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Danish Center for Welfare Studies

There’s a Hole in the Fence: Civil Pragmatism in Ambiguous Encounters on Lampedusa, Italy.

Author: Laust Lund Elbek
Published: Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, 2021, (E-pub ahead of print: 1-19)

This article revolves around a specific materiality: a hole in the fence surrounding Lampedusa’s refugee centre. By allowing migrants to informally leave the violently guarded centre and enter Lampedusa town, the hole connects social worlds that on paper should be separate. For the local population, the hole materialises an absence of state management and ‘clear rules’, but it also facilitates encounters between locals and migrants in the form of economic transactions and acts of helpfulness. This does not mean that anti-immigration sentiments are absent, but they remain generally concealed beneath civil pragmatism—measures of etiquette aimed at peacefully preserving public space. Further, by highlighting everyday ambiguity and pragmatic interests, the article provides a tempering of the ideologically overdetermined vocabularies that dominate much discourse on migration in Europe.

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