EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Anthropology, border regimes and European crises: questioning legacies and futures
Location U6-36
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Francesco Vacchiano (ICS-UL, Lisbon) email
  • Liliana Suárez Navaz (Universidad Autónoma Madrid) email

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Discussant Dr. Levent Soysal (Kadir Has University)

Short Abstract

This panel aims at bringing together contributions which combine ethnography and analysis in order to discuss the ongoing 'migration crisis' - its categories and outcomes - and, in general, the European border regimes.

Long Abstract

The interest for boundaries is not new in anthropology, but has taken on a new relevance due to the propagation of confines in the daily experience of people around the world. Anthropologists have contributed to investigate contemporary 'border regimes' by mobilizing their research traditions in the analysis of structures of power, forms of agency, narratives of race and identity, explanatory categories associated to borders. Nonetheless, borders are stronger than ever, due also to the narratives of crisis that pervade the European societies and increasingly include mobility in their descriptions. Particularly, the recent 'refugee crisis' and the set of institutional responses put in place to deal with it (see the European Agenda on Migration) show the consequences of thinking mobility as an emergency. Is this umpteenth 'crisis' really unprecedented? What are the moral and political consequences of figuring it as such? How is similar or different to others? Is this narrative functional to a new project of domination? What are the legacies/continuities with the past? What could we, as anthropologists and citizens, reasonably advocate for? These questions are even more compelling since 'border regimes' are ways of shaping social and political futures.

This panel aims at bringing together contributions which analyse the ongoing 'migration crisis' - its categories and outcomes - and, in general, the European border regimes. We welcome proposals which combine ethnography and analysis in order to explore the notion of crisis, the consequences on people, the legacies of the past and the possible futures.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The production, enactment and concealment of borders in the Italian asylum system: an ethnographic perspective.

Author: Tommaso Sbriccoli (University of Siena)  email

Short Abstract

By drawing on a long-term ethnography in the field of asylum in Italy, this paper explores the minute and everyday practices through which borders are constituted at many different levels and reflects on the political, social and economic consequences, intended on unintended, of their proliferation.

Long Abstract

By drawing on long-term ethnographic observation of the Italian asylum seeker and refugee shelter system, this paper explores the minute and everyday practices through which borders are constituted at many different levels.

On one side, it will shade light on how national and European legislation is enacted (or by-passed) at the local level, allowing migrants to cross frontiers illegally or blocking them in the places of arrival. Similarly, individual strategies aimed at overcoming limitations on movement within Europe will also be discussed.

On the other side, the production of more subtle borders, but not for this less solid, will be investigated. First of all the cleavage between "illegality" and "legality". The production of thousands of illegal subjects - who after the rejection of their asylum applications keep living in Italian territory and are neither repatriate to their countries, nor allowed other possibilities to get a permit - is one of the most important outcomes of this system. Along with it, other invisible but extremely powerful devices of exclusion and marginalisation, mostly enacted at the discursive level, will be presented as forming the matter out of which the proliferation of borders becomes not only acceptable, but even thought of as natural.

The political, social and economic consequences of such political and discursive apparatus, taking its strength from the climate of emergency induced by the 'migration crisis', will be reflected upon in order to grasp wider logics underlying it and the change in the way people conceive and think of borders and human difference.

Experiencing margins: ethnographic explorations of mental distress among refugees in Italy

Author: Francesca Morra (Oxford Brookes University)  email

Short Abstract

By putting into dialogue subjective experiences and social worlds, this paper analyses the psychic life of asylum policies and the long-term products of bordering practices. The paper considers mental 'disorders' as a way to explore the ambiguities of citizenship projects.

Long Abstract

According to mainstream narratives, the European Union has been thrown into crisis by migration, and borders are probably the most central place where this crisis is enacted. Anthropologists have largely problematized the idea of a migration crisis, emphasizing in particular the proliferation of borders, meant not only as specific locations, but also as scattered practices and discourses of 'bordering'. Indeed, mobility is governed at different levels, from macro migration policies, to national projects of citizenship, to micro acts, and consequences, of control. By 'zooming in' on the dialogue between subjective experiences, and social and political worlds, this paper analyses the psychic life of the European asylum system and the long-term products of the related citizenship categories and trajectories. Drawing on Foucault's work about the historicization of non-sense, and de Martino's analysis of psychopathological facts as ethnographic documents, the paper considers mental 'disorders' as a way to explore ordering practices. Through an ethnographic exploration of mental distress among refugees in Italy, the paper looks at embodied relations between migrants and state, investigating the work, and the ambiguities in particular, of citizenship projects. Focusing on symptoms and other objects resisting language, the aim is to put into dialogue idiosyncratic and collective experiences of margins, thus asking: What are the psychic products of bordering categories, procedures and regulations? And as historical events, what can those products tell about the marginal spaces they inhabit - and are inhabited by?

When the stakes are high: political organizing and refugee assistance amongst Eritrean exiles in Bologna, Italy

Author: Fiori Berhane (Brown University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the ways in which non-European nationals have found ways to elude border regimes as a collective political act.

