Category: Conference

Open Session

Convenors: Giolo Fele (University of Trento) & Gianmarco Navarini (University Milano Bicocca)

The session will host contributions focused on etnography and qualitative research at large. Empirically-grounded and theoretically sound contributions on a variety of themes are welcome.

Open Session

Convenors: Giolo Fele (University of Trento) & Gianmarco Navarini (University Milano Bicocca)

The session will host contributions focused on etnography and qualitative research at large. Empirically-grounded and theoretically sound contributions on a variety of themes are welcome.

Processes of criminalization and qualitative research

Convenors: Alvise Sbraccia (University of Bologna) & Francesca Vianello (University of Padova)

Evidences deriving from the statistical sources on crime can offer significant sparks to trace the field’s boundaries of the processes of criminalization. Often, nevertheless, their use is oriented to essentialize, on uncertain scientifical basis, the social appearance of individuals and groups who practice the forms of deviance selected by the criminal justice systems. Through a tautological mechanism, such use of these data tends to construct and (re)produce positivistic explainations about crime, often bound to reinforce the causal nexus between poverty\marginality and delinquent adaptations.

Some crucial dimensions related to the criminal phenomena can be addressed, from an analytical point of view, only starting from the empirical basis constructed through sociological and criminological qualitative methodologies.

This call is therefore directed to research contributions aimed to frame such phenomena as socially constructed. The processes of criminalization are read, following this perspective, in their dialectical declination, describing and analyzing the articulation of relations and interactions which characterize them along three main dimensions, de facto linked with the category of “criminal policy”:

1) the definition of deviant behaviours deserving an institutional sanction

2) the selective (and discretional) carrying out of the practices related to police control and penal sentencing

3) the social representation (media construction) of the relation between the subjects threatening social order, their potential and “real” victims, and the agencies of control.

Since the veriable geometry of criminalization takes shape according to the composition of these dimensions, to describe and analyze the assignation of meanings performed by the different involved social actors (in the legislative and govermental apparatus, in the field of the police control of the territory, in the judicial sector, in the prison system, in the public and media spheres) appear as fundamental elements in order to develop a critical socio-criminological view.

With the aim of relaunching this perspective of dialogue, this panel will welcome essays and presentations based on qualitative and ethnographic research in the following areas:

a) normative innovation, punitiveness and the penal system

b) social and media representation of crime and criminals

c) organization and selectivity of police control

d) interactions in the judicial system

e) control and resistance in prison

Death in European Society: Field Research Experiences

Convenors: Roberta Bartoletti (University of Urbino), Asher Colombo (University of Bologna); Francesca Pasquali (University of Bergamo)

For a long time neglected in sociological research, the topic of death and dying now constitutes a strategic sub-disciplinary field in sociology. Starting from the Nineties, an increasing corpus of both theoretical and empirical work has been addressing it, and three main strands of research have emerged: 1) the first strand is focused on end-of-life and dying. Following the work of Glaser and Strauss (1965) a very rich corpus of research deals with the management and organization of death, with analyses centered on the relations among doctors, patients and their families within institutional contexts; 2) the second strand of research deals with what happens after death takes place, in terms of both funeral rituals and interpersonal relationship within families and communities and the management of death on the mundane side (i.e. the funeral industry, its organization, and its professions); 3) the third strand investigates beliefs about afterlife and the relationship between the living and the dead, dealing with grief and bereavement but also with memory and memorialization.

The sociological attention for the theme is also motivated by the major changes that have been affecting, in recent years, social practices associated with death.

Just to mention a few: the shift from burial to cremation, the rapid diffusion, at least in Italy, of funeral homes and the changes of funeral rites that are now facing a variety that might confirm the trend, enunciated by Walter (1994), towards the so-called “neo-modern”, highly personalized, death. Mourning practices are changing with the increasingly important role of social media as a space for communication of death, grief and memorialization. On the organizational side, funeral and death care industry is broadening its field of operation and it is developing new commercial and marketing strategies. At the same time, people working in the industry are gaining in status and social acceptability.

The widely shared assumption that death is totally relegated to the private sphere  - in a simplified vision of the”forbidden death” hypothesis formulated in by Aries (1975) – is therefore becoming more and more inadequate and reductive. The changes in social practices related to death and dying are, in fact, generating new links between public and private sphere, and they are claiming for new theoretical and empirical work.

In this context, the panel offers itself as a place for gathering field research experiences on death that will highlight the ongoing change (and the differences) happening in European society on the following topics:

  • one’s  own death
  • the disposal of dead bodies, funeral rites and ceremonies
  • social media and communication of death and mourning
  • the funeral industry and the administrative organization of death
  • grief and bereavement
  • after death bonds and relations between the living and the dead
  • memory and memorialization

The panel welcomes either ethnographic or qualitative papers but attention will also be given to interdisciplinary papers that integrate, among others, anthropology and history. We also invite papers that engage critically with the methodological and theoretical challenges of undertaking ethnographic research on the topic.

Playing on the Move: Rethinking Sport, Migration and Play through Inter-relationality

Convenors: Estella Carpi (University College London), Chiara Diana (Aix-Marseille University, Universitè Libre de Bruxelles) & Stefano Fogliata (University of Bergamo)

In the wake of the latest migration trajectories around the globe, humanitarian xorganisations together with national institutions have increasingly been relying on play and sports as a back-route to “integration” and “social stability”. The values that societies assign to play and sports activities mainly for youth are thus well encapsulated by protection, discipline and education.

At the same time, migrant communities autonomously organize in performing the ‘simple playing of games’ (Bourdieu, 1978), where sport turns into a social urban arena deeply linked to the everyday need for creative activity, the imaginary, and play. In this case, to think human mobility with the lens of “play” provides us with a new way of seeing relationality entangled with spatial appropriation and reproduction.

