Writing for different audiences

Social workers, irregular migrants and fragmented statehood in Belgian welfare bureaucracies

in Journal of Legal Anthropology

In Belgium, depending on their immigration status, foreigners may be entitled to different forms of social assistance, ranging from emergency medical care to financial benefits. In a context where residence permits are constantly updated, re-examined or withdrawn by the administration, this article explores the ways in which welfare bureaucrats deal with irregular migrants. Based on ethnographic fieldwork at welfare offices in French-speaking Belgium, this article shows that documentary practices in welfare bureaucracies have the effect of both restricting access to social assistance and aiding irregular migrants in bringing cases against the administration. This article thus also delves into the double-edged relationship of the social workers to the state by focusing on the competing norms and interpretations of law they encounter on a daily basis.

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