Ethnographies of asylum seeker reception

Convenors: Michela Semprebon (Università IUAV di Venezia) & Roberta Marzorati (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca)

Asylum seekers dispersal programmes have been operating across cities and towns in different European countries. Although to varying degrees, a sustained ‘moral panic’ has spread throughout EU countries, in connection to dispersal itself. Yet, the arrival and reception of asylum seekers and refugees have triggered different reactions in local societies ranging from  discoursive opposition up to violent attacks on the one hand to active inclusionary engagement and welcoming practices on the other. On their side, local authorities have shown diverging stances: some have invested symbolic and material resources to favour a more inclusive governance of dispersal; other have dismissed any request to invest in the reception of asylum seekers and refugees, thus legitimizing citizens’ most racist positions.

In Italy forms of resistance, protests and mayors uncooperative stances have gained increasing visibility in the media, particularly with reference to (although not exclusively) small and medium size cities in the North. At the same time, varying forms and projects of inclusion can be found across the whole country, in spite of the fact they have arguably been given less attention by the media. While scholars have been investigating asylum reception policies, on the one side, and the everyday experience of asylum seekers, on the other, there appears to be little empirical evidence on local societies reactions and their impact on more or less inclusive practices.

Against this background, this call for papers aims to collect ethnographic and qualitative studies exploring contentious dynamics and welcoming practices in local contexts of dispersal, with specific reference to contributions focusing on the following:

  • Situations, experiences and initiatives in which inclusionary actions, involving any actors engaged in the governance of reception and inclusion (reception operators, local authorities, Prefectures, local associations, etc.) promote effective possibilities for asylum seekers and refugees to engage in meaningful encounters with local residents and fellow refugees;
  • Situations, experiences and initiatives in which inclusionary or exclusionary actions impact on the post-reception integration of asylum seekers and refugees in the dispersal locality or else on their onward movements;
  • Contentious dynamics between native residents and asylum seekers and refugees.
  • The rise of organized groups opposing asylum seekers arrival and the socio-political elements and organizational setting that make a place more or less welcoming than others.

The overall goal of the proposed panel is to analyse and compare tensions between inclusionary and exclusionary actions (and reactions) of the civil society in dispersal localities and to highlight their positive and/or negative effects on pacific cohabitation and on asylum seekers’ and refugees path towards inclusion.

Comparative contributions will be particularly welcome if they include a transnational comparison between Italy and one or more European country/ies, between the North and South of Italy, between projects promoted in the same locality in different historical periods (ie. after 2011 and during the ex Yugoslavia 1990s humanitarian crisis).


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