‘This is free, it’s for everyone.’ Such is the claim that underpins a whole range of food distribution practices, which are more and more structurally embedded in our cities as levels of poverty soar and forces of demographic transformation such as the so-called ‘migrant crisis’ tear into the fiction of a cohesive democratic space. It’s a claim that is overwhelmingly underpinned by women’s largely unremunerated labour, perhaps particularly ‘migrant’ women’s unremunerated labour. And it often engages a paradigm of hospitality or welcome, long theorized with Derrida as an ethical aporia, more recently revisited in a more pragmatic rethinking that enlists it as strategy, whether for opening new alliances or for reshaping the discursive and legal framework of solidarity (Brugère/Le Blanc, 2017). The theoretical literature on hospitality is persistently ungendered and more specifically unconcerned with the ways in which the strategic harnessing of ‘hospitality’ may depend materially and discursively on silencing the place of ‘la maman’, or ‘la mamie’ or ‘notre mère à tous…’, all appellations that constellate the practices of neighbourhood food and clothes distributions in particular, as well as other local endeavours, including school support or street cleaning. What are the contemporary modalities of ‘maternal’ care in un-sheltered or ‘dés-abrité’ spaces of the street or sites of migrant occupation? What sort of political subjectivity do they offer, what sort of family do they invoke, and what does this mean for ‘the family’ as the primordial unit of social organization? These are questions we will aim to explore between experience in the field, located in the northern quartiers populaires of Paris, the discursive space opened recently by Fatima Ouassek’s book La puissance des mères (La Découverte, 2020), as well the parental union Le Front de mères that she co-founded, and Tassadit Imache’s narrative essay Fini d’écrire ! (Hors d’atteinte, 2020).
Professor Anna-Louise Milne is the Director of Graduate Studies at the University of London in Paris, where her work on contemporary migration draws on methodologies from human geography and cultural translation to develop fieldwork and experimental workshops. She is also behind the Paris Centre for Migrant Writing and Expression at ULIP. This year will see the publication of a number of works, including a chapter, “Le banc publique: une infra-structure de/dans la migration” in L’Objet de la migration, with Presses universitaires de Nanterre, and a co-edited volume, Contemporary Fiction in French, with Cambridge University Press.
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