In this framework, play and sports, which do not necessarily complement each other, are deployed as vehicles to address broad societal issues, such as socio-spatial marginalisation, war recruitment and economic or political vulnerabilities. Drawing on the experiences of (un)forced migration and development of humanitarian practices, this panel aims to contribute to those debates that maintain that play activities and sport are an end per se or to frame them as catalysts for political, cultural, educational or religious formation processes.

The panel is particularly interested in ethnographic works tackling the intersection between international mobility and play/sports activities mainly (but not only) in Middle Eastern and other societies that have become home to Arab background diasporas. A deeper understanding of the leisure time trajectories may thus turn into an alternative point of observation that slips away from the institutional narratives regarding migrant communities, marginalized neighbourhoods or refugee camps. In this framework, how can an ethnographic approach itself on the move contribute to unveil ambivalences and contradictions of everyday life in such socio-spatial contested spaces? Lastly, it seeks to provide a terrain of discussion regarding what ludic and physical activities do to the agency of children and youth, particularly in light of the economic and existential uncertainties and opportunities that human mobility entails. Which are the benefits and limits of ethnography in understanding the processes of social change through sport practices? In an attempt to move beyond the definition of development and humanitarian agendas, how do children and youth on the move make sense of ludic and sports activities?



Bourdieu, P. (1978), Sport and social class. Social Science Information 17(6): 819–840

Un/Sustainable Practices in a Scarcity-Driven World

Convenors: Elena Bougleux (University of Bergamo) & Sara Bonfanti (University of Trento)

The issue of sustainability in a global and yet localized sense cannot be postponed nor ignored any longer. Emergencies tied to humanitarian crisis, to unpredictable and unstable climate changes and to a systematically receding economic phase characterize the present scenario, drawing visions of crisis that affect both the material and the immaterial dimensions of existence. Scarcity appears as a keyword that connects heterogeneous elements of instability and determines the modification of life strategies for increasingly large and diverse groups of people and that eventually connotes the main character of the era of the Anthropocene. Presumed shortage of resources vis-à-vis a steady global population rise are depicted as the ubiquitous threat to (not only human) life on the planet.

In the first place, we want to discuss whether the issue of scarcity is rather tied to material dimensions, or socio-economically constructed across multiple relations, or even perceived at subjective level, considering its diffracted implications into environment, resources and human capital sides. In particular, we wish to assess which power stakes define abundance or lack and what impact these grand narratives have over the life chances of different social groups and individuals, and over the capabilities of projecting one’s existence into fragile futures.

As a consequence to this induced circle of factual and fictional hazards, adaptation practices emerge as spontaneous responses to condition of unsustainability, in forms of organized resistance, development of good practices, critical thought and even forms of mobility. These adaptive strategies are also being promoted and supported (or at times limited) at an institutional level (UN agencies included). We would like to draw attention to a great contradiction that emergencies embeds, and to the hypothetical agency assigned to the different actors at stake, which instead often covers concrete situations of marginality or lack of power.

As a point in case, we intend to critically debate the ‘blue alert’ of south Asian climate migrants (Chaturvedi, Sakhuja 2016): global warming, rise of sea level, shrinking of water supplies, all have contributed to ongoing displacements in one of the most populous, and possibly most unequal, area worldwide. This appears a context where the broad concepts of adaptation and agency need to be substantially questioned. This reference will serve as exemplary framework to discuss and reflect on the many global, and yet localized, cases of overheating (Eriksen 2016). All in-depth ethnographic researches on the mixed outcomes of this accelerated pace in environmental, economic and cultural change are welcome.


Chaturvedi S. e Sakhuja V. 2016, Climate Change and the Bay of Bengal: Evolving  Geographies of Fear and Hope, Pentagon, New Delhi.

Eriksen T.H. 2016, Overheating, Pluto Press, London.

What sort of Fieldwork and Participant Observation in today’s Maghreb?

Convenors: Mohamed Kerrou (University of Tunis El Manar) & Paola Gandolfi (University of Bergamo)

Within “The Mediterranean of the antropologists” (Albera, Tozy, 2001), the Maghrebian societies have always been a privileged case study for many qualitative researchers and several anthropologists and ethnographers specialised in the Arabic and Islamic countries. Many authors have debated the ambiguities and peculiarities of achieving fieldworks in the Maghreb of the past.

What about trying “to encounter” (Crawford, Newcomb, 2013) theses societies and cultures in contemporary times? What does it mean to do a fieldwork in a changing society such as one of the Maghreb after 2011? Above all, what does participant observation mean in contemporary Maghreb? Which is the “ethnogrpafic situation”, as Hassan Rachik suggests to call it, or rather the ensemble of the practical conditions permitting the encounter and the observation of the other?

Going back to some emblematic names of the anthropology of the Maghreb (from Berque, Westermark, Gellner, Geertz, Rabinow, up to Hammoudi, Rachik, Tozy, Arrif, and others) not only we can analyse the different ethnographic situations illustrated by the multiple paths of the researchers but we also would like to explore the complex interrelations among classical theories and ethnographic practices today

One of our main questions concerns the necessity and the ambiguity of investigating social movements in the Maghreb today (Veriel, Beinin 2013). How can we explore these complex ongoing dynamics by means of a participant observation? Which are the implications of and the conditions for a participant observation today?

Taking into consideration the most recent fieldworks and in-depth qualitative studies in the Maghreb, we will especially explore the meaning of the “ethnographic engagement” (Cefai, 2010) within ongoing change processes and within the social movements (Cefai ,2007). The panel welcomes case studies and fieldworks proposing a critical approach to understand social movements, mobilisations, daily practices of resistance and expressions of contestation within the rapidly and deeply changing societies of the Maghreb region.


Albera D., Tozy M., « Introduction, fractures, filiations, contiguïtés », dans La Méditerranée des anthropologues, A.

Cefai, D. L’engagement ethnographique, EHESS, Paris, 2010.

Cefai, D., Porquoi se mobilise-t-on? La Découverte, Paris, 2007.

