Walking for Public Housing

Special Report Title: The State and Overseas
Maroon Women Facing the Bakaa Administration in Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni (French Guiana)
By Clémence Léobal

English

While the governmentality of the French State relies on categorizing its inhabitants, they are not passive towards the institutions. This paper presents an ethnographic account of Maroon women’s encounters with the bureaucracy of the French state in Saint Laurent du Maroni, French Guiana. My fieldwork was not conducted alongside officers, but with women looking for social housing in Saint-Laurent, ethnically defined as bushinenge. They see the French State as invested with a postcolonial whiteness called “bakaa”, even if its agents are from diverse origins. The institutional socialization of these women articulates claims to the right to public housing with the idea that the State “gives” these houses. In return, they have to “walk”, i.e. physically go for active and repeated administrative procedures. “Walking” for a house questions stereotypes about Maroon women’s passivity based on race, class and gender domination. During their personal interactions with officers, these women both follow bakaa bureaucratic injunctions, and subvert some of the institutional codes. They negotiate bureaucratic arrangements, far removed from the bureaucratic ideals.
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