Doina Petrescu: The Tactics of Faux Migration[1] 


Renzo Martens, Episode I, film, 2002. Courtesy of the artist.

‘Each culture proliferates on its margin’.[2]

The Oaș country is a region in Northern Romania, close to the frontier between Romania, Ukraine and Hungary. The peasants of Oaș represent a new sociological category of faux migrant that functions with a double social identity and double economy. Through migrating initially in search of work, they have discovered that they can make profit by temporarily changing countries and entering a different legal system.

While maintaining their homes in Romania, they periodically leave for the West to obtain the status of ‘political asylum seeker’. This enables them to reap the financial and social benefits available for asylum seekers, whilst keeping their domestic economy going at home. In the case of French asylum applications, social assistance consists of 1200F per month[3], which is double the average Romanian monthly income. Moreover, asylum seekers are entitled to sell the homeless peoples’ newspaper L’Itinerant in public places and earn a supplementary income based on the number of issues sold. Their applications of political asylum are rejected as soon as they are officially processed, but the procedure takes several months. This gives the migrants long enough to make a ‘profitable’ season out of their trip. Another family member will come back for the next season and continue subsidizing the family income in this way.

Compared to the classical model of migration, the new Eastern European migrant no longer seeks settlement in Western cities; indeed they look for temporary opportunities and benefits that can be transferred to and recycled within their local economies.  These migrants are both attracted by the Western model and resist to it. They subvert the rules and laws of western European societies by interpreting and exploiting them for their own profit. Through their subversive practices, they invent new spatial patterns and forms of mobility. They introduce new dynamics by negotiating boundaries and openings between the new economies, policies and the social remains of the ancient bipolar division of Europe. This new social phenomenon belongs to both archaic and new socio-economic order that succeeds and exceeds the simple communist-capitalist division. It is a mutating structure which corresponds to everyday realities of an expanding European Union. At the same time, their spatial practices produce alternative ways of living and hold a critical position within the conditions of social and economic mobility in Europe.

The fauxmigrant double economy functions within a phenomenological rule which alternates stability and instability, legality and illegality, visibility and invisibility. The logic of making oneself invisible during a Western season is doubled by the secondary logic of exposure and representation during the Eastern part of the cycle. In their home villages, the faux migrants display their social prestige and economic success through a progressive accumulation of buildings and objects.[4]

Passage lines

Deleuze opens his article ’Politics’ with the following: ‘As individuals and groups we are made of lines which are very diverse in nature’.[5] In fact, in order to discuss politics, Deleuze talks about lines as an abstract and complex enough metaphor to map the entire social field, to trace its shapes, its borders and becomings. Lines can map the way ‘life always proceeds at several rhythms and at several speeds’.[6] They map individual cracks and collective breaks within the segmentation and heterogeneity of power. Lines are always attached to geopolitics.  Countries also, are made out of lines. The lines of frontiers belong to conventions, codes and rules, and not to relations.

Migrants are the products of frontiers. They cross them, forcing their porosity, mocking their political seriousness, but at the same time, they need them, attracted as always by what is on the other side.Codes and rules demand subversion and frontiers similarly demand crossings, deviations and detours, which in turn create another kinds of lines. ‘The detour seems to come out of a certain idea that ‘the straight kind’ exist. When one says line thinks implicitly straight and right’  concludes Deligny, in the context of his work with autistic children[7]. Migrants are always asking for ‘rights of detour’. A mapping of their existence would comprise of detours and deviations. From frontier to frontier, from periphery to periphery, from squat to squat, the line of transmigration is always tangled with detours. Deligny has proposed a particular way of mapping the daily courses of the autistic children. His cartography traces customary lines and supple lines, where the child makes a curl, finds something, slaps his hands, hums a tune, retraces his steps, and then makes meandering lines, lignes d’erre

‘…  a chevêtre  [an ‘entangled curl’ ] is similar to a detour as long as the need for, the cause of this detour escapes our knowledge. The term “chevêtre” indicates that there is something there that attracts  a profusion of lignes d’erre ’.[8]

If a map of European mobility were to be made, it would be criss-crossed with meandering lines  which make detours and deviations from one country to the next, looking for that ‘something that attracts’. This map  would include lines of migration: entangled customary lines, supple lines and curls indicating other kinds of social behaviour, other economic and political opportunities than the ‘straight’. The ‘lines of flight’ would be an important feature of such a map. Deleuze defines the ‘line of flight’  not only as a simple line, but as a force that maintains a tangle of lines:

(…) There is a third type of line, stranger still, as thought something were carrying us away, through our segments but also across our thresholds, towards an unknown destination, neither pre-existent nor foreseeable[9].

