Paolo Boccagni will participate in a seminar on “Care practices and acts of citizenship in liminal spaces”, convened by AIS-Vita Quotidiana, in a blended format, next Thursday 13 October (see the programme attached). Paolo’s presentation is on Taking care in the meanwhile: Scales and reach of day-to-day spontaneous care practices in an asylum centre. See the abstract below.

Taking care in the meanwhile: Scales and reach of day-to-day spontaneous care practices in an asylum centre

Care matters, as an embodied attitude and a set of menial practices, even in institutional accommodation contexts that are typically temporary, marginalized and ‘heteronomous’, while also offering basic hospitality to their legitimate residents. My presentation explores a variety of micro-care practices for one’s living environment, for the significant others and for oneself that have been standing out in my ethnography of an asylum centre in Northern Italy (2018-22). Most of my interlocutors were West African male asylum seekers in their early 20s.  After protracted interactions with several of them as guests (relative to the place they were in), and as hosts (relative to myself, whenever I was invited in their rooms), I have encountered several instances of care practices. These are a matter of care as long as they reflect a personal engagement that, while contributing to fill an apparently “empty” waiting time, is not reducible to mandatory tasks or to purely instrumental or pragmatic concerns. I describe, compare and situate in the broader debate on care and homemaking from the margins five forms of care, more or less pervasive, occasional and reflected upon: looking after the common space of the centre; taking care of the visible infrastructures in one’s bedroom; taking care of one’s private and personal space, as limited as this may be; taking care of oneself, regarding both one’s body and favourite routines; less visibly, but as meaningfully, caring for and about a number of dear ones – such as kin in the countries of origin – through remittances and forms of distant communication. Overall, none of these micro practices has a major influence on asylum seekers’ condition of legal, social and temporal suspension. Nor can they solve the ultimate tension between care and control that informs the lived experience of an asylum centre. Nonetheless, exploring these micro-care practices is a way to do justice to young asylum seekers’ agency and to make better sense of their views of the world and aspirations for the future, from a point of intimate stuckedness in the here-and-now.