Dr Giovanna Di Matteo holds an inter-university PhD in Geography obtained from the University of Padova, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and the University of Verona. She is currently a research fellow at the University of Padova. Her research activity to date encompasses the Geography of Tourism, Critical Tourism Studies and Heritage Studies. Her additional research interests include Migration Studies, Mobility Studies, and Landscape Studies.


‘The im(mobile) archipelago: old and new devices of