Currently, migration represents one of the most challenging problems to which societies are called to respond. This guest-edited issue of On_Culture engages with some of the less-explored facets of migration, focusing on the idea that the lived reality of migration is always also framed by discursive formations, and that metaphors can function as creative devices therein to establish a broader perception of what migration could or even should mean in the first place. Taking this perspective, where imagination and lived migration are intricately linked through layers of discourse, should allow us to shed some new light on the topic of migration.
Metaphors of Migration
Migration Politics and Shifts in Cultural Self-Interpretation
In light of the current multiple crises, authoritarian movements gain new strength. Claiming that globalization and especially migration is endangering social cohesion and national sovereignty, without considering political-economic aspects, they call for a strong state. Along the lines of those claims, they revise what Helmut Dubiel called the “cultural selfinterpretation,” meaning the understanding of the political superstructure of their community. Doing that, liberal values and concepts are re-interpreted, as can be seen with the “rule of law” for example. From its intrinsic value of strengthening individual claims against the state’s rule, they turn it into a concept of state power, interpreting the “rule of law” as the rule of a mythical legitimized sovereign. Those re-interpretations — and legal constructs referring to them — will be analyzed in this essay. Authoritarian politics and their roots will be regarded in their contradictory relation to (neo-)liberalism as they appear as a critique towards it at first glance. Yet, taking into account early Critical Theory and its analysis of authoritarianism, the article aims to show that those tendencies emerge from liberal ideas and ideals. Seen from this perspective the article promotes the view that rather than a pure defense of liberalism, a materialist examination of liberalism’s inner contradictions is necessary to understand and criticize authoritarianism.
Ephemeral and Participatory Art Interventions in the Macrolotto Zero Neighborhood
The city of Prato is arguably one of the most widely studied multicultural urban contexts in Italy and more generally in Europe. Yet, in the analysis of the dynamics that enable this conceptualization of the city as a space of cultural complexity little attention has been paid to the way in which localized processes of transculturation have, since the early 1980s, changed both the visual landscape of Prato, and the way in which it is imagined and understood by the different people that call it home. This paper focuses on Macrolotto Zero, one of the city’s most multicultural neighborhoods particularly marked by decades of Chinese diasporic movements. It explores how processes of exchange/conflict between local and migrant residents, artistic collectives, activists and policy-makers have profoundly changed the way in which the neighborhood is imagined and conceptualized at a local, national and transnational level. Drawing from fieldwork, interviews with local artists and historical research on the neighborhood’s visual and aural changes, this paper argues that this historical industrial area of Prato has been undergoing an extensive process of re-imagining. This process has been driven by bottom-up participatory art interventions and by residents which have repositioned the neighborhood as a creative and innovative space of experimentation that testifies to intricate cross-cultural entanglements.
Challenging Images of Migration and Patriarchy
Political metaphors condition social reality and mediate authority. One repeatedly used metaphor in discourses about migration and refuge is the misconception that ‘the state is a house.’ Far from only defining the modalities of inclusion and exclusion, metaphors of houses and housing evoke patriarchal political relationships between guests and hosts, homeless and homeowners, the household’s head and his subjects, and the man and his women. Houses present themselves to us in ambiguous, even contradictory ways in that they both shelter and imprison. Furthermore, in spite of a general need for accommodation the state fails to provide material housing, only feigning the imagination of security. Therefore, ‘housing’ appears to be a key paradox of nationalist and chauvinist discourse. Figurative language is, however, unfinished, which is why our images of houses, charged with the theology, anthropology, politics, and language of foundations, buildings, and walls, may be challenged by critique and interpretation. Developing a critical metaphorology, committed to analyzing the framed arguments and underlying contexts of said discourses justifying patriarchy and nationalism, we describe the choice between inhabiting and abandoning ‘the house.’ Ultimately, we present counter-narratives about decaying structures of power and propose ways to take ‘housing’ issues to the streets.
Reading the Pumice Raft and Migration through Agentic Ecologies and Australian Border Control
In 2019, reports of a raft of pumice adrift in the Pacific Ocean circulated. Expelled from the Earth by an underwater volcanic eruption, the raft is wonderous and abject, severed from its geologic origins. A threatening Anthropocene omen, it troubles the smooth space of the ocean through its intrusion. We track its movement through surveillance technologies — tools of control that buttress turbulent and shifting contemporary borders.
Our consideration of the movement of people across porous borders apprehends migratory discourse and critiques framings of abjectness, fear, and colonial reperformance in an Australian context. Security and surveillance, and the littoral composition of Australian borders figure as means of maintaining and reinforcing fixed, terrestrial constructions of sovereignty. Recent border polices involving stratified spaces of offshore detention become bureaucratic and inhumane extensions of the littoral sphere — convergences of the smooth and stratified, that invert, yet reinforce colonial control and persecution.
Framed by Deleuzoguattarian notions of smooth, stratified, and holey space, and our ongoing research project, Ecological Gyre Theory, we see overlaps, collisions, and parallels between the pumice raft as agentic, ecological force, and legacies of invasion and colonisation, reperformed onto people and landscapes. Considering the agentic power of bodies, we read the traversal of the sea by both raft and asylum seekers towards a critique of Australian history and cultural identity. Our critique endorses both a decolonial and New Materialist approach, exploring ecology and being amidst climate collapse and a rapidly changing world.