Crawford D., Newcomb, R. (eds), Encountering Morocco: Fieldwork and Cultural Understanding, Indiana Unviersity Press, Indiana, 2013.

Veriel, F. , Beinin, J. (eds) Social Movements , Mobilisation and Contestation in Middle East and North Africa, Stanford Unviersity Press, 2013.

Visual research of migrations and other border experiences. What about politics and aesthetics?

Convenors: Annalisa Frisina (University of Padova), Valentina Anzoise (University of Ca’ Foscari, Venezia) and Camilla Hawthorne (University of California, Berkeley)

In the past decades one of the most widespread advancements across the social sciences has been the growth of visual research. Qualitative researchers have become more interested in understanding how visual materials shape social life and have learned to dialogue with visual studies, i.e. studying visual culture as an ongoing contestation between visuality and counter-visuality (Mirzoeff 2011). Moreover, ethnographic research has often included a variety of visual methods (Frisina 2016; Pauwels 2015), especially collaborative or participatory, working with visual materials produced by the participants, by the researchers, sometimes in cooperation with professional photographers, film-makers and visual artists.

This panel aims to bring together the two sides of visual research (the study of visual culture and the uses of visual methods in ethnography) in order to explore migration and other border experiences by reflecting on the role played by visual representations in reproducing patterns of differential inclusion, in challenging exclusion and in negotiating ways of belonging in material and symbolic borderlands, peripheries and margins around the world. Building on the work of Mezzadra and Neilson (2014) on the proliferations of borders in contemporary global society, the panel seeks to reflect on how visual research can contribute to the study of the production of new classed, racialized/ethnicized, and gendered configurations of insider/outsider to the nation-states and deserving/underserving of socio-political forms of solidarity. Understanding borderscapes as areas “shaped and reshaped by transnational flows, that [go] beyond the modernist idea of clear-cut national territories” (Dell’Agnese and Amilhat Szary 2015, 80), the panel explore visual borderscapes as “signifying systems”, with specific histories and ways of seeing that are constantly reinterpreted in different ways by diverse social actors. Furthermore, the panel aims to open a dialogue on the ways of connecting border experiences with border representations, by rethinking the relationships between politics and aesthetics (Brambilla 2015).

In order to hold this conversation, the panel welcomes empirically-grounded papers that study borderscaping (also) as visual practices through which the imagined border is established and experienced as real. Possible topics include, but are not limited to: the performative nature of borders and ways through which visual objects – but also music and arts – (un)make the border; visual research of de- and re-bordering processes; ways of doing visual activism to challenge dominant representations and hegemonic discourses; visual borderscapes as sites of resistance and struggle.

We especially welcome works where the positionality of the visual researcher is questioned and which make explicit the role played by the visuals in the research process and in the research presentation.

New patterns of intra-EU migration? Ethnographic insights on labour and welfare experiences of migrant workers

Convenors: Gabriella Alberti (Leeds University Business School), Diego Coletto (University of Milano-Bicocca) & Giovanna Fullin (University of Milano-Bicocca)

Since the financial crisis in 2008 and the effects of austerity policies, we have witnessed new patterns of intra-EU migration especially of young people in search of opportunities. Between 2009 and 2014 the largest increase of arrivals was registered in countries like Germany, Austria, the UK, and Denmark. Just considering flows to Germany, the 2014 saw 1.4 million arrivals, with 60% of the new residents being from EU countries (primarily Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, but also “old EU” Southern members). Moreover in 2012-13 immigration from the South of Europe in the UK has surpassed that from Eastern countries (EC 2017).

Numbers however can only reveal the scale of the phenomenon, while there has been only limited fine-grained research on the subjective aspects of these “new” European migrants’ experiences of mobility, on their motivations and expectations, their efforts to access the local labour markets and their relationship with the welfare state systems. Besides “life-style migration” of people with affluent family background, there are high skilled youth of “Erasmus generation” looking for better career opportunities and also low skilled economic-oriented migrants escaping the effects of prolonged social and economic crisis and austerity. The lack of opportunities for the present and the negative or limited perspectives for the future are likely to impact on mobility decisions of people and, in particular, of young people (both high and low educated) living in Eastern and Southern European countries, which have been strongly hit by the economic crisis.

Indeed there has been a shortage of empirical research on the experiences of EU citizens exercising their labour mobility and social rights in the common market, while recent research has shown barriers on the ground to the implementation of equal access to social protections for EU ‘movers’. At the same time and despite the rhetoric around migrants as “welfare tourists” at the core of the nationalistic anti-immigrant discourses, there is evidence that migrants apply for benefits less than citizens, and tend to still rely on elements of their country’s welfare system for their social reproduction.

Against this background this stream aims to explore the lived experiences of migration, and labour market and welfare integration of this “new generation” of migrants, with a focus on the “revived” migration from the East and South to the North of Europe. Are South and East Europeans who emigrate to Centre and North European countries very different from other migrants coming from outside EU in terms of motivations, expectations and individual strategies? How do mobile EU citizens experience access to employment and welfare support measures? What kind of new forms of temporary or onward migration are emerging? How do they address welfare conditionality and labour precariousness and organize their welfare transnationally?

We believe that in-depth qualitative and ethnographic studies can critically contribute to the knowledge of this topic and provide more insights in the current transformation of the social aspects of internal mobility in the EU.

Specific themes include but are not limited to:

  • Conceptualization of new migrations and comparison with previous migrations;
  • Motivations and expectations of new migrants from Southern and Eastern European  countries to Northern Europe;
  • New geographies of migration intra EU: the attractiveness of big cities     and of other destinations;  
  • Policy reforms/discourses about welfare tourism/their impact on migrants’     everyday lives;
  • How do new migrants organize welfare access across borders;
  • Experiences of EU migrants’ labour market (selective) integration;
  • Low-skilled and high-skilled new migrants;
  • Transnational lives and strategies, onward migration, multinational worker;
  • Relationship between multiple welfare entitlements and employment condition;
  • Use of mix of traditional qualitative research tools with more innovative research tools to study labour and welfare mobility (for instance digital ethnography).


