1 “Par pur par hazard”  is the expression used by “néos” (neo-rural dwellers)  to describe how they came to settle in the small towns of the Couserans in Ariège or in the hilltop villages of the Lez or Arac valleys. This presence is particularly noteworthy in that it is largely composed of foreign populations, which cannot be summed up by the presence of Northern Europeans attracted by the environmental amenities of the Ariège territory.
2 Although the proportion of foreign nationals in rural areas has remained stable overall since the 1970s, the Ariège stands out in terms of the degree of diversification of nationalities characterising its population. With more than eighty nationalities recorded in the 2015 census, compared to fifty in the 1999 census, the very rural and mountainous arrondissement of Saint-Girons is now home to nearly 2,000 foreign nationals.
3 In the course of our research exploring how the French countryside fits into migratory globalisation (CAMIGRI),  the interviews we conducted confirmed this demographic dynamic and enabled us to meet these new inhabitants whose life paths are marked by voluntary or involuntary international mobility.
4 One type of inhabitant that fully embodies the presence of the migration issue in the French rural landscape are those involved in the asylum application process. The national asylum system, often presented in clumsy terms (burden sharing, relieving congestion in large cities), has led the French state to find in disused buildings, symbols of the disappearance of a range of public services, the means to disperse some of the exiles within rural areas. Dalanda’s story illustrates this situation.
5 She and her five children were placed at the Carla-Bayle CADA  in Le Fossat, and she spent the entire duration of her asylum application process in this village of 1,067 inhabitants (2015). In the course of the process, on this administrative path strewn with obstacles, having obtained subsidiary protection, she came across “neos” some of whom had arrived recently, others who had been there for some time, such as Bernard and Bertrand.
6 Through their presence and even more so through their actions, they push back the boundaries of chance. With a wealth of experience, drawn as much from the ideals of 1968 as from the networks of the social and solidarity economy, in Ariège they have found the right conditions to anchor themselves where they have set the terms of their well-being according to the intensity of the civic commitments that this territory allows them.
7 This form of anchoring not only applies to the baby-boomer generation, it is also representative of a generation that chose, in the aftermath of the struggles against the CPE,  to keep a distance from the centres of power, of a generation of backpackers or farmer-travellers who have travelled the world, or more recently, of activists who have passed through Notre-Dame-des-Landes.  Romain, like Bernard and Bertrand, is one of those who find their raison d’être in the power of weak links that can gradually bring people together to come to the aid of rejected asylum seekers, who have to leave the CADA, or those who have come from Toulouse to find refuge.
8 Taking shelter from a world whose violence is not only expressed towards undocumented migrants adds to the diversity and singularity of the presences recorded in Ariège. This is the case of Jessica and Raphaël, who met on the trails of Latin America, of Lucie and Sébastien who came from Belgium with their two children, of Julie and Hervé who arrived on foot from Switzerland with three of their children. In their own way, they have all undertaken migration to get away from the torments of the world. More precisely, to offer their children, through a “return” to the land, the possibility of growing up in a world where the value of otherness cannot be distorted. This is the message conveyed by Joseph, a farmer and administrator at the alternative school Chant’Arize (Steiner-Waldorf), whose reputation is now spreading across all continents and within very different social circles: from young couples involved in biodynamic agriculture to civil servants at the United Nations.
9 Verbalisation of these migratory projects reveals the idea that migration is once again a form of assertion, an act of transmission, as Zoïs may experience it. He is now the first of his siblings to be able to decide how he wants to anchor himself in this land of possibilities that is Ariège.
10 With this portfolio, we wanted to bear witness to the diversity of these presences, which are an integral part of the social relations structuring the Ariège region. The dialogue established between biographical surveys and photographic work confronted us with a contradiction, which breaks with the anonymity that prevails in the restitution of research. In relation to all these new inhabitants, testifying to their presence, their attachment to places or their commitment to the most disadvantaged only makes sense by revealing their identities.
11 Waiving anonymity is not without consequences because, to put it in broad terms, this position requested by the respondents moves the researcher away from a Weberian approach based on the production of ideal types and anchors the reflection in the modalities of “thinking by case”. In this respect, this research situation echoes the questions raised by Jean-Claude Passeron and Jacques Revel when they emphasised the advantages and risks of reasoning from the singular.  While the issue of “thinking by case” is not new, “it is, in fact, the set of questions that we vest in it - and with which it may be vested” that makes the case. It is undeniably in the change of perspective resulting from the dialogue between art and science that the benefits of such a comprehensive approach are expressed. 
