Whose emergency? Migration management and marginality on Lampedusa, Italy
Laust Lund Elbek (Aarhus University)
Paper short abstract:
Based on fieldwork on the Italian island of Lampedusa, this paper considers the relation between migration management and the concept of marginality. It is argued that marginality characterizes the spatial context for Euro-African border management and that this requires ethnographic attention.
Paper long abstract:
The island of Lampedusa is Italy’s southernmost outpost and among the most powerful symbols of the Euro-African border. During the past decades, hundreds of thousands of refugees have successfully made it to Lampedusa, while thousands have lost their lives in the attempt. Often, notions of ‘exception’ or ‘emergency’ are invoked by politicians and scholars alike to describe the situation on the island. Based on fieldwork on Lampedusa, however, I contend that the nature of this often-declared emergency is far from straightforward. For Lampedusans, the ‘emergency’ is more related to dysfunctional politics and the appropriation of the island by authorities concerned with border management than actual migration itself. From a local perspective, policies of migration management coalesce with a history of political and economic marginalisation in Southern Italy. Additionally, many perceive migration management as detrimental to tourism, the island’s main source of income. Following Das & Poole (2004), I argue that this discrepancy can be seen through the conceptual lens of marginality. 1) Marginal spaces are easily appropriated by the state and other actors exactly because of their marginality. 2) Conversely, for the inhabitants on Lampedusa, historically rooted notions of marginality feed into perceptions of politics and the state and thus also into perceptions of migration management policies. In general terms, the relationship between ‘the provinces’ and central power is rarely unambiguous and the spatial imaginaries of states are not necessarily shared in provincial areas. Thus, heightened ethnographic attention to such historical and contemporary centre-periphery relations is called for.
Migrants in the provinces: the adaptive potential of the province compared to the megapolis