Informal labour brokers and contemporary capitalist economies

Convenors: Timothy Raeymaekers (University of Zurich) & Domenico Perrotta (University of Bergamo)

In comparative sociology and anthropology, the concept of broker remains of great relevance.  Famously, Jeremy Boissevain defined a social broker as a “professional manipulator of people and information”, who “places people in touch with each other either directly or indirectly for profit” and “bridges gaps in communication between persons, groups, structures and even cultures”. Such brokers are seen as central figures in the spread of colonial power, the development of patronage as well as a particular type of social and economic system, defined “broker capitalism”, typical of so-called ‘peripheral’ economies and States.

More recently, in the study of transnational mobility and labour markets, the role of the informal brokers has taken an prominent position. Over the last years, even if European labour market scholars have noted a trend towards the formalization of (migrant) labour intermediation (for instance through temporary work agencies, “posted workers” and governments’ schemes for the recruitment of seasonal workers), the role of informal brokers seems to remain important in bridging formal-informal ties.

But what kind of role such brokers play in contemporary capitalist economies is far from foreclosed. Some scholars depict a  downward exploitative relationship to so-called ‘informal’ labourers, assuming brokers become complicit in the formers’ “adverse incorporation” (Philips 2010) and channeled (hyper)mobility (Xiang and Lindquist 2014). As “thuggish” intermediaries, labour brokers are kept particularly responsible for debt bondage and human trafficking in complicity with smuggling and exploitation networks. Other scholars insist nonetheless on the more ‘positive’ role such brokers may play in enhancing ‘social capital’ and fostering trust in what are commonly described as ‘fragile’ social contexts. The underlying theory here is that of the “strength of weak ties” (Granovetter), which starts from the presupposition that networks with social ties in different environments than their close family and community are more likely to develop their social capital, and thus, to foster economic development.

This dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ brokers has served little to explain the important institutional function of informal brokers in bridging formal and informal capital accumulation, however: the question how labour intermediaries may perform and even transform certain regulatory functions either beyond or within state frameworks. Nor does it explain much about the political subjectivity of such intermediary figures, and the ways they are themselves part of “systems in the making”.

Inspired by the recent literature on migrant infrastructure, with its emphasis on the channeling, filtering and circulation of migrant mobility, this panel aims to focus on alternative conceptualizations of the relationship between migrant mobility, informal intermediation and contemporary capitalist institutions. It invites contributions from all social science disciplines. We give special priority towards longitudinal ethnographic work that challenges existing paradigms.

Possible questions to be addressed by the presenters are:

  • the transformations that systems of informal brokerage foster, prevent or delay in the economic sectors in which they are inserted;
  • the relationships between informal brokerage and public regulations of labour market and transnational mobility;
  • the conflicts over the figure, role, and activities of informal brokers;
  • the question of scale: how broker figures are capable of navigating and challenging spatially embedded distinctions between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ ‘sectors’.


Boissevain, J. (1974): Friends of Friends. Networks, Manipulators and Coalitions. Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

Granovetter, M. (1973) The strength of weak ties, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 78, n° 6 (May),  pp. 1360-1380.

Phillips, N. (2013) Unfree labour and adverse incorporation in the global economy:  comparative perspectives on Brazil and India, Economy and Society, 42:2, pp. 171-196

Xiang, B. and Lindquist, J. (2014) Migration Infrastructure, in: IMR, 48 1 (Fall 2014), pp. 122–148.



Ethnographies of racialized labour processes

Convenors: Vando Borghi (University of Bologna) & Devi Sacchetto (University of Padova)

The production system, organized in chains of global value, is characterized by increasingly extensive processes of segmentation of labour. The structure of production is stratified with a division of workers thanks also to subcontractors and to (international) recruitment agencies. The distribution of workforce in these segments is often linked to the characteristics of individuals at the crossroads of a set of elements such as ‘race’, gender, class, citizenship, age, religion, language. These processes overcome labour markets and workplaces, extending to aspects of social reproduction.

The flexible segmentation of the European labour market seems to be supported by the reactivation of devices of racialization placing workers within a hierarchical scale in the concrete dimension of production systems. Diversity thus contribute to control and help to produce increasing value. These racialization devices need to be analyzed in close connection with the global value chains structure, the state policy and union strategies. It would be wrong, however, to consider the segmentation of occupational systems as a passive pigeonholed of the workforce because these ‘colour lines’ are crossed by continuous tensions with conflicting phenomena in and out of work.

These forms of conflict are often supported by migrants in workplaces that have already been racialized, as it is evident by the experiences of Italian agriculture and logistics. On the other hand, the mobility processes of Central and Eastern European citizens show that the ‘colour line’ does not run out in the skin colour element as they are affected by further stratification processes.

There are several “lines” of separation also among white workers that affect both the ‘new’ European (Eastearn) citizens as well as the ‘new’ migrants from Southern Europe. In the division of labour, we can also note the specific role played by gender, with migrants women that are mainly placed in the domestic services and often separated based on the country of origin and on the skin colour.

In this panel, we invite to submit papers focusing on the impact of the segmentation of the labour market, particularly with regard to social relations within the workforce. The ethnographic gaze could therefore offer a contribution to analyze the experience that workers make in the labour process both as form of representation and disputing, and finally of justification. Papers may include, but are not limited to, these topics:

  • Subjective perception and the ways in which individuals experience the processes of segmentation and racialization in workplace;
  • The different structure of production processes within which racialization patterns develop;
  • The role played by the institutional dimension;
  • The forms of critique, conflict and emancipation as a response to the experiences of racialization;
  • The problems of ethnographic research in investigating labour processes segmented.


