Reception centres for asylum seekers, and “camps” more broadly, are a subject of increasing interest in refugee, housing and border studies. Only a fraction of the literature, however, draws on proper ethnographic fieldwork within these infrastructures. A case in point, which this working paper revisits, is my study of everyday life of residents in an asylum centre in northern Italy. My research focus was on the lived experience of the built environment and on the spatial and temporal boundary-making among residents, and between the latter and service providers. Within rooms and shared kitchens that operate as proxies of a domestic space, people do not simply “wait”. They engage in forms of space appropriation (and to a lesser extent, attachment) that illustrate the significance of homemaking in temporary and unhomely settings. Moreover, the social and material inner space of an asylum centre is far from homogeneous. Against accounts of undifferentiated ghettos or non-places, the chapter illustrates the thresholds and layers of domesticity that refugees as guests negotiate, and that an ethnographer as their guest can capture. Without dismissing the attendant dilemmas, I show the contribution of a “being in” approach to co-produce knowledge on inner domestic routines and cultures, on the ways to (re)present oneself, on the traces of past dwelling. A refugee room gives little of an external view, as long as one gets stuck in. Yet, it provides a uniquely internal view on his everyday life experience and prospects.
‘ROOMS WITH LITTLE VIEW: RELUCTANT HOMEMAKING AND THE NEGOTIATION OF SPACE IN AN ASYLUM CENTRE’ (P. BOCCAGNI, HOMING WP15_22)Download