Long Abstract

Eritreans are the third largest refugee group arriving to the European Union by boat. This tertiary wave of Eritrean refugees, is the second diasporan generation, 90% of whom are under the age of twenty-four. Since the 2000's Eritrea's young have been leaving in droves. Based on two months of fieldwork in Bologna Italy, I argue that Eritrean diasporan subjects have played a pivotal role in non-institutional, de-centralized, local responses, to the European migration crisis. This political work, rather than being inspired by an abstract altruism, is often mediated by complex personal histories of familial betrayal or abandonment. More broadly, I argue that this form of non-institutional, grassroots aid arising from within marginalized communities, forces us to re-conceptualize the nature of humanitarian work. But for Eritrean Europeans this network of non-institutional humanitarian care and aid serves to instantiate an alternate diasporan community, following in the steps of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front's success in constituting an Eritrean transnational civil society in the 1970's. According to diasporan subjects who provide assistance, the provision of non-institutional modes of humanitarian aid serve to undermine the affective hold of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice, the ruling party and offshoot of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, for the greater Eritrean diaspora. This political work recognizes the importance of diasporan politics both for recent refugees and their chances at inclusion and integration in their receiving countries, and for the future of the Eritrean nation itself.

Imagining borders: visualising migration, belonging and the frontiers of the nation

Author: Reuben Ross  email

Short Abstract

Where does a nation begin and end? How are borders visualised as both geopolitical realities and imagined concepts? How do migrants challenge conventional ideas of nation and belonging? This paper offers an alternate understanding of how Europe’s “migration crisis” may be envisioned.

Long Abstract

New configurations of the global and local are constructed via images. Indeed, the study of visual culture offers the potential for a deep, if different, historical understanding of how the world is envisioned, with significant implications for exploring issues of nationhood, migration, identity and belonging.

In a deterritorialized world of "global cultural flows," it is not so much "imagined communities," (Anderson 2006) as whole "imagined worlds" that exist in the minds of persons and groups around the planet (Appadurai 1996). As a result, new forms of belonging and identification emerge. Meanwhile, in describing the space between historical periods, between politics and aesthetics, between theory and application, Bhabha (2013) writes of the "large and liminal image" of the nation, referring to a peculiar ambivalent quality in the idea of nationhood and the modern condition itself. The imagined frontiers of a nation are continually coming into being, in a constant state of reinvention, hybridity and transition.

As Europe's "migration crisis" continues, these are topical issues. Where does a nation begin and end? How are borders visualised as both geopolitical realities and imagined concepts? How do migrants challenge conventional ideas of nation and belonging? Developing an analytical framework around visual culture, this paper offers an alternate understanding of how Europe's "migration crisis" - its legacies and futures - might be envisioned.


Anderson, Benedict 2006 Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso.

Appadurai, Arjun 1996 Modernity at Large. University of Minnesota Press.

Bhabha, Homi K 2013 Nation and Narration. Routledge.

The uses of emergency in mobility

Author: Marta Perez (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)  email

Short Abstract

The uses of "emergency" in mobility relate to a fabric of the real that graduates the value of human lives, letting some of them to die at the European external and internal borders. What are the traces in actors' daily routines of a form of governing that shifts the intolerable into the tolerable?

Long Abstract

In this paper, I take on the term "emergency" in mobility to reflect on how its use relates to a fabric of the real that graduates the value of human lives, letting some of them to die at the external and internal borders of Europe. In doing so, I ask how can we write about abandonment and death showing its regularities while, at the same time, clamoring the urgent singularity of experiences with border regimes' violence. What are the traces in actors' daily routines of a form of governing that shifts the intolerable into the tolerable?

I draw on interviews, observations and travels through internal and external borders of Spain to reflect on how the use of "emergency" activates discourses and practices that, in fabricating the real as contingent or structural, allows for a graduation on the value of lives. These fabrications are particular. For example, land around and within the fence that separates Melilla (Spain) from Nador (Morocco) is no mans land, historically contingent, subject to reevaluation, where the territorial sovereignty of the state blurs. At the same time, migrants trying to cross that land are an emergent threat to state's sovereignty and to its citizens' security, an enduring and structural problem. Migrants' attempts to enter irregularly into European territory are systematically monitored in statistics and report. Their deaths while trying to reach Europe are not. What do these presences and absences tell us about border regimes, and their historical deployment through narratives of emergency?

How is the EU relating to its Southern neighbors?: re-coding geographies of coloniality in the Mediterranean

Authors: Sebastian Cobarrubias (University of North Carolina at Charlotte)  email
Maribel Casas-Cortes (Wenner Gren Anthropological Foundation)  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to read the EU’s Neighborhood policy and Border Externalization practices towards the Southern Mediterranean as a mode of writing “other” non-EU spaces into a single European standard of understanding development and mobility.

Long Abstract

We read ENP and border co-operation schemes promoted by the EU in Northern Africa and beyond as linked to a broader project to recode non-EU legal and political codes into a sole 'EU' role-model. Based on fieldwork and ethnographic interviews with EU officials, border officers and consultants in Brussels, Vienna, Madrid and Rabat we analyze the ways in which the Neighborhood is framed. We examine the production of a European borderland through a "modernity/coloniality" lens and using "border/thinking" (Mignolo 2000) to signal particular geopolitical constructions of otherness. Similar to Hamid Dabashi's criticism of Eurocentric epistemologies (2015), we propose that ENP can be understood as a "Geography of Coloniality" which reads other spaces as to how similarly they resemble the "metropole". The ENP's tool of "reading back into itself" furthermore erases other epistemes and potential geographical alignments (historical or current) that are not centered on the EU, such as the Non-Aligned Movement, Pan-Arabism and even the turbulent years of transition in Southern Europe.

While signaling this coloniality of knowledge production in ENP and border management schemes we also highlight the mutivocal dissonance, which occurs simultaneously. In this regard, the case of Morocco is exemplary signaling ways that "Neighboring" governments both adapt but also morph or resist ENP Action Plans. We conclude by looking to other emergent geographic epistemes signaled by the different protest cycles kicked off by the Arab Spring as well as by new migratory flows that disturb the South-North directionality that predominates debates of the migratory "crisis".

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.