Critical ethnographies of African media and creative industries

Convenors: Alessandro Jedlowski (University of Liege)

The introduction of new media and telecommunication technologies, coupled with ongoing processes of political and economic liberalization, has opened up new economic possibilities and provoked the emergence of entirely new sectors in the economies of most African countries. The rapid growth of media industries around the continent that resulted from this trends has attracted much scholarly attention over the past few years, and the study of modern forms of what Karin Barber (1987) famously defined as “African popular arts” made the object of several publications in Africa as elsewhere. Simultaneously, in a global context that is marked by the price volatility of raw materials such as oil and copper, media and creative industries, described as the new “African black gold”, have attracted the interest of a large number of both African and non-African players, making the African creative sector the object of unprecedented corporate interests.

The majority of the studies which focused on media and creative industries in Africa have adopted research methodologies drawn from the field of cultural studies and critical political economy, and have thus focused mostly on the analysis of the contents produced and circulated by these industries, or on the analysis of the larger web of political and economic factors influencing them. These studies tended to share a common optimistic assumption: in societies considered (from a western point of view) as generally lacking freedom of expression, the introduction of new technologies and the exponential increase in creative expression would provoke an acceleration in processes of democratic transformation and an increase in the chances for upward social mobility. This optimism has often hidden the complex intertwining between the opportunities for the formulation of critical thinking that this emerging production has created, and the forms of political control and economic marginalization that it has equally helped in consolidating, and has thus participated in obscuring rather than highlighting the complex processes “by which art is produced and meanings conveyed” (Cooper 1987: 102).

As Brian Larkin underscored, “what media are needs to be interrogated and not presumed. The meanings attached to technologies, their technical functions, and the social uses to which they are put are not an inevitable consequence but something worked out over time in the context of considerable cultural debate. And even then, these meanings and uses are often unstable, vulnerable to changing political orders and subject to the contingencies of objects’ physical life” (2008: 3). In this perspective, ethnography acquires a central role for the interpretation of the wide range of social and cultural practices that surrounds media production, circulation and consumption. In fact, media do not only transmit contents, they also “represent cultural ambitions, political machineries, modes of leisure, relations between technology and the body, and, in certain ways, the economy and spirit of an age” (Larkin 2008: 2).

On the ground of these assumptions, this panel invites contributions based on a critical ethnographic approach to the study of media and creative industries in Africa that can offer a more nuanced understanding of the historical, social and cultural processes from which these industries have emerged and within which they operate. We welcome papers on all aspects of media production, distribution and consumption which can participate to the production of a thick description of the ongoing transformation of the creative sector in Africa and further our understanding of its implications for larger political and economic issues affecting the continent.


Barber, Karin. 1987. “Popular arts in Africa” African Studies Review 30.3: 1-78

Cooper, Frederick. 1987. “Who is the Populist?” African Studies Review 30.3: 99-104

Larkin, Brian. 2008. Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria. Durham: Duke University Press.


Contested Rights: Minorities and Justice

Convenors: Paola Bonizzoni (University of Milano) & Alberta Giorgi (University of

A growing body of literature focuses on the concept of Eurolegalism and, more broadly, judicialization of politics to highlight the increasing relevance of the courts and the ‘language of rights’ for dealing with politically controversial issues.

Indeed, the increasing role of the judicial power in politics has been connected to the difficulties in accessing the political venue, to the growing dissatisfaction with the principles and institutions of representative democracy and to the demands for transparency and accountability. According to some scholars, thus, the expansion of the judicial field may be interpreted as a form of democratization, to the extent that it provides windows of opportunity for otherwise unheard voices, by increasing groups’ and individuals’ opportunities to bring rights claims, and to intervene and participate to the collective regulation of societies.

On the other hand, ‘turning to law’ and mobilizing the judiciary may be costly (requiring different forms of cultural, economic or relational capital) and even risky, unintentionally jeopardizing public processes of issues’ legitimation. Moreover, groups may have other, relevant, reasons to restrain from taking legal action (such as cultural and identity-related preferences and considerations).

In this sense, cultural understandings of the law, attitudes toward the judiciary and broader processes of social inequality can be understood as relevant factors to explain to what extent minorities decide (not) to “turn to the law” either individually or collectively, to challenge discrimination, as well as to claim and expand their rights.

In this session, we solicit ethnographic and qualitative studies (including comparative ones) that examine, from different angles, methods and theoretical perspectives, the judicialization of minority groups issues – particularly in the fields of religion, immigration, and LGBT, women’s and Roma rights.

We especially welcome studies tackling:

  1. Strategic litigation, either through national and supranational/international courts (to overcome national veto-players through processes of venue-shopping). How do minority groups conceive of and mobilize the law?
  2. Rights claim via lobbying activities and public campaigning centred on issues of legal reform and/or the mobilization of the ‘language of rights’ to frame minority issues.
  3. The role played by gatekeepers (legal and para-legal experts) in providing individuals and groups critical resources to navigate the law and concretely mediate access to rights.


Experiencing the Sacred between Religion and Spirituality

Convenors: Stefania Palmisano (University of Turin), Nicola Pannofino (University of Turin) ed Emily Pierini (University of Wales Trinity Saint David/The American University of Rome)

Religion” and “Spirituality” are terms of a binomial that is at the core of recent debates in the field of religious studies. Their relation is variably understood either as opposition or complementarity. In the first instance, according to the formula “spiritual but not religious” used by those who cultivate a personal relationship with the transcendent beyond institutionalized religions. In the latter one, spirituality expresses the subjective dimension of religion. Both these definitions emphasize lived experience, and especially a sacred that permeates everyday practices, close to the body, to sensory perception and to the agency of the person in transition between multiple secular spheres of society.

In order to delve into this field, we invite contributions grounded in ethnographic research focussing upon the relationship between religion and spirituality in the concrete social contexts of everyday life, and that stress a methodological reflection upon the status of ethnography in the study of lived religion and spirituality.