‘I came here by flight ’— says a migrant, referring to the illegal way he crossed over the frontiers of several countries in his way to France. ‘And I will return by the “sending off”‘, which in French immigration legislation means a plane ticket with financial assistance of about 1000 FF (150€) for reinstatement in the home country. A new kind of logic recalculates this ‘sending off’, this ‘going back home’, as the real purpose of initial departure. Nothing happens other than a detour, a curl, a delay, and a subsidy. This ‘curling’ logic transforms impedimenta into pathways, obstacles into objectives, conflicts into alliances, policies of rejection into politics of welcoming. It transforms a ‘bad end’ into a ‘happy end’. The faux migrants’ main objective is to make profit from a ‘line of flight’. They have invented a new market product that is the migration itself, the double crossing of a frontier, the transversion, a movement by detour, the pure displacement of a person from a country to another and back again.

Analogies and diagrams of life

The politics which negotiate entangled ‘lines’ must stick to a diagram.  For the destiny of an individual or a group, the diagram  is the profitable ‘passage through catastrophe’. Deleuze talks  about ‘diagram’ in the context of Francis Bacon’s painting and notices that ‘the diagram is a chaos, a catastrophe, but also a germ of order or rhythm’. For faux migrants, ‘losing everything’, ‘leaving it all behind’ is not a tragedy but a trick. Playing as if all is lost is therefore putting oneself in a state of diagram, in a ‘state of factual possibility’, as Deleuze says. It transforms the ‘impossible’ into a ‘state of possibility’. ‘How did you get here?’ The migrant replies mockingly: ‘I’ve walked across the garden’. In this logic, the garden of the family house extends topologically as far as Paris, just as ‘the mouth’ in some of Bacon’s portraits goes from one edge of the face to the other.  According to Deleuze,

The diagram is therefore the operative totality of insignificant and non-representative, lines and zones, traits and spots’.[10]

A community is not made up exclusively of ‘individual lines’ but integrates equally ‘insignificant and non representative’ zones, lines and spots of places and things with which individuals co-habit and operate diagrammatically in the practice of migration. Deleuze has observed that the language of the diagram is analogical:

It is the notion of modulation (and not that of sameness) that is generally apt to make us understand the nature of the analogical language or the diagram. ‘Modulation’, which functions in the analogical synthesizers as an addition of ‘intensive subtractions’.[11]

The notions of ‘subtraction’ and ‘intensity’ can be associated with migration. Migration functions as a modulator for the social field. The migrants respect codes and conventions as long as they can be modulated. They make their own ‘intensive subtractions’ and transport them somewhere else. They practise a ‘relational’ way of doing within a ‘conventional’ thought structure.  But for the migrant, the analogy is not simply a way of doing but also a policy which is enacted from thing to thing, person to person, situation to situation.  A policy based onanalogy is more precise, clearer, more adequate to the practice of migration than a policy ruled by codes and norms. Know hows, tricks and lucky finds are linked by proximity. Analogical thought works by correspondence not by comparison. As imaginative insight, it recognises something familiar in the alien and unfamiliar. The migrant reading of the alien cityscape keeps the familiar at hand. The Romanians migrants that squat abandoned houses near La Defense (the main business district in Paris), call Grande Arche, ‘the great granary’. The biggest square in the district is called ‘the vague field’ —the place where they cross paths with tourists and functionaries in high finances during the week and play football on Sundays. This particular way of naming places shows how the hostile environment of a financial metropolis can be compressed reduced to the size of a village.

