Where ethics and politics meet



I examine the role of humanitarianism and compassion in an emergent ethical configuration that makes illness a primary means by which undocumented immigrants obtain legal residency (“papers”) in France. I argue that the sacred place of biological integrity in this ethical discourse leads immigrants to trade in biological integrity for political recognition. I demonstrate first how humanitarianism has been transformed into a form of politics, functioning as a transnational system of governance tied to capital and labor even while purporting to be apolitical. I focus in the second half of the article on the consequences of humanitarianism as politics, which include new biopolitical practices, unexpected diseased and disabled citizens, and a limited version of what it means to be human.