Some of the areas around which this theme can be developed are:

  • spirituality and religion in everyday life
  • spirituality and gender
  • body, emotions and spirituality
  • the perceptive dimension in the experience of the sacred
  • health, wellbeing and spirituality
  • spirituality and the notion of personhood
  • creative expressions of the religious in secular contexts
  • the ethnography of spirituality: how the ethnographer perceives the experiences of others


Ethnographic studies of tourism

Convenors: Monica Gilli (Università di Torino) & Giovanna Rech (Università di Trento)


Interest in a qualitative approach in tourism studies has increased in recent years, although a quantitative approach is still prevalent (for a review see Riley & Love, 2000), as evidenced in academic journals. Manual on qualitative methodology and case study collections have been published to expedite the recommended approach to qualitative research for tourism studies (eg Goodson & Phillimore, 2004; Veal, 2006), with the objective of ensuring more rigorous, credible and transparent findings (eg Richards & Munsters, 2010).

Researchers have numerous opportunities to explore tourism using a qualitative and ethnographic approach, not only in terms of its economic dimensions, but also when tourism acts as a vehicle through which major socio-cultural transformations in contemporary society can be observed. These transformations are hardly detectable using a macro approach, when the goal is to define numbers and percentages.

A micro perspective is best suited to using the qualitative approach, with analysis limited to a temporary communitas of travellers, or failing that, to just a single traveller; inclusive of his or her experience, projections, expectations and role assumptions. Accordingly, the tools of analysis are adapted to the tourist context being investigated. Hence, in this way, it is possible to address subjective issues, such as the numerous dimension of tourist experience, tourist emotions, perceptions of authenticity, the relationship between self and others (i.e., tourists, the host community and the local institutions), and that between the extraordinary (the holiday) and ordinary ( everyday) life.

Some tourism research topics are particularly beneficial to the application of a qualitative and ethnographic approach.

Among these, we suggest:

- the creation and the interpretation of the tourist sites;

- the participatory approach to tourism;

- the tourist values in cultural and natural heritage;

- the interpretation of history and memory in the tourist sites (between decolonization and memories of war);

- the communication and edutainment in the tourist sites (reviews, tour guides and tour guides);

- the tourist experience as practice and performance.


Goodson, L. & Phillimore, J. (Eds.) (2004). Qualitative Research in Tourism: Ontologies, Epistemologies and Methodologies, London and New York: Routledge.

Richards, G. & Munsters, W. (Eds.) (2010). Cultural Tourism Research Methods, Wallingford, UK: CABI.

Riley, R. & Love, L. (2000). The state of qualitative tourism research, Annals of Tourism Research,  27, 164–187.

Veal, A. J. (2006). Research Methods for Leisure and Tourism: A Practical Guide, Harlow Pearson Education.

Minors in migration: Comparative Approaches

Convenors: Simona Tersigni (Université Paris Nanterre) & Lorenzo Navone (INS HEA)

Political Europe in recent years has been crossed by a multitude of “crises” (economic, political, migratory, etc.). This crisis is often followed by an “emergency” response, as in the case of treatment for asylum seekers and refugees in different transit areas (in Calais, Ventimiglia, Lampedusa and Lesbos). In this situation, the emergence of discourses and rhetorical design about spreading waves of “moral panic”, especially around the issue of migrant minors (Machiels, Niget 2013), has effects of reality also in the academic sphere. It is the case with works that re-examine the complexity of the Greek context (Digidiki, Bhabha 2017) focusing exclusively on the issue of psychological violence and on the risks of sexual exploitation in which many unaccompanied foreign minors would incur.

Migrant children have been considered for a long time like some appendices of migration studies, a fragile subject to be complied with and protected, or an inappropriate one, to be measured, distributed, corrected and punished, but always lacking in voice, will, agency (Fassin 2005). It is therefore crucial that a renewed empirical positioning is now enriched with child migration studies taking distance from common sense categories. This needs to analyse discourses and emotions mobilized around the destiny of these children and teen agers. It is necessary to compare different forms of identification, their status, and the many definitions and categorizations that invest them in the light of a continuum, from unaccompanied minors to minors who are “bad” or “little” accompanied, to the underage family migrants and those admitted for “family reunification”.

We require empirical studies that reflect on the migration paths, health, education and the right of migrant children and teen-agers to query the public and social policies, family projects and individual choices of these young social actors. The infra/inter-institutional tensions regarding these children will be the focus of ethnographic proposals aimed at understanding social and family policies. Identification procedures (biometrics, psychological and aptitude tests) and recognition of unaccompanied minors will be particularly important for capturing, as in a magnifying glass, the criteria related to contemporary official representations of a childhood and adolescence considered as authentic, but in fact socially produced, by medical, legal and social intervention institutions (Tersigni 2015). The internal comparative approach of communications or produced by the proposed papers will allow comparisons of practices, rhetorical design and mobilized values at the collective and individual, institutional, but also associative levels.


Diasio, N. e S. Tersigni, 2014. Corpo e infanzia in situazione migratoria, Interazioni 1-2014, pp. 47-60.

Digidiki, V. e J. Bhabha, 2017. Emergency within an Emergency: The Growing Epidemic of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Children in Greece, Harvard University.

Fassin, D. 2005. Compassion and Repression: The Moral Economy of Immigration Policies
in France, Cultural Anthropology 20 (3), pp. 362-387.

Machiels, C. e D. Niget, 2013. Protection de l’enfance et paniques morales, Paris, Fabert.

Tersigni, S. 2015. À chacun sa toise. Enjeux de taille et conformité d’âge à l’aube de l’adolescence, Ethnologie française, 2015-4 (154), pp. 633-642.