 The home environment is kept in everyday language in the same way that personal belongings are kept in plastic bags in the squat. Living out of plastic bags is a way of living in the metropolis while resisting it. The configuration of the native village, the order of streets and houses are topologically compressed within the squat.  Neighborhoods and familial relations regulate the occupation of rooms. Boundaries transported from home with their existing customs modulate the intimate conditions within the promiscuity of the squat. The intimate, the private and the collective are kept separate and allowed to cross each other through discrete boundaries. As a dwelling place for several families, the room becomes an intense and complicated space. Under these conditions, the borders of intimacy are continually subject to negotiations. ‘And making love? We manage, we acknowledge it by posters on the door…’

The whole creative, poetical power of the analogy resides in finding possible correspondences and connections between ‘mutually exclusive modes of otherness’! The inner logic of the squat. comprises in substractions, additions, mixtures and compressions of displaced elements.

‘Squat’ is itself a migrant word: it comes from the Old French esquatir —‘to flatten’— acquires new meanings in English and than reenter Modern French. Esquatir comes originally from the Latin decogo, cogere: ‘to compel, to bring about by force, to condense, to contract’.

In the same way elements of metropolitan life are brought back to the village and flatten, together to create a capitalist appearance within an ex-socialist lifestyle. Western materials, shapes, objects, habits and words are displaced and interpreted locally. Western expenditure and consumption are simulated without contradicting the existing mentalities of saving and spending. The excess can be read in the façade:  ‘Let’s put in an extra window — people will think that I have an extra bedroom’. The rules of metropolitan living are displaced and parodied. With their emphasis on appearance and display, the peasants’ home villas are extremely Impractical and uncomfortable in spite of their generous proportions.


A culture of simulation is a culture of opportunism and profit. The tactic of copying a pattern, reproducing it and selling it is always more profitable that the original pattern itself.

‘Tactics are procedures which gain validity in relation to the pertinence they lend to time, to the circumstances which the precise instant of an intervention transforms into a favourable situation, to the rapidity of the movements that change the organisation of space, to the relations among successive moments in an action, to the possible intersections of duration and heterogeneous rhythms’.[12]

The faux migrant economic profit is based on management of the time between the completion of an application for political asylum and ‘the sending off’ which returns them home. Their asylum applications are automatically rejected, but that was the idea behind them. The application refusal is calculated form the outset. The Oas migrants have no desire to stay permanently and the applications are merely part of a strategy to obtain time. During this acquired time, the migrants receive financial assistance from the French government, social assistance from the Red Cross and are allowed to sell L’Itinerant. The tactic consists of creating a delay and profiting from it. They work on time, with time, against time, rendering time capable of performing economically and of associating the self-timing of bureaucratic administrative systems with the speed of the savage financial performance.

Enjoying time

‘We have nothing that is ours except time, which even those without a roof can enjoy’ states Guy Debord in quoting Baltasar Gracian in the motto of Society of the Spectacle.

Debord talks about  ‘time-merchandise’, ‘time as an exchangeable value’, ‘devalued’ or ‘pseudo-valued’ time. Situationists by definition, the transmigrants reconsider the value of time, enjoy its liquid qualities, its economic and spectacular aspects.

‘By virtue of the resulting space of play, and by virtue of freely chosen variations in the rules of the game, the independence of places will be rediscovered without any new exclusive tie to the soil, and thus too the authentic journey will be restored to us, along with authentic life understood as a journey containing its whole meaning within itself’.[13]

The migrants know how to take advantage of time, how to reside and produce in mobility, how to invent economic games and put into play their spaces, places and their lives. The migratory practice implies a drift stage, which extends from the scale of a locality to the scale of several countries. Variations and speed are regulated by both unexpected decisions and long term elaborated desires. The trajectories are always different, depending on the opportunities of movement and passage. The journey to the west, the ‘flight’ is generally a journey by foot, which takes several months and involves continual negotiations with the existing conditions for clandestine travel. The way back, the ‘sending-off’ is usually the result of an official decision to expel the applicant and the journey takes only an hour or two.

Putting space into play. Playing with plies of time, playing with pleasure.


Migration is perhaps to the social field what ‘pleasure’ is for the ‘text’. According to Barthes,

‘Pleasure however is not an element of the text, it is not a naive residue; it does not depend on a logic of understanding, and on sensation; it is a drift, something both revolutionary and asocial, and it cannot be taken over by any collectivity, any mentality, any ideolect. Something neuter? It is obvious that the pleasure of the text is scandalous: not because it is immoral but because it is atopic’[14].

