Reading Ardener on Lampedusa: Scales of Regional Imagination in the Central Mediterranean Borderlands
Laust Lund Elbek
Paper short abstract:
Based on fieldwork on the island of Lampedusa, this paper argues that visions of the central Mediterranean as a European border zone clashes with local experiences of detachment from both the Italian and European communities as well as transnational connections with North African seafarers.
Paper long abstract:
In the winter of 2011, a group of local fishermen gathered on the harbour of the Italian island of Lampedusa to protest against rising fuel prices and increasingly precarious living conditions. A few days later, national media reported that the protest had concerned African boat migrants allegedly occupying the pier, thus obstructing the fishermen's work. This may appear to be little more than a curious misunderstanding, but I contend that it illustrates a significant schism in contemporary imaginations of the central Mediterranean, particularly the Strait of Sicily. Because of the so-called 'refugee crisis', this area has moved to the centre of political attention in recent years, and places such as Lampedusa have become synonymous with shipwrecks, migratory flows and the often draconian politics of border management (e.g. Friese 2014). However, based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork among the local population of Lampedusa, this paper argues that the political centrality of the Euro-African border clashes with local experiences of marginality and detachment from both the Italian and European communities as well as age-old transnational, albeit often contentious, maritime connections between southern Italian and north African seafarers (see also Ben-Yehoyada 2011, 2017). Specifically, this paper tentatively employs Edwin Ardener's concept of "remote areas" (1987) as a theoretical springboard to think through the disjunction between 'grand' political understandings of the Central Mediterranean and local interpretations of the very same place - and, importantly, how these two scales of regional imagination intersect and sometimes even reinforce one another.
Locating the Mediterranean: connections and separations across space and time