Work, Consumption and Social Relations: Processual Approaches to the Platform Society

Convenors: Chiara Bassetti (University of Trento), Annalisa Murgia (University of Leeds) & Maurizio Teli (Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute)

In the last decades, the widespread adoption of digital technologies has been characterised by the increasingly intense use of “platforms” that burst into our everyday professional and personal lives (Huws, 2014; Kalleberg, Dunn, 2016; Srnicek, 2016), from consumption to working activities, from intimate relationships to new forms of organising as both workers and citizens (Scholz, 2016; Schor, 2016; Armano et al., 2017). Governments, companies, unions, and the academic community alike seem to converge on the idea that digital platforms represent a game-changer for economic, political and social activities and relationships. This is what we refer to as the “platform society”, in which such platforms are supposed to change, when not to innovate, almost every aspect of social life.

The aim of this session is to critically engage with such an assumption, by focusing on platforms not only as techno-economic objects, but as processes of agencement (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980; Gherardi, 2016), in which subjects, artefacts, regulations, geographical contexts, technologies, knowledge, politics and economics may connect in different ways, in a mixture of continuity with previous experiences and emerging practices. What is new, in the platform society, and what is a rearrangement of well-known economic and social processes – as the polarization of economic resources – is a crucial question which is not satisfactorily answered yet. Adopting a processual approach to the study of digital platforms allows challenging monolithic views of their nature and to understand the domination or emancipatory effects they may produce.

How are digital platforms designed, developed and implemented? Is it possible, and how, to re-appropriate their use and to challenge the current neoliberal economic model (Bassetti et al., 2017)? To answer these questions, a pluralistic and interdisciplinary analysis is necessary, in order to understand how digital platforms can be regulated, how computable algorithms are applied to several social activities – from consumption to employment relations – and how new forms of organising, involving both trade unions and social movements, can defend the rights of platform-workers at the global level. Finally, if we want to engage in a critical debate of the uses and effects of platforms, we should also interrogate our practices in using platforms both as individuals and in studying/designing them as a research community. An ethnographic approach able to look into the details of everyday practices of use, design, research and interaction, and the discourses surrounding and shaping such practices, represents a powerful tool to tackle the questions above by avoiding rhetoric and unilateral answers.

In this session, we solicit ethnographic and qualitative contributions, including comparative ones, that explore how digital platforms are enacted through different technologies, territories, timings and practices. Contributions may examine any of the following or related aspects:

  •     Ethical registers beyond digital platforms;
  •     The regulation of online platforms and the protection of workers’ rights;
  •     Workers and  clients in the gig- and sharing economy;      
  •     The introduction of HR information platforms;    
  •     The design and development of mainstream and alternative platforms;
  •     Platform cooperativism and the counter-use of digital technologies;
  •    Emerging forms of organising of trade unions and social movements in        the platform economy;    
  •     The use of  platforms for political actions.

In this session, we invite an interdisciplinary conversation, and we welcome participation by academics, activists and unionists. Young scholars with “work in progress” papers are welcomed. We are interested in empirical contributions as well as empirically grounded theoretical explorations.


Armano E., Murgia A., Teli M. (2017) (eds.) Platform Capitalism e confini del lavoro negli spazi digitali. Milano: Mimesis.

Bassetti C., Teli M., Murgia A. (2017) Tin Hat Games – Producing, Funding, and Consuming an Independent Role-Playing Game in the Age of the Interactive Spectacle. In M. Briziarelli, E. Armano (eds.), The Spectacle 2.0: Reading Debord in the Context of Digital Capitalism. London: University of Westminster Press.

Deleuze G., Guattari, F. (1980) Mille Plateaux. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

Gherardi S. (2016) To start practice theorizing anew: The contribution of the concepts of agencement and formativeness. Organization 23(5): 680-698.

Huws U. (2014) Labor in the global digital economy: the cybertariat comes of age. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Kalleberg A.L., Dunn M. (2016) Good Jobs, Bad Jobs in the Gig Economy. Perspectives on Work 20: 10-14.

Scholz T. (2016) Platform cooperativism. Challenging the corporate sharing economy. New York: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

Schor J. (2016) Debating the Sharing Economy. Journal of Self-Governance & Management Economics 4(3): 7-22.

Srnicek N. (2016) Platform capitalism. London: Polity Press.

Comparing What? Conceptualising comparison in migration and urban studies


Nicholas DeMaria Harney (The University of Windsor) & Andrea Mubi Brighenti (University of Trento)

In this session, contributors will be asked to explore the myriad forms of comparison that are explicit and implicit in ethnographic work. As Evans-Pritchard is reported to have said, ‘There is only one method in anthropology, the comparative method – and that is impossible.”

While the reflexive turn in ethnography displaced explicit reference to an evolutionist comparative method, embedded in our practices of ethnographic representation, delimiting field sites and implicitly, if unspoken, construction of ‘cultural units’ lingers questions of temporality, morality and value. In what ways do temporality, morality and value implicitly structure our selection of field sites, conceptual tools and research questions?

As Appadurai noted, there is a tendency for places to become connected to specific research questions, exemplars of particular issues. A result of this tendency, analysis in those sites becomes restricted to a related set of questions and the interpretive process can lead to distortion. How do certain keywords or conceptual terms that emerge out of placed-based situated ethnography become metonyms for the studied sites themselves and therefore displace or discourage other forms of inquiry?

Ethnography’s strength is its intimate, on-the-ground observation, interpretation and analysis of complex social realities and the improvisational, contingent aspects of the everyday. Ethnographers rely on intimate, experiential engagement with a group of people building narratives that address a situated social setting. How does this place-based and intimate, interpersonal form of research and knowledge production create challenges for comparison across place-based sites?

Furthermore, how do the universalized pressures on academic research agendas configure comparisons? Funding agencies’ insistence on the policy relevance of research projects and conformity to the increasing demands of University audit measures impose agendas both explicit and implicit on comparative research. What might be the epistemological consequences of these normative pressures, measures and values on our research projects?

