Paper short abstract:
Exploring the ‘practical norms’ utilized by state agents to evaluate a marriage between a non-EU citizen and a Belgian citizen in Brussels comes down to unveil the implicit and unarticulated hierarchies at stake when distinguishing real from sham marriage migration in civil registrar offices.
Paper long abstract:
During the four last decades, legal ways to migrate into the so-called fortress Europe have narrowed. From the perspective of most European states, marriage is perceived as the "last loophole" in migration control policies (Wray 2006). In Belgium, since 1999, the municipal councilor in charge of marriage celebrations has been invested with a new power: he or she can postpone or refuse to celebrate a wedding if a marriage of convenience is suspected. The empirical basis of this work is a full-time, two month fieldwork project in two civil registrar's offices in Brussels. The main focus of the participant observation is the practical application of administrative suspicion through the description of about fifteen two-hour interviews with suspected partners. In this paper, I propose to focus on romantic love as a strategic concept - a moral and influential category - organizing the confrontation of marriage migrants and state employees. To objectify implicit criterions of evaluation I proceeded to analyze what disappears between the original interaction and the official document produced by state agents. As David Graeber noted (2012), bureaucratic work is a work of reduction so it's not surprising that these interactions are reduced to a few pages of more or less co-constructed narratives. What are the main interventions that will transform these interactions into an official produced document and what is the key role played by romantic love in these transformations are the main questions raised by the observation of this unprecedented encounter between personal affective relations and state authorities.
The anthropology of public services and bureaucracies