Alexander Maier

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Columbia U.

Grant number

Gr. 10132

Approve Date

April 8, 2021

Project Title

Maier, Alexander (Columbia U.) "Paper-Work: Migrant Labor, Documentation, and Legality in Postsocialist Moscow"

ALEXANDER MAIER, then a graduate student at Columbia University, New York, New York, received a grant in April 2021 to aid research on “Paper-Work: Migrant Labor, Documentation, and Legality in Postsocialist Moscow,” supervised by Dr. Rosalind Morris. Employed in Russia’s vast shadow economy, Central Asian migrant workers are caught in a double bind between the demand to become legally legible and the realities of informal labor that make lawful status all but impossible. Corruption, deceit, and the weak rule of law have exacerbated this dilemma by undermining the authority of state-issued papers to such an extent that distinguishing documented from undocumented migrants becomes legally unviable. Anthropological scholarship on migration has examined the conundrums that arise from being deemed ‘illegal’ by the state, but the sheer legal indeterminacy of migrant life in postsocialist Russia throws the predicament of what it means to become documented into sharp relief. By following the paper trails and people that crisscross immigration offices, legal aid organizations, administrative courts, and migrant spaces of work and rest in Moscow, this project examines the meanings, practices, and experiences of documentary precariousness among migrant workers from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It examines how paperwork, despite the epistemic anxieties surrounding its verification, comes to signify the legal status of its bearer, and how migrants’ strategies of documentation enact, perform, and upset the tenuous subject position of the lawful immigrant.