Ethnographers play an ambivalent game, at once suggesting that their interpretation of a fragment of social life speaks to some greater conceptual insight, but at the same rejecting the imposition of universal claims and models that reinforce inequalities, erase contingences, difference and sociality. In this session, contributors are asked to explore the challenges and uncertainties of comparison. We invite papers dealing with issues such as:

  • Constructing comparisons in/through ethnographic research
  • Epistemological, methodological and practical challenges in the construction of the units of comparison
  • Understanding comparative migration studies and comparative urbanism through the lenses of ethnographic research
  • The relevance of place-based approaches in migration and urban studies for developing comparative research
  • Critical reflections on the explicit and implicit politics of comparative research


Be(ar)ing witness: Testimony, evidence, and subjectivation in institutional contexts

Convenors: Alessandra Gribaldo (University of Bologna), Tommaso Sbriccoli (SOAS, University of London), Barbara Sorgoni (University of Turin).

Recently, social sciences have devoted much effort to the investigation of processes of subjectivation within contemporary society. Governmental practices intersecting various aspects of life have been approached as instances of how people constitute themselves, or are constituted, as subjects. Although the role of witnesses in legal and institutional contexts is a crucial field to tackle this topic, it has nonetheless remained understudied.

Each instance of testimony in institutional forums goes through processes that force it to comply with specific assumptions and requirements (clarifying the identity of the witness, the need for chronological consistency and non-contradiction, a focus on a coherent space-time framework, coherent narrative of the self, veridicity, objective evidence, and so on).

In order to reach a legal outcome, complex experiences are tailored to fit into adequate narratives by legal and discursive devices, and all subjects involved continuously negotiate the conditions under which a testimony can be acknowledged. Finally, different juridical forms and institutional procedures act within different regimes of truth, each one implying specific epistemic principles. All the above processes get further complicated in intercultural settings, where witnesses’ narratives need to be translated into different languages and format in order to be received and assessed by decision makers.

The panel will focus on empirical research on contemporary institutional practices related to both formal legal settings as courts, and those “middle ground” contexts which are best analysed through the ethnographic method, such as (among many others) asylum cases, human trafficking, domestic and sexual abuse, and forms of assessment of psycho-bodily dimensions in legal and medical cases when diseases or abuses are to be attested. The session invites to reflect on the specific nature of testimonial evidence, the relationship with institutional and formal requirements, the kind of discourses involved in truth assessment, which kind of subject has the chance to make her voice heard and through what kind of testimony.

The aim is to investigate the role of witnesses in these contexts, in order to grasp which juridical and institutional expectations and codes are shared and put into practice by decision-makers and other participants, how subjectivities are produced, and how normative frameworks intersect with moral, political and cultural ones.

Papers should ideally engage with one or more of the following themes:

  • The political meaning of subjectivity construction in institutional settings    

  • The role of ethnicity, gender and citizenship in testimony reception 

  • The role of interpreters and other social and legal professionals    

  • The relationship between testimony and evidence

  • Contestations, agency and strategies in reporting witness

Migrant Masculinities and Global Religions. Exploring Gendered Religious Change through International Mobility

Convenors: Ester Gallo (University of Trento) & Francesca Scrinzi (University of Glasgow/European University Institute)

Despite the historical role played by religious institutions in reproducing social hierarchies based on gender (as well as on ethnicity and class), the sociology of religion has lagged behind other fields in developing a gendered analysis. This is partly due to the liberal (and Western-centric) roots of feminist thought, which mainly considered religion as a tool of male dominance and interpreted secularization as an inroad to women’s emancipation. The relation between gender and religion remains largely under-studied and under-theorised. Exceptions within feminist studies have mainly focused on women and religion, while, since the 1990s critical men’s studies have started to pay attention to male spiritualties.

From a different but related perspective, migration studies have increasingly shown how religion is transformed in its theological and sociological aspects in the context of transnational mobility. The latter contributes to disentangle major religions from the sites and civilizations within which and in terms of which they were historically formed, producing renewed ways of conceiving and practicing faith, and new cartographies of religious belonging. The gendered contours of these new religious formations have yet to be analysed in detail. Scholars of religion and gender in the migratory context have indeed focused mainly on migrant women, who are singled out as the ‘keepers of the cultural flame’ and responsible to pass on religious ‘traditions’ to the younger generations. Rare studies on religion and migrant masculinities suggest that religion is used by men to accommodate the challenges arising in transnational households; and show how patriarchal norms are renegotiated in migrant congregations in response to processes of racialization.

Drawing from these considerations, this panel aims to develop an original dialogue between the sociology of religion, of migration and of gender, based on ethnographic/qualitative research methodologies. It will explore how gender and religion intertwine and transform each other in the context of transnational mobility. In particular, we focus on masculinities: while we question the overlapping between the analytical category of gender and ‘women’, we locate masculinities within a broader materialist theoretical perspective and understanding of gender, which includes femininities. Men are gendered social actors who develop strategies to maintain their privileges in the gendered division of work, and in doing so they contribute to reproduce, but also transform, masculinities and femininities. Because of the key role of religion as ‘constitutive’ of gendered social hierarchies in society, we claim that a focus on gendered religious change in the context of globalization and international migration is significant to understanding the current global reorganization of multiple and intersecting inequalities.

We welcome proposals that consider (also comparatively) religions as different as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or Sikhism, and that focus on different migrant groups and geographical areas. Some of the themes we wish to explore are:

  • The relationship between religion and hegemonic/subaltern masculinities in the context of transnationalism and international migration;
  • The role of (majority and minority) religious institutions and religious     discourses in accommodating/representing the presence of migrants in     immigration societies, and more particularly in forging ideas of masculinity and femininity;     
  • How migrant men (and women), as believers or religious leaders, use     religion to renegotiate gender relations, and more particularly masculinities, in a transnational space;
  • How migrants use religion to resist gendered processes of racialization     and de-skilling; 
  • How gendered religious teachings are transformed/challenged in the     migratory context;  
  • How migration challenges the association between masculinity and sacred     power.