously to avoid any legal repercussions (arrest, deportation, etc.). Here, agentive resistance becomes tangible through their capacity to navigate the grey zone by allowing the audience to intimately connect to their life stories through their incarnated testimonies, while concealing their face, hence their identity. Their embodied agency translates through the visibilization of other parts of their body; the camera films the back of their heads, details of their hair, feet and hands, etc., transcribing their body language visually. Testimony is thus anchored to the actual corporeal body which speaks for itself without the need of facial expression. This concealed-visibility has in fact become the poster of the film (see Fig. 4 below), based upon an interview screenshot carried out with backlighting which brings a strong shadow over half of the woman’s face making her unrecognizable.

Poster of Elles les (in)visibles
Fig. 4: Poster of Elles les (in)visibles © Maevia Griffiths

In an attempt to position agency within their testimonies, the methodology of the documentary enabled the women to retain power in self-representation. This process was implemented through an intimate screening of the film among the four women and the filmmaker before the final post-production editing stage. During that showing, the women met each other for the first time. This part of the process was filmed and integrated within the last minute of the film (see video clip below). In this instance, they were able to gaze upon their own stories, look at their own presence on screen and become the audience of their own experiences. After watching the film, they all felt they related to each other’s stories—they were less alone, connected in their experiences. As hooks writes, “there is power in looking,” [87] which here emerges as a collective power of interrelationality. By comparing and showing empathy for each other’s stories, they were able to consider their life paths as a form of collective experience and made sense of their own journeys. [88] They all laughed, cried and expressed different emotions. Flor*, who came from Peru in 2019, without children, and who experienced the hardships of working cama adentro, said for instance to Anita*: “Ah it’s you there? Oh you’ve been through all this and with kids too? Bravo!” This collective screening made them feel less isolated in their condition. Flor* confessed: “Yes it makes me realize that we are so many that have a similar story, going through the same difficulties.” This shows the potential of filmmaking in acting as a powerful force to bring the different testimonies together: it is through the visual assemblage of these stories that the protagonists as well as the audience of the film can witness the strength of their collective voices. Anita* has often stated how the active process of recollecting her life path for the purposes of this film was a painful but necessary process to come to terms with her condition, allowing her to better understand where she stands and how to cope. As she articulates in the voiceover of the video clip: “Telling my story is beautiful. Living is not easy but well… Imagine how many people have lived the same thing as me.” Thereby, she illustrates how the process of telling her story, rethinking the challenges and remembering difficulties is a crucial step to reappropriating her narrative and uncovering the agentive strength within herself as an individual, which then resonates collectively as a form of resistance.

Video Clip of Elles les (in)visibles © Maevia Griffiths

On June 27th 2021, over 100 people watched the premiere of Elles les (in)visibles in Geneva. During this last phase of the methodology, the women spectated their own visual presence and stories on screen, in front of an audience. After the screening, the four women unexpectedly decided to come on stage to participate in the Q&A. In this moment, embodied agency as a form of collective resistance became palpable. Indeed, not only did these four women make the choice of visibilizing their stories through a film, but they all agentially visibilized their bodies in front of a crowd who bared witness to their personal testimonies for 64 minutes, with the threat of legal repercussions this could have entailed (see Fig. 5 below). In this way, the gaze became a two-way relationship where the subject looked back to the spectators. “When gazing at another person who looks back, we feel a mutual recognition of life,” write Eric Kramer and Elaine Hsieh. [89] Physically facing the embodiment of the women’s stories, the audience could not escape the profound insight into their realities, which made it question the preconceived securitized images of ‘undocumented’ migrants. Embodied testimonies through film thus enabled the collective voices of these ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers to agentially position their body within the in_visible as a form of resistance.

film screening of Elles les (in)visibles
Fig. 5: Screening of Elles les (in)visibles in Geneva with the four women (2021) © Maevia Griffiths


