Paolo Boccagni will give a keynote at the international workshop “From housing to home-making: Insights of social inclusion of refugees from research and practice”, which will take place at Gothenburg University on 22 September. The conference is convened by CGM – Centre on Global Migration and by MERGING – Integration for migrants. “Housing and integration for refugees in Europe”, the convenors write, “are often technocratic and highly politicized. We want to counter this approach by focusing on the processes of homemaking, belonging and social inclusion of newcomers”. Paolo’s keynote is entitled House, home, both, neither: on the reach, boundaries and dilemmas of homemaking in an asylum centre. See the abstract below.
Home and homemaking are recurrent questions in the international scholarship on forced migration. Little of this, however, has been situated in the lived experience of refugee accommodations, as approached “from within”. With this premise, my lecture revisits a four-year ethnographic study of an asylum reception centre in Northern Italy, through the analytic of the housing-homing interplay. Within a housing context that is typically provisional and remote from the normative register of home, fine-grained ethnography of asylum seekers’ daily routines reveals meaningful forms of homemaking in terms of space appropriation and, to a lesser extent, attachment. This is particularly salient within the residents’ bedrooms – a semi-domestic space to which I gained access over time, as “guest of the guests”. What home means and entails, under condition of legal, temporal and biographical suspension, can then be appreciated less at an abstract and principled level, than through a range of everyday practices. These have to do with boundary-making within and between groups, as well as with mundane rituals, material cultures, care and all ways to spend an apparently empty and “idle” time. Such an ethnographic perspective has important implications for the debate on the meanings, functions and dilemmas of home among forced migrants, as well as for the complex and ambiguous relation between housing and homemaking – more fundamentally, between house and home.