Atopical by definition, the faux migrants’s practices make them scandalous. They are revolutionary in the same way as the Situationists, because dissatisfied with being ‘consumers of products’ they have become consumers of ‘social and civic opportunities’.  For the same reason, they are also asocial because they divert and skirt the rules of ‘democratic society’. Revolutionary, they reverse and recycle the legislation according to social reality and are able to convert the illegal into legal. Asocial, they take advantage of the social rifts, defects and slowness. While profiting from the remains of outdated laws and administrative procedures, they make economic use of the urban environment by reusing leftover, unoccupied spaces. Despite their ignorance of language and rules of the place they travel to, the peasants are successful in establishing their own markers, both individual and collective. They develop human networks that involve border passing intermediators, visa providers, employees, lawyers and policemen. They take advantage of both the interstice of cities and of rules and lows. They pitch this human network against the institutional network and tackle administrative automatism with radical subjectivity. The migrants’ methods are comparable to what Freud calls ‘the technique of Witz’ (the technique of jokes) and the disruptions caused by ‘the return of the repressed’: verbal economy and condensation, double meaning and misinterpretations, displacements and alliterations, multiple uses of the same material, etc… [15]

The Oas peasants misuse lows and rules, cross and displace habits and expectations. In Paris they are living in squat but in their village they live in huge villas. Similarly, the Witz brings together different things and thoughts, condenses them, combines or marries them in a misalliance that makes the listener laugh, and can even surprises the jokes-teller. The Faux migrants tactics don’t exactly make the administrative authorities laugh; instead they leave them open-mouthed at their own bureaucratic inefficiency.

The Witz — the comic and the humorous — are, according to Freud, means of libidinal saving. If ‘dream’s work’ is an individual product, the Witz is a social production. It can exist only by means of a community, by an ‘economic necessity of a third’, by hawking, by transmigration. The technique of Witz consists of juxtaposing diverse elements in order to suddenly produce a flash shedding of a different light on the proper and customary language and to strike the hearer. De Certeau speaks about the art of ‘pulling tricks’ and ‘taking an order by surprise’.  ‘Cross-cuts, fragments, cracks and lucky hits in the framework of a system’ these are the migrants’ equivalents to Witz, but instead of language and linguistic constructs, they are attacking laws and policies.

In The Pleasure of the Text, Barthes speaks about ‘a subtle subversion’:

‘By subtle subversion I mean, on the contrary, what is not directly concerned with destruction, evades the paradigm, and seeks some other term: a third term, which is not, however, a synthesizing term but an eccentric, extraordinary term. An example? Perhaps Bataille, who eludes the idealist term by an unexpected materialism in which we find voice, devotion, play, impossible eroticism, etc.; thus Bataille does not counter modesty with sexual freedom but…  with laughter’.[16]

To the ‘serious idealism’ and ‘modesty’ of Western democracy, the faux migrants oppose what Barthes calls ‘an unexpected materialism’: the ‘base materialism’ of a good Bataillan burst of laughter which shakes the good manners of the established system of welcoming and exchange.

The ‘unexpected materialism’ as well as ‘the laughter’ does not belong to the dialectical materialism of the Marxist-Leninist ideology that the peasants have experienced in Romania, but rather to the Batallian ‘base-materialism’ that was already operating during the communist period, inside and within this ideology. The same ‘base-materialism’ proves to be good enough to undermine  the ‘idealistic materialism’ of the Western capitalism.

Networking with Thresholds

Within their practices, the faux migrants identify thresholds between logics, politics, lows and economies. For the Oas peasants the threshold is their working place. By selling newspapers in front of the city’s most profitable market places, they are developing a whole new economy of threshold.  According to recent sociological studies, ‘ within one year, the Romanian peasants established, the most successful network for selling the newspaper L’ Itinerant’.

By making an inventory of thresholds and places of passage in the city while considering their profit value, the peasants have completely re-mapped the urban space and located a network of invisible economic values, which correspond to their own market system. This threshold infrastructure derives from specific kinds of movement in the city. The thresholds of supermarkets are places where capitalist flows take place and are, as such, strategic places to catch these flows and to drain and divert them.