Photograph 1Dalanda, pictured in the classroom of her compulsory French lessons, has been living in Foix since July 2019 after spending two years at the CADA in Le Fossat as an asylum seeker. Now with legal status in France, after a long journey from Africa to Europe (Spain, France) to Ariège, she looks after her five children alone. She remains very isolated and cut off from the people she met at the CADA in Le Fossat, located thirty-five kilometres from Foix, and weighed down by a difficult personal history.
Photograph 2Bernard, a member of the Montbrun-Bocage collective for the reception of migrants, has a stall every Sunday at the village market in Montbrun-Bocage. He devotes all his time to them, whether they are seeking asylum or have been rejected and have no solution. He travels the roads in his van to sort out often desperate situations from Monday morning to Sunday evening and from 1 January to 31 December.
Photograph 3Bertrand standing at a crossroads that he often passes through on his numerous journeys. Through his involvement in many Ariège associations dedicated to migrants, social and solidarity-based ecology, and the mouvement colibri, he finds natural coherence in it all with local action and mutual support networks. Everything is linked.
Photograph 4Mamadou telling Romain, a volunteer at ACARM09, about his voyage via Libya, the Mediterranean, the Alps and his meeting with Cédric Herrou  before arriving in Ariège and embarking on the long process of seeking asylum. Now with regular status, he is housed through the association in this town centre flat.
Photograph 5Jessica is Costa Rican. She arrived in Ariège in 2019 with her husband Raphaël and their eight-year-old daughter Selva. They live in rented accommodation at the Cap de la Goutte farm. All their efforts are focused on educating their daughter surrounded by nature and at the Chant’arize school, which is the main reason they moved there. The richness of the environmental amenities offered by the Ariège territory also allows Jessica to develop her know-how in the creation of jewellery from natural materials.
Photograph 6Josef, pictured in front of the Chant’arize school, mentions providence to explain why he put down anchor in Portecluse, after a long journey of initiation into agricultural life in the cirques of La Réunion and the mountains of Nepal, first alone, then as assistant to a renowned Irish ethnobotanist, and finally with his wife Aurore. Today, as an expert biodynamic market gardener and director of the school hosting an international community, he has founded a family and given meaning to his life, as one clears new ground guided by faith.
Photograph 7Sébastien and Lucie looking after the young cows they have just acquired. They left densely populated Belgium nearly three years ago, driven by a desire for greater simplicity. They first lived in a yurt for almost two years, in a collective in Haute-Garonne, then arrived in Ariège, at the Cap de la Goutte farm for a few months. They now live in temporary rental accommodation in a hamlet with their home-schooled children. They are constantly experimenting to get closer to their ideal of country living.
Photograph 8Zoïs, from the Swiss Alps, letting his donkeys out in the large garden of the new family home in Mas d’Azil. He spontaneously embraced his parents’ project to move to this unknown place. Having been immersed in mountain life and the protection of the living world, and having been taught an ecological way of life since childhood, this young man quickly adapted to his new environment. He is training to be a shepherd in the Couserans.
Literally translated as “by pure by chance”, an adaptation of the common French expression “par pur hazard”.
A socially heterogeneous category that includes people who have settled in the Ariège, both recently and longer ago, who are sometimes socially indistinct from the natives, sometimes living in harmony with them, sometimes ignoring them or in conflict with them.
CAMIGRI is a research programme funded by the Agence nationale de la recherche (French national research agency - ANR) and the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region, under the coordination of David Lessault on behalf of UMR Migrinter.
CADA is the acronym for centre d’accueil de demandeurs d’asile (reception centre for asylum seekers).
A protest movement mainly involving high school and university students, which emerged in 2006, against the draft law introducing the “contrat première embauche” (first employment contract) in France.
For several years, this “zone à defendre” (zone to be defended - ZAD), located in the outskirts of Nantes, has been the site of experiments of original ways of living in the context of political struggles against the development of a new airport.
On this issue, see Passeron, Jean-Claude and Revel, Jacques (Ed.) (2005) Penser par cas, Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS.
Ibid., p 11.
All photographs in this portfolio were taken by Céline Gaille. The use or reproduction of these photographs is forbidden without the agreement of the photographer, Céline Gaille.
A farmer from the Alpes-Maritimes who was arrested and prosecuted for repeatedly helping migrants to cross the French-Italian border and for giving them shelter. Although it borders Spain, Ariège was not a gateway to France for the migrants encountered.