Intangible obstacles: health implications of stigmatization, structural violence, and fear among undocumented immigrants in France

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Mar;74(6):858-63. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.08.016. Epub 2011 Sep 21.


This study identifies undocumented immigrants' obstacles to realizing their health care rights in France. The ethnographic fieldwork informing this study was carried out in Paris from March 2007 to July 2008. Research findings are based on (1) participant observation carried out in two grassroots health associations catering to undocumented immigrants in Paris (one providing legal and medical aid to undocumented immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, and another focused specifically on assisting undocumented individuals seeking a visa for medical reasons, as well as women victims of domestic violence); (2) a review of legislative debates on the issue of healthcare access for undocumented immigrants in France, and (3) recently published reports on healthcare access for the undocumented in Europe. The paper analyzes how interaction among intangible factors - namely social stigmatization, precarious living conditions, and the climate of fear and suspicion generated by increasingly restrictive immigration policies - hinders undocumented immigrants' access to health care rights and, furthermore, minimizes immigrants' sense of entitlement to such rights in this European context. Intangible factors such as fear and suspicion have powerful "subjectivation" effects, which influence how both undocumented immigrants and their interlocutors (i.e., healthcare providers) think about "deservingness." Medical anthropology is in a unique position to demonstrate and theorize these factors and effects, which inform contemporary debates about migration and "health ethics."

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • France
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Health Services Accessibility / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration*
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Policy*
  • Prejudice*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Sociology, Medical
  • Transients and Migrants / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Transients and Migrants / psychology
  • Transients and Migrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Violence*
  • Women's Health