Seminar || 2020 Migrating Rights | Keywords

Middle Passages

Gaia Giuliani (CES)

February 19, 2020, 14h00

Room 1, CES | Alta

Discussants/moderation: Manuela Ribeiro Sanches, Clara Keating, Júlia Garraio


As a way of closing the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 10th, 2018) the masterclass "Border as Method" will take place as the first event of the 2020 Migrating Rights | Keywords, A series of events follows a set of crucial keywords for a critical understanding of issues related to migrations and border regimes: Border, Humanitarianism, Black Mediterranean, Representations, Operations of bio-borders, and Counter-narratives.

Keyword #3 | Middle Passages


This seminar focuses on connections and disconnections between the history of the Black Atlantic and the current Middle Passage through the Mediterranean. Building on the idea that the slave ship is the chronotope of modernity (Paul Gilroy) through which the differential ontology among human beings is established by the distinction between who can and who cannot be reduced to property for value extraction, I would say that the slave ship, together with the slave auction and the plantation, are the semiotic places that construed race as it was, that is, as inherent monstrosity whose violence and unmasterability are to be restrained and reverted into enslaved docility.

If we then confront the slave ship and the migrant boat crossing the Mediterranean and landing in Lampedusa and in the Southern shores of Italy and Europe, the second appears as a sort of a postmodern reverse chronotope: in the first case, the nonautonomous journey into the slave ship and life in the plantation described by Fredrick Douglass, and more recently bell hooks, Saidiya Hartman, Marcus Rediker and Christina Sharpe defines the ontology of the slave as non-autonomous, hence non-human, and builds, by contrast, the humanness-as-autonomy of the master; in the second, the migrants’ autonomous journey and life, as well as his/her living in barracks and camps like “The Jungle” in Calais, or similar in Ventimiglia, Roma, Parigi, Idomeni, Patrasso, signals the impossibility of that dichotomy(Papadopoulos & Vassilis Tsianos; Mezzadra). My seminar confronts historically these opposite figures of colonial and postcolonial Modernity, building on the idea of borders as semiotic dispositifs - grounded on the colonial legacy of racial constructions and grounding new articulations of those same constructions.