Undocumented lives: Exclusion as moral injury in everyday Life

  • Jonathan Leif Basilio

Student thesis: Phd


The general exclusion of undocumented migrants—in the form of constraints of access to goods and resources, lacks in entitlements and in legal and social protections, and so on—impacts their lives in different ways. As being afforded equal respect and dignity is a prerequisite to social, economic, and political integration, impediments in these domains can also lead to a lack of participation in matters they regard to be of consequence in their lives. Accordingly, such experiences are given meaning and responded to by the individuals who live through them, and thus, their subjective perceptions, moral understandings, judgments, and dispositions ultimately matter and need due consideration. This thesis is a qualitative enquiry into the structural and moral dimensions of the exclusionary experiences endured by undocumented migrants. Drawn from fifty-five in-depth qualitative interviews conducted in the US, the study examines issues of (1) civic membership (through ID cards and identification), (2) intimate relationships and relationship formation, and (3) labour and employment to account for how the subjects’ experiences of exclusion are evaluated and are also influenced by their moral sentiments, behaviours, and practices. The research is informed by a moral economy perspective (Thompson, 1971; Scott, 1976) which builds on ideas from notions of lay morality (Sayer, 2011) and moral injury (Honneth, 1995). This hybrid approach helps identify the material and non-material dimensions of exclusion and the corresponding moral charge of the subjects’ struggles and responses against these harms. Building on the emergent literature centring on the moral and ethical dimensions of the exclusionary harms against undocumented migrants, the thesis contributes both theoretical and empirical grounding for explaining how various forms of exclusion can be morally injurious: they violate the legitimate and normative expectations of individuals. The study also shows how certain practices and strategies of action can be explained by people’s desire to prevent, respond, or remedy their experiences of moral injury. Emphasising a context-sensitive approach to exclusion, the study further identifies the moral repertoires (both universal and local) that underscore the migrants’ varied capacities to ignore, anticipate, manage, channel, defy, or recover from the impacts of exclusion in their everyday lives.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorNick Crossley (Supervisor) & Kevin Gillan (Supervisor)


  • marriage
  • identification
  • moral injury
  • Undocumented migration
  • moral economy
  • everyday life
  • lay morality

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