This thesis addresses the question of how migrant legality andillegality are constructed and differentiated in mainstream Frenchnewspaper discourse. The distinction between legal and illegalmigration is a particularly overt feature of the public debate onmigration in France. The thesis argues that legality and illegalityare not natural givens, but social constructs that are based onmoral-political judgments of what constitutes legitimate grounds formoving. By investigating how migration is given meaning, the thesisoffers a critical examination of a widely spoken about but oftentaken-for-granted concept. This is done by analyzing three aspects ofthe social construction of migrant legality and illegality. First, thethesis investigates spatial representations of migrant legality andillegality. Second, it discusses how migrant legality and illegalityare defined. Third, the thesis examines the discursive strategies thatare used in French newspaper discourse in order to represent migrantlegality and illegality in particular ways.
In order to explore these questions the thesis is based on a discourseanalysis of a corpus of newspaper articles taken from the 2007 and2008 editions of two of the major national newspapers in France: LeMonde and Le Figaro. The value of a discourse analytical approach liesin its ability to analyze how we categorize and create boundariesthrough language and to deconstruct the often binary categorizationsthis engenders. The thesis project also reflects the central role ofthe media in shaping public action through its mediation anddiscussion of social phenomena.
The main finding of this thesis is the identification of two distinctsets of discursive strategies of which one set is used to representmigrant legality and the other is used in representations of migrantillegality. Understanding how migrant legality and illegality areconstructed and differentiated is crucial in two regards. First,discourses on migrant legality and illegality inform judgments aboutmobile people and their practices. Second, these discourses are usedto legitimize and enable particular policy responses.