The migrant’s temporary occupation of thresholds is based on the detournement of both private and public space. Within their spatial and economic investment in the thresholds, they intensify and complicate the uses of space in the city. As with drifting, random encounters take place at the thresholds where successful trading depends on emotional relationships. Rather than the newspaper, the faux migrants are selling their own condition. This threshold activity is in itself a critique of the conventional urban culture, which operates in the zone of subjectivity. It is a spatial and economic experience powered by the body. At the threshold, instead of bartering their merchandise, the migrants expose themselves. As marginals, the faux migrants combine neo-liberal practices and post-communist ideologies through tactics, analogies, diagrams and jokes. They map without moralising the thresholds of the European Union and its lines of flight.


[1] NA.  A previous version of this text has been published as chapter in David Blamey (ed), Here, There, Elsewhere: Dialogues on Location and Mobility (Open Editions, London 2002). As in the previous publication, I acknowledge here the important contribution of sociologist Dana Diminescu, whose research on the topic has generously nourished this text.

The practices related in this paper are located within a particular moment and place:  the France of the early 1990s, immediately after the fall of the Iron Curtain and during a period of political uncertainty in Romania, when the mobility of Romanian citizen was highly restricted and controlled by discriminatory international rules. In this context, the faux migrants from Oas have somehow pioneered the current seasonal mobility of Romanians in Europe, which started to be encouraged in 2000s and eventually legalized.  Millions of Romanians are currently spending half of their year working in western European countries ( ie. Italy, Spain, UK), doing unqualified temporary jobs (ie. seasonal agricultural works, construction, cleaning, etc. ) which enable them to support their families in Romania. Even if currently they are European citizen with full rights, economically they are still perceived as ‘migrants’. A parallel and comparable story is that of Roma people from Romania, who have also developed their own patterns of ‘faux migration’ since the 1990s. Republishing a revised version of this text in the current context, allows for a critical understanding of the complexity of these phenomena which continually evolve and take new forms.

[2] Michel de Certeau, Culture au Pluriel, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1993 (my trans.)

[3] This amount is equivalent of aprox 180 euros. Currently, after 15 years, the minimal income in Romania still remains the lowest in Europe: 600 RON per month (aprox. 140 euros).

[4] For example, in the  Parisian periphery, they  squat  in abandoned houses (at St. Cloud, Suresnes, Puteaux, Courbevoie, Val-de-Fontennay, Cergy, Poissy etc…), and live in tunnels, caravans, under the railway  tracks, in tents, car cemeteries, abandoned trucks or  trash huts.

[5] Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet On the line, Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series,1983, p 69

[6] ibid. p 72

[7] François Deligny, Les enfants et le silence, Editions Galilée, 1980, p.19

The French educator Fernard Deligny is known for having developed a new approach in the education of autistic children, through long term observation and mapping in everyday life situations. A number of educators adopting his methods have formed a network of places hosting autistic children in the Cevenes in the South of France, through which they were able to communicate and provide mutual support.

[8] F. Deligny, Les enfants et le silence, p. 20

[9] Deleuze and Parnet, On the line, ps. 70-71

[10] Gilles Deleuze, Logique de la Sensation   I, Editions de la Différence 1981, p.67 [my trans.]

[11] ibid., p. 76

[12] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life,  Trans. by Steven Rendall, University of California Press , 1988, ps 38-39

[13] Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle. Zone Books, New York, 1994, p.126

[14] Ronald Barthes: The Pleasure of the Text, Hill and Wang, New York, 1995, p.23

[15] Cf. Sigmund Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious

[16]  Ronald Barthes: The Pleasure of the Text. Hill and Wang, New York, 1995, p.55

Doina Petrescu is an architect and activist, member of atelier d’architecture autogérée (aaa) in Paris and reader in architecture at the University of Sheffield. She has written, lectured and practised individually and collectively on issues of gender, technology, (geo)politics and poetics of space. She is the editor of Altering Practices: Feminist Politics and Poetics of Space (Routlege 2007) and co-editor of Architecture and Participation (Spoon Press, 2005) and URBAN/ACT (aaa-PEPRAV, 2007).