This article has deepened our understanding of agency in the context of (in)securitized migration by engaging with the experiences of ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers in Switzerland. Drawing upon gaze theories and feminist ontologies of the body, the article contributed to the literature on the securitization of migration by centering migrants’ experiences and agency to the securitization framework—a perspective that has been obscured by the framework’s propensity to focus on the elite agents who ‘securitize’ migration rather than on those who experience insecurity and resist it. When bringing forth the incarnated experiences of (in)securitized migration, it becomes clear that ‘undocumented’ women’s condition must be considered at the intersection of illegalized migration, gender norms and the demand for domestic labor in Swiss households, producing a regime of exploitation over their bodies. It is by shifting from an elite-focused and disincarnated conception of agency to a socially embedded and embodied one that we witness the depth of their agential practices. In this understanding, the same bodies which are subjected to domination become agential tools of resistance enacted through a politics of in_visibilities. Strategies of invisibilization, such as camouflage or spatial practices of avoidance, allow these women—permanently at risk of deportation—to ensure the continuity of their presence. Simultaneously, these women reappropriate self-representation by visibilizing their embodied presence within Switzerland’s visual field, creating a counter-gaze to their (in)securitization. This was manifest in the three cases of embodied plural performances studied in Geneva. While protesting, dancing and testifying illustrate how practices of bodily display can be used as collective rehumanizing tools, they also show how this mobilized visibility remains constrained by women’s (in)securitized conditions. Their agency becomes apparent in their ability to navigate this fine line, that is, the ways in which they creatively engage with the liminal spaces between the visible and the invisible to visually and politically inscribe their incarnated existence, overall destabilizing the securitized gaze.

_How to Cite

Maevia Griffiths and Victor Santos Rodriguez. “Reclaiming Agency through the Politics of the In_Visible Body: Illegalized Migration and Self-Representation of Women Domestic Workers in Switzerland.” On_Culture: The Open Journal for the Study of Culture 13 (2022). <>.

