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Les traversées migratoires dans l'Algérie contemporaine: Africains subsahariens et Algériens vers l'exil

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The book under review is the published version of a doctoral thesis, defended at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, on migration in Algeria. Based on interviews with migrants in Morocco and Algeria, as well as on a corpus of written sources – mainly newspaper articles – Salim Chena sets out to describe the situation and strategies of Algerian and sub-Saharan migrants in Algeria. In order to do so, he mainly uses the concept of reification as developed by social theory (especially the Frankfurt School), and the idea of exile as analyzed by Edward Said.

The book is organised in seven chapters. The first two analyse media (mostly newspaper) reports on migration in Algeria, showing how the Algerian media has constructed an ambivalent discourse on migration. First, it presents sub-Saharan migrants as a threat, as opposed to Algerian harragas (North Africans who set out across the Mediterranean for Europe on makeshift boats and without proper documents). Second, the figure of the harraga is an ambiguous one, sometimes described as a victim, other times as a hero. The ambiguity is reflected in the use of this figure as an indirect critique of the Algerian state as failing its citizens. Chapters 3 and 4 focus on what Chena calls the ‘reification’ of migrants, i.e. ‘the separation between representations and the lived realities of those who are represented’ (26). Chena shows how exile has become a market in which the exiled themselves buy and sell services, but are captives of a market only made possible by the irregularization of the exiled through law. The final chapters focus on the experience of migrants themselves. Chapter 5 looks at the treatment of the exiled by national and international institutions in Morocco and Algeria, showing how these institutions end up denying the suffering which is part of exile. Chapter 6 focuses on the bodies of migrants, showing how the different processes set up to control these bodies end up transforming them. Finally, chapter 7 focuses on the district of Sidi Salem, a suburb of Annaba, and the local conditions of production of exile: socio-economic conditions create an ‘internal exile,’ even before any travelling has started. This produces a ‘culture of exile,’ in which exile becomes a new way of being.

The book is an interesting contribution to the study of the securitisation of migration, particularly as it examines this from the southern shore of the Mediterranean. It shows how the European production of migration as a threat has been exported, but also reinterpreted locally in the South on the basis of socio-economic and racial representations. It also contributes to the literature on the articulation of often contradictory logics: the top-down policies of nation-states and international organisations, on the one hand, and, on the other, the bottom-up effects of individual actions, of populations and societies that are not passive victims of policies, but instead react, bypass them, adapt, and mobilise. Another interesting contribution of Chena’s work is precisely his analysis of the politicisation of the exiled. He shows that, despite the relatively low level of political organisation of migrants or potential emigrants, all are highly politicised. They describe their situation in political terms, often referring to geopolitical analyses and to denunciations of the state. More specifically in the case of sub-Saharan migrants in Algeria, they use ideas which Chena calls ‘Pan-Africanist’: by referring to the historical ties between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, they advance claims for a better treatment and consideration in Algeria and, more generally, in North Africa.

While the concepts of reification and exile may be useful tools, they sometimes seem to obscure the demonstration with theoretical considerations that might make the book less easily accessible. Chena’s contribution could have benefitted from a dialogue with the contemporary literature on similar topics, for example, research on migrants in Mexico, or Sandro Mezzadra’s concept of ‘autonomy of migration.’ It would also be interesting to know more about the methodology and fieldwork for this book, which are only very rapidly described in the introduction. This would certainly help in making the articulation between fieldwork and theory stronger. Despite this, Chena’s book contributes to very topical debates on the securitisation of migration and on the externalisation of migration control, and shines an original light on them.

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