Centre for Women's and Gender Research
Visiting scholar

Sandrine Musso visits SKOK in April

Visiting research fellow, social anthropologist Sandrine Musso, is affiliated with the ongoing research project WAIT - Waiting for an uncertain future: the temporalities of irregular migration.

Sandrine Musso
Sandrine Musso, guest researcher at SKOK.

Main content

Musso has spent the last weeks at SKOK, taking advantage of the Norwegian weather to work on her current research.

Musso’s research is motivated by the question of mobilization: How do people become subjects of mobilization? She has a long track record in the field of political anthropology of health, and her research has primarily centered on the situation of North-African migrants in France with HIV/AIDS. Through this group, Musso has explored issues concerning the phenomena of discrimination, social categorizations in the treatment of the disease, mediation in public health, the sociology of immigration, and commitment and reflexivity in the conduct of research. Among other things, she has explored how new laws that regulate the situation of migrants living with HIV have produced new mobilizations, especially with regards to French legislation known as “the illness clause,” which contemplates the regularization of immigrants who can’t get treatment in their home country.

In France, the AIDS epidemic has been a highly politicized issue, as foreigners, particularly sub-saharian africans, caribbeans and north-africans, have been overrepresented in the statistics. Anti-immigrant sentiments have been fueled by fear of the disease, to the point that the French nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen suggested putting AIDS patients in concentration camps in 1986. French public policies have to a large extent been shaped in reaction to Le Pen's comment, in attempts to fight the stigmatization of people living with AIDS. - While French nationalists have tried to frame the problem as an imported problem, there is evidence that a significant part of the immigrants living with AIDS were infected withing 6 years after their arrival to France. This is linked with problems of access to housing, employment, and legal status, which are gendered and racialized determinant of health, Musso says.

Until treatment became available in France, migrants living with AIDS were generally deported or "assigend to residency" without any right to work. Throughout the 90's a coalition of actors (groups of defense of migrant's rights, aids activists, and humanitarian actors) fought the deportation regime, but were only able to achieve a change in legislation following the arrival of antiretroviral therapies in 1996, as they successfully argued that the deportation of people living with HIV to countries where treatment was not available was an implicit death sentence for the person in question.

Multiple temporalities in the lives of migrants living with AIDS

In her current research, Musso seeks to explore the temporal dimensions of AIDS and irregular migration through a comparative focus where she will also focus on the situation of migrant sex-workers and the phenomenon of trafficking. Musso notes how the intersection of multiple temporalities (Koselleck) – different experiences of time and relations to the past, present, and future – shape the lives of irregular migrants living with HIV or working in the sex-industry.

Musso notes that time is a constituting aspect of AIDS, as the time between the moment of infection and the outbreak of the symptoms of the disease can often be up to ten years apart. Thus, it is a condition where the temporal dimension is key in the experience of the illness. On another level, the experiences of waitinghood for persons living with AIDS are also determined by the geopolitical situation, as treatment available in the global north is often not available in many of the home countries of irregular migrants.

Furthermore, she notes how contemporary politics of health – especially those centered on chronic pathologies – are often centered on notions of prevention and preparedness (in relation to an expected future), rather than therapeutic failure (i.e. on attempts to cure the patient). This, she argues, is due to the temporality of epidemics: experiences of time where the expectations of a catastrophic future are central. Similarly, the expectation or not of a future erradication of the disease are central to political and juridical temporalities, and impacts on the (political and juridical) treatment of carriers of the virus. In France, these temporal dimensions shape and are shaped by the debate on migration, and of the future of French national identity.

The moral economy of migration in France

Musso argues that the temporalities of politics and legislation are also at the heart of the “problem” of sex-work. Rather than being framed as a health problem, it is currently framed as a problem of migration and trafficking. In France, this led to the law of penalization in 2016 that punishes the customers of sex-workers, and to public policies aimed at helping women exit the sex-work industry. She notes how these policies are rooted in a gender morality, or state feminism, where the moral dimensions of sex-work are brought to the fore, rather than its public health dimensions. The recent change in legislation has produced a series of mobilizations against the law, and offers an interesting point of contrast to the political mobilizations lead on by the “illness clause.”

- Within the field of anthropology of health, it has been noted how the moral economies of migration in France are generally built around discourses on health, and in particular, around a compassionate discourse on the one hand, and a savior discourse on the other. While the underlying logic behind the regularization of AIDS patients is generally the logic of compassion, sex-workers are conceived as persons that need to be saved, and the public policies directed towards this group are structured around a narrative of the french as "saviors" of female "victims", Musso says. She emphasizes the qualitative difference from former discourses on migration, in particular those pertaining to the 70's, which centered on migrants ability to work, or the need for political asylum. - There has been a change in the way the migrant body is conceptualized, which medical anthropology is particularly apt at signaling.

Temporality, age, and the politics of the migrant body

Participating in the WAIT project has inspired Musso to incorporate issues pertaining to time and temporality to her research, and reflect on what is at stake with regards to these issues. - In terms of the social history of AIDS, it has allowed me to explore the politics of the body of migrants in the intersection of migration as a health problem and as a political problem. As part of her contribution to the project, she will examine the importance of age, as a concrete temporal aspect of migration: - I am planning a short fieldwork in France to look at how the body and determination of age is constituted in different contexts. Age - wheteher you are considered a child or an adult - is a central factor in the access to citizenship rights for many migrants, and it is thus a phenomenon at the intersection between the social and biology.

It has been a great pleasure for SKOK to host Musso during her stay in Norway, and the staff at the centre looks forward to follow her work in the years to come.