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Mobilities, solidarities and imaginaries across the borders: the mountain, the sea, the urban and the rural as spaces of transit and encounters

Migrants’ movements to and across Europe have been increasingly challenged, during the past few decades, by the strengthening of internal and external borders and by the spread of surveillance mechanisms (Walters 2017). This trend, along with the worsening of legal safeguards for asylum seekers and refugees (Ambrosini et al. 2020) and given the lack of safe and legal channels to access European space, has contributed to increase the number of vulnerable people constantly on the move, often entrapped in provisional settlements like informal camps or squats and exploited in precarious jobs in agriculture and in the delivery sector. At the same time, however, migrants constantly try to move across Europe, de facto contesting the Dublin Regulation and the Schengen system (Queirolo Palmas, Rahola 2020). In this regard, critical studies suggest focusing on “transit spaces” as specific social arenas where migrants on the move look for better opportunities and encounters and reshape their trajectories (Fontanari 2019). Transit spaces are often border zones, both at the fringes and at the core of the national territory, following Balibar’s suggestion of Europe as a borderland (2009). Scholars have moved from a spatial representation of borders as fixed lines that divide sovereign political entities towards a multi-dimensional one. “Mobilities” are a key characteristic of transit spaces as the product of the friction between different regulative powers and migrants’ drive to autonomy (Mezzadra, Neilson 2013). Hence, the multiplication of borders can be considered at one side as a method of governance used to divide and hierarchically manage different mobilities, producing a “differential inclusion” and racialisation processes, and at the other side as a porous space transformed by the contesting practices of crossing and dwelling enacted by migrants on the move […]

Focusing mainly on the Italian context, the project focuses on the porosity of the national territory, deeply interconnected at a transnational level, where migrants on the move with different legal status and social positions give shape to various forms of temporary dwelling and mobility, despite the multiplication of borders and boundaries along lines of colour, race, citizenship, gender and class. In the Italian spaces of transit, profoundly transformed by the effects of Covid-19 pandemic, migrants’ mobilities are shaped by mechanisms of containment and multiple filtering, processes of production and reproduction of labour that go often beyond national borders and by the strive for autonomy, fuelled by social representations, imaginaries on the future and narratives of the past which steer choices and biographies. A crucial role in this articulation of mobilities is played by the heterogeneous set of practices of solidarity carried out towards and with migrants: in the urban fabric of the city; around the hotspots, camps and other border apparatuses; in the Mediterranean search and rescue area; within digital platforms and networks; across the alpine passages to northern Europe; in the stratified labour markets where migrant workforce is employed, as in the agriculture, logistics, delivery and services sector. Therefore, the project aims at investigating the social production of porosity and new imaginaries along four different spaces of transit – the mountain, the sea, the urban and the rural area – looking at the encounters between migrants on the move and solidarity networks and actions. In order to address and further develop the research question, the project’s objectives are:


to explore places, times, organisation and characteristics of the various forms of interaction and activism which bring together migrants on the move, solidarity groups and professional and fortuitous actors of support, assessing and comparing how these encounters and forms of solidarity vary in the different spaces of transit identified;

to explore new political imaginaries on sovereign borders and social boundaries through the adoption of an original multi-site and multi-case ethnographic approach combining art methods, future labs and biographical methods;

in the vein of public sociology, to foster debates across research sites, involving local communities and institutional actors, generating special features of the project – i.e. a web-doc, an art exhibit, a podcast series, an Interdisciplinary Legal Clinic – in order to disseminate and inspire new narratives for policy makers and other relevant stakeholders.