CC-BY 4.0


  • [1] For valuable comments on earlier drafts of this paper, we are grateful to Jana Tiborra, Katharina Wolf, Samuel Poirier, Shawna Vesco and two anonymous reviewers. We also would like to express our deepest gratitude to Guillermo Montano, Silvia Mariño-Mamani, Floreta Jashari, Fabrice Roman, Yann Matousek, Anita*, Mercedes*, Juana*, Flor* and all those whose testimonies made this contribution possible.
  • [2] Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver and Jaap De Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (London & Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998), 21–47.
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  • [4] See next section (notes 15 & 16).
  • [5] While the authors’ understanding of the term ‘women’ is not confined to the women/men binary, this research uses the categories of ‘women’ and ‘men’ as all the participants identify as ‘women’ and are socially seen/treated as such.
  • [6] Of course, it is not to claim that they are threats, it is that they are constructed as such. Similarly, they are not invisible, but socially marginalized and disregarded.
  • [7] The term “reclaiming” is used to highlight the ways in which acts of resistance enable the reclamation of agency once removed, or perceived to be removed.
  • [8] Rosemary Shinko, “Theorizing the Body in IR,” in Research Methods in Critical Security Studies, eds. Mark Salter and Can Mutlu (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 162–164, here: 162; Lauren Wilcox, Bodies of Violence: Theorizing Embodied Subjects in International Relations (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 1–16.
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  • [17] See for example Tanya Golash-Boza, Maria Duenas and Chia Xiong, “White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and Global Capitalism in Migration Studies,” American Behavioral Scientist 63, no. 13 (2019): 1741–1759. Doi: <10.1177/0002764219842624>.
  • [18] Jef Huysmans and Vicki Squire, “Migration and Security,” in The Routledge Handbook of Security Studies, eds. Myriam Dunn and Thierry Balzacq (London: Routledge, 2017), 161–171.
  • [19] See for example Anna Triandafyllidou, ed., Routledge Handbook of Immigration and Refugee Studies (London: Routledge, 2015).
  • [20] Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir(Paris: Gallimard, 1975).
  • [21] Jef Huysmans, The Politics of Insecurity: Fear, Migration and Asylum in the EU(London et al.: Routledge, 2006), 61.
  • [22] Ceyhan and Tsoukala, The Securitization.
  • [23] Victor Santos Rodriguez, Gouvernement par la peur, insécurisation lucrative: une histoire de la Suisse moderne depuis les marges immigrées (Geneva, PhD thesis, IHEID, 2020).
  • [24] Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996); Eric Kramer and Elaine Hsieh, “Gaze as Embodied Ethics: Homelessness, the Other, and Humanity,” in Communicating for Social Change: Meaning, Power, and Resistance, eds. Mohan Jyoti Dutta and Dazzelyn Baltazar Zapata (Singapore: Springer, 2019), 33–62.
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  • [26] hooks, Black Looks, 116.
  • [27] Melissa Crum, “Reasserting Humanity through the Liberatory Gaze,” Journal of Social Theory in Art Education 32, no.1 (2012): 56–69, here: 61.
  • [28] hooks, Black Looks, 116.
  • [29] The de-securitization of migration occurs when migration is taken out of (in)security realms, that is, when it is no longer understood and treated as an existential threat.
  • [30] Santos Rodriguez, Insécurisation lucrative.
  • [31] Guillermo Montano (12/28/2021, see Section Six), Floreta Jashari (11/22/2021, see Section Six), as well as social workers Fabrice Roman and Yann Matousek (11/18/2021, for background information).
  • [32] Maevia Griffiths, Bridging the Visual and Social Science Research Gap through Film: A Visual Insight into the Stories of Four ‘Undocumented’ Women in Geneva (Geneva, Master’s thesis, IHEID, 2021).
  • [33] A member of the Geneva canton government, a social worker, two union workers and an academic.
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  • [35] See for example Bourbeau, The Securitization of Migration; Karyotis, “Securitization of Migration in Greece;” Buonfino, “Politicization and Securitization;” Robinson, “Tracing and Explaining Securitization;” Vigneau, “Securitized Migration in the Canadian Press.”
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  • [37] See Article 16, paragraph 1, Federal Act on the Temporary and Permanent Residence of Foreigners of 26 March 1931 (LSEE by its French acronym).
  • [38] Federal Act on Foreign Nationals of 16 December 2005 (LEtr, then LEI by its French acronym).
  • [39] “How Inclusive Are Swiss and European Citizenship Laws?,” NCCR on the move (data from the GLOBALCIT), accessed January 14, 2022, <>.
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  • [41] As understood by Foucault: Foucault, Surveiller et punir.
  • [42] For an important sample of these posters: Francesco Garufo and Christelle Maire, L’étranger à l’affiche (Neuchâtel: Alphil, 2013).
  • [43] Le Temps, “UDC, 10 ans d’affiches choc,” Le Temps, accessed May 7, 2022, <>.
  • [44] Federal Statistical Office, Switzerland.
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  • [46] While immigrants refer to people who were not born in Switzerland but who migrated there, foreigners are people who do not possess Swiss citizenship (but who may have been born in Switzerland).
  • [47] Etienne Piguet, L’immigration en Suisse (Lausanne: PPUR, 2013).
  • [48] Santos Rodriguez, Insécurisation lucrative.
  • [49] For some examples, see Bourbeau, The Securitization of Migration, 15; Karyotis, “Securitization of Migration in Greece,” 403; Hampshire, “Disembedding Liberalism,” 119.
  • [50] Piguet, L’immigration en Suisse, 10.
  • [51] Delia Castelnuovo-Frigessi, La condition immigrée (Lausanne: Éds d’En Bas, 1978); Santos Rodriguez, Insécurisation lucrative, 125–185.
