Othered people in othered places: a critical and situated exploration of the challenges of cultural diversity in Palermo
In October 2021 I joined as a PhD student the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield. I was previously a student of Architecture at the Politecnico of Turin, Italy, where I got both my Bachelor and Master degrees. At the end of my Master I developed a thesis on the relationship between migration and urban transformation within the South Italian city of Palermo, looking at how migration through the Mediterranean Sea has shaped not only places, but also the narrative surrounding the city. Within this project I experimented for the first time methods that I currently use, for instance the combination of ethnographic observation with different types of visual representation coming from my architecture background, such as personal pictures, maps and drawings. This project, that was born out of a personal interest I had in researching the city I was born in, has become the first step in developing my PhD proposal.
Emergency discourses over immigration have grown drastically in Europe from what, in 2015, has been labelled as the “refugee crisis” by political discourses and media, or the “long summer of migration” by activists and border scholars. Within a context of increased securitation and repression, Italy, and Sicily as the place of arrival, represents a most important external border for Europe, making this country a preferential context for investigating the politics and counter politics of migration.
My exploration is informed by a critical reading of migration, border politics and racial capitalism and by a postcolonial approach to European history. It aligns with authors who denounce the unresolved colonial racism subtending the long-standing framing of migrants as disposable and deportable subjects.
With respect to this, Italy’s historical struggle for racially belonging to a modern, whiteness-bound Europe, makes it a powerful in-between context from where to understand the power and limits of race in shaping peoples’ lives from institutions and political discourse to everyday life and human interactions. This is particularly relevant in Sicily, historically described as a disadvantaged part of Italy, one of many ‘othered’ souths ‘within Western borders’ produced by Eurocentrism.
Drawing from authors who are looking into how borders exceed the ‘extra-ordinary’ geography of borders to creep through the urban realm, this project explores – through an ethnographic approach - how bordering practices have shaped (and are still shaping) places, activities, narratives, human lives within the historical centre of Palermo. It investigates how border politics intersect other global/local processes, with high sensitivity towards the specific geographical (but also social/economic/political) context where these intersections play out. Within this context, my research observes how borders are negotiated (or not) through everyday life and human encounters. How they limit, often violently, migrants’ lives, but also how they are opposed to and challenged.