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Webiar Series 1 - Talk 1

WINTER Webinar Series:
The Art of Confession: Ethnographic reflections on responsibility and doubt at the borderland of Lampedusa

Date: 14 January 2022 (Friday)

Time: 10 -11 AM CET (5 -6 PM HKT)
The Art of Confession: Ethnographic reflections on responsibility and doubt at the borderland of Lampedusa
Speaker: Alessandro Corso (Department of International Development, University of Oxford)



Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork around migrant arrivals to Lampedusa (Italy) in the Mediterranean Sea, this webinar explores how and why doubt is endemic to the production of anthropological knowledge and anthropological concern with ethics. In conversation with recent debates on ethical doubt raised in anthropology, I ask what a rigorous and existentially sensitive engagement with ordinary ethics might entail for anthropology, and the way it could possibly help us to appreciate the difficulties inherent in our work as constitutive to an understanding of ethics in borderland situations. I will proceed and develop this questioning by suggesting that the ethnographic experience of doubt, as it emerges from witnessing migrants and migration worker’s first encounters at the deadliest European frontier of irregular migration, shall be confessed to acquire anthropological significance, rather than being left out from our investigation. Taking Lampedusa island as a metaphorical and contextual stepping-stone, the webinar’s autoethnographic and art-based approach contributes to the anthropology of ethics and migration studies by situating doubt as inherent in the quest to understand what the human – or ethical – condition of living in borderland situations entails.

About the speaker:

My work examines states of absence/presence, life at the borderlands and ordinary ethics, with a focus on the island of Lampedusa and the sea crossing of refugees from North Africa to Europe.

My doctoral thesis, 'Lives at the Border: Abandonment and Survival at the Frontier of Lampedusa', offers an ethnographic description of the contemporary struggles that undocumented migrants, migration workers, and locals experience within the contemporary and ongoing phenomenon of forced migration through the Mediterranean Sea. The thesis, which I have turned into a monograph that is currently under review for the University of Pennsylvania Press, ultimately explores how the island of Lampedusa can be considered as an existential space of struggle, where categorical thinking and fixed concepts leave space to the indeterminate and uncertain space of human existence.

I have also written short pieces for artists and theatre performers about fear and indifference based on fieldnotes, and developed collaborative projects exploring the role that art and anthropology play in impactfully disseminating knowledge on irregular migration.

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