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Reviewed by:
  • Work, sexuality, and migration: Senegalese tradeswomen in Marseille by M. Blanchard
  • Stephanie Condon
Blanchard M., 2018, Travail, sexualité et migration. Les commerçantes sénégalaises à Marseille [Work, sexuality, and migration: Senegalese tradeswomen in Marseille], Aix-en-Provence, Presses Universitaires de Provence, 152 pages.

This anthropological study was conducted in a unique locus of migration; first, because the city in question is Marseille—long a hub of trade between France and its colonial empire—trade and the centrality of the port are crucial to understanding its immigration history; second, because the population of interest are migrant women born in Senegal, tradeswomen, and, as such, a visible presence in public space. Based on this rich material, Melissa Blanchard analyses the particularity of Senegalese migration and, more broadly, women's migration strategies and experiences.

The study goes to the heart of the categorization issue, shattering the often-dichotomous view of migration motives and whether women can be independent. It highlights the need to refine the paradigms we use to apprehend migration, ones that lead us to consider migration by men and migration by women as if they were separate actions or processes. Blanchard's analysis of the life-history narratives she collected reminds us once again how artificial and misleading administrative categories are. In her presentation of three profiles—'women operating "solitarily" and the support they provide to their families', 'women immigrants who came to France through family reunification', and 'women students'—she clarifies the characteristics and dynamics they all have in common: for all these women, 'migrating is an act that expresses an ambition' (p. 111). Indeed, the question arises whether the migration motives of 'students' today are actually different from those of 'solitary women' in the 1970s. Students' education levels, social capital, and possibilities are of course greater and wider, but the desire to 'attain something more' (p. 110) is common to all the profiles. The composite portrait of these women also undermines the distinction still used in many research studies between 'economic motives' and 'family motives': all these women have strong social and economic ties to their families in Senegal; all actively participate in Marseille's economy; and all are fully integrated into the family and community networks of the French city and surrounding region. Moreover, the individual histories Blanchard relates suggest that the act of migration may not constitute a discontinuity, the point defining a before and after: the business activity these women engage in every day shows the ties that exist between elaborating a migration plan and acquiring the necessary know-how to achieve it before leaving for France.

Those accounts also reveal the categories used by the migrant women themselves: 'free women', 'immigrants', 'students'. The book shows how women can find themselves on both sides of the independent/obligated split. Many organized their own migration and are independent through their business activities and the fact that they support their families in Senegal. But the author concludes that they are actually subject to stronger social control in France than in their country of origin. For example, women who do not comply with the [End Page 558] Senegalese immigrant community's rules for managing sexuality are treated as a threat to that community's social order and must be distanced from the group (pp. 125–126). Often exposed to a male partner's violent behaviour, these women are also victims of verbal and psychological violence from other members of the community network. One remarkable feature of this work is its analysis of the role of women themselves in the social and sexual control of female migrants. Relations between women are often characterized by distrust, jealousy, hatred, and backbiting, which the author explains in terms of the persistent threat of polygamy. And it is these tensions that structure the life of the migrant community, even though solidarity is said to play that role.

The book is pleasant to read, and the general argument is illustrated with vignettes of the women's daily lives behind their street stalls or during tontine meetings.(1) The text also attests to the author's reflexivity throughout the observation and personal history collection phases and in her interpretation of her material...


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