Flaminia Bartolini

‚Doing intimacy‘ in illegality: experiences and strategies of undocumented migrant
women (Working Title)

In the framework of the German migration regime- characterized by being particularly strict on the
so called “illegal migration”- life in illegality and intimacy are intertwined in multiple ways.
In my dissertation I investigate this interconnectedness and its ambivalences adopting a critical
feminist perspective that understands intimacy as a lens to signify power relationships. I therefore ask:
what is the meaning and function of intimate relationships in illegality?
On the one hand, for migrants living in illegality, no possibility of ex-post regularization through e.g.
an employment contract is foreseen. The only few options available for regularizing their status derive
from marriage or parenthood of an underage German child.
These relationships- generally regarded as intimate and legally protected in the German Basic Law in
their expressions of family, marriage and parenthood- play therefore a key role within migration
regulation. In this way, the legislation defnes not only which reasons are valid in order to exit illegality
and be allowed to live in the country, but also which intimate bonds are deemed as worth and which not
in the light of migration regime.
On the other hand, life in illegality, described in previous literature as being often characterized by
fear, uncertainty and heightened vulnerability, should also be understood as an embodied experience or a
mode-of-being in the world. For this reason, illegality can have a strong impact on the establishment and
maintenance of intimate ties, and is likely to affect how migrants living in illegality experience, understand
and manage intimate relationships.
By means of biographical-narrative interviews and additional ethnography, I investigate how
(former) undocumented female migrants are ‚doing intimacy’: how they experience, give meaning and
negotiate intimate ties and in how far they accept, resist or take advantage of the tight link between
intimacy and migration status which came into existence.
Understanding intimacy in its intrinsic powe r dimension enables to take into account the
reproduction of inequalities through different degrees of freedom and unfreedom in intimate relationships
as well as to shed light on individual meaning-making and strategies, framed into the participant’s
narratives.