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"

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 (De Genova 2002, Fassin 2011, Ticktin 2006), 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, my project examines the meanings, practices, and experiences of documentary precariousness among migrant workers from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. How does paperwork, given the “epistemic anxieties” (Stoler 2009) surrounding its verification, come to signify the legal status of its bearer? And how do migrants’ strategies of documentation enact, perform, or upset the tenuous subject position of the lawful immigrant?