Borders and Migration

Exposing the private, engaging in the public. Asylum seekers, intimate publics and normative performances of public participation

By bringing together scholarship on affective (non)citizenship and critical geographies of public space, in this article we examine how the exposure of refugees’ intimate lives, private relationalities and personal histories mediate their conditional access to “the public”. Drawing on long-term ethnographic engagement in the field of asylum in Italy, we show how asylum seekers are confronted with changing patterns of obligation and dependency in both their private and public lives. On the one hand, the elicitation of multiple private life details is the only currency for them to negotiate with state institutions for a potential access to the “right to stay”. On the other hand, their conditional access to the “hosting community” is increasingly contingent on normative performances of public participation, which often involve domestic activities and intimate relations to be cultivated in public or semi-public spaces. These reconfigurations speak about broader redefinitions of the public sphere, oriented towards a rising importance of the intimate as a proper terrain of public legitimacy and inclusion. Yet, exposing the intimate self in the public does not guarantee recognition; rather, the normative incorporation of refugees in the public sphere most often naturalises their conditional belonging in the national space.

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Volume 40 Issue 6

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