  • [52] Arlettaz and Arlettaz, La Suisse et les étrangers, 130–131; Piguet, L’immigration en Suisse, 58–59.
  • [53] Yvonne Riaño, “Migration des femmes latino-américaines universitaires en Suisse,” in La Suisse au rythme latino, eds. Claudio Bolzman, Myrian Carbajal and Giuditta Mainardi (Geneva: IES, 2007), 115–136, here: 120.
  • [54] Michael Morlok et al., “Les sans-papiers en Suisse en 2015,” report commissioned by the State Secretariat for Migration (Basel, 2015), 1–2; ‘Sans-papiers’ platform, accessed January 14, 2022, <>.
  • [55] Specialists are professors, social workers and union workers, interviewed for Santos Rodriguez’s dissertation. It should be noted that the permanent resident population of Switzerland (2020) is 8,670,300 (Federal Statistical Office, Switzerland).
  • [56] See “Pour un examen global de la problématique des sans-papiers,” report of the Federal Council (Bern, 2020).
  • [57] Nicholas De Genova, Working the Boundaries: Race, Space, and ‘Illegality’ in Mexican Chicago (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005). See also Jill Lindsey Harrison and Sarah Lloyd, “Illegality at Work: Deportability and the Productive New Era of Immigration Enforcement,” Antipode 44, no. 2 (2012): 365–385, here: 380. Doi: <10.1111/j.1467-8330.2010.00841.x>.
  • [58] See Carolin Fischer and Janine Dahinden, “Gender Representations in Politics of Belonging: An Analysis of Swiss Immigration Regulation from the 19th Century until Today,” Ethnicities 17, no. 4 (2017): 445–468. Doi: <10.1177/1468796816676844>; Victor Santos Rodriguez, “Des saisonnières aux ‘sans-papiers’: migration, genre et économie politique des corps (in)sécurisés en Suisse,” Géo-Regards15 (forthcoming).
  • [59] “Les sans-papiers en Suisse en 2015,” 40–43 & 49–50.
  • [60] Grace Chang, Disposable Domestics: Immigrant Women Workers in the Global Economy (Cambridge, UK: South End Press, 2000); Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Migration, Domestic Work and Affect: A Decolonial Approach on Value and the Feminization of Labor (New York and Oxon: Routledge, 2010); Ayşe Akalin, “Motherhood as the Value of Labour,” Australian Feminist Studies 30, no. 83 (2015): 65–81. Doi: <10.1080/08164649.2014.998451>.
  • [61] Arlene Kaplan Daniels, “Invisible work,” Social problems 34, no. 5 (1987): 403–415, here: 404. Doi: <10.2307/800538>.
  • [62] See Laetitia Carreras, “Travailleuses domestiques ‘sans papier’ en Suisse: comment s’en sortir, rester et résister?,” Nouvelles questions féministes 27, no. 2 (2008): 84–98, here: 86. Doi: <10.3917/nqf.272.0084>; Karine Lempen and Rachel Salem, “Travail domestique en Suisse: défis liés à la réglementation d’un emploi atypique,” Droit du travail 2 (2017): 79–91, <>.
  • [63] Carreras, “Travailleuses domestiques,” 86–89.
  • [64] Erin Hatton, “Mechanisms of Invisibility: Rethinking the Concept of Invisible Work,” Work, Employment & Society 3, no. 2 (2017): 336–51.
  • [65] Gil Hochberg, Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), 7.
  • [66] For some critical perspectives on the liberal models of agency: Paul Benson, “Feminist Second Thoughts about Free Agency,” Hypatia 5, no. 3 (1990): 47–64; Thomas Hill, “Autonomy and Agency,” William & Mary Law Rev. 40, no.7 (1999): 847–856; Taina Cooke, “Seeing Past the Liberal Legal Subject: Cultural Defence, Agency and Women,” Suomen Antropologi 42, no. 3 (2017): 23–40.
  • [67] See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London: Routledge, 1990); hooks, Black Looks.
  • [68] Patricia Hill Collins, Fighting Words: Black Women and the Search for Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998).
  • [69] Judith Butler, Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2018), 8.
  • [70] Butler, Notes Toward, 18.
  • [71] Butler, Notes Toward, 18.
  • [72] “Pour un examen global de la problématique des sans-papiers,” 31–37.
  • [73] See Article 30, paragraph 1, letter b, LEI.
  • [74] “Les sans-papiers en Suisse en 2015,” 22–23.
  • [75] It should, however, be noted that given its long cosmopolitan and humanitarian tradition, Geneva has tended to be more ‘liberal’ in matters of migration than the rest of Switzerland. This is consistently noticeable in the canton-specific results of national initiatives and referendums regarding migration-related issues (Federal Chancellery, Switzerland). There is no doubt that there was more political space in this canton for an initiative such as Papyrus to emerge.
  • [76] “Cas de rigueur,” State Secretariat for Migration, Switzerland, accessed June 22, 2022, <>.
  • [77] Butler, Notes toward, 18.
  • [78] Butler, Notes toward, 18.
  • [79] Two negatively connotated terms used in French to designate ‘undocumented’ migrants.
  • [80] Collectif de travailleuses et travailleurs sans statut légal (CTSSL), Activity Report 2004 (Geneva: 2004), 8.
  • [81] Marcelo Valli, “Les Latino-Américains sans-papiers à Lausanne: l’insertion cachée,” in La Suisse au rythme latino, eds. Claudio Bolzman, Myrian Carbajal and Giuditta Mainardi (Geneva: IES, 2007), 185–199, here: 194; CTTSL’s 2004 Activity Report, 9.
  • [82] Guillermo Montano, interviewed on 12/28/2021.
  • [83] Butler, Notes toward, 18.
  • [84] A political advertisement produced by the Swiss People’s Party in 2011 was, for example, entitled “Kosovaren schlitzen Schweizer auf!” (Kosovans stab Swiss people!).
  • [85] David MacDougall, “Anthropological Filmmaking: An Empirical Art,” in The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, eds. Eric Margolis and Luc Pauwels (London: SAGE, 2011), 99–113, here: 10.
  • [86] Multiple interactions between the film director and the women have shown how the latter often asked for some details to be taken out of the film and how they were more vocally grateful to Switzerland for its ‘welcome’ while in front of the camera.
  • [87] hooks, Black Looks, 115.
  • [88] See in this respect: Carreras, “Travailleuses domestiques,” 96.
  • [89] Eric Kramer and Elaine Hsieh, “Gaze as Embodied Ethics,” 40.