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Lightning Rods in the Local Moral Economy: Debating Unauthorized Migrants' Deservingness in Israel

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Abstract

Localized debates about who unauthorized migrants are and what they do, or do not, deserve unfold in a culturally specific register that is deeply charged with emotion and moral valuation. Structuring such debates are vernacular discursive frames that emerge from, and reflect, a common “local moral economy.” Taking Israel as case study, this article examines six elements of the country's local moral economy – biopolitical logic, historical memory, political emotion, popularized religion, an ideology of “fruitful multiplication,” and hasbara (“public diplomacy”/propaganda) – and explores their impact on public debates about unauthorized and irregular forms of migration. Here, as elsewhere, conventionalized distinctions that frame much migration scholarship – e.g. “economic” vs. “political” migrants, “migrant workers” vs. “refugees,” even the terms “authorized” and “unauthorized” themselves – bear but limited salience. Migration researchers who hope to influence local policy debates must recognize the weight and influence of local moral economies, and the chasms that divide vernacular from conventionalized frames. Achieving this sort of nuanced understanding is, at root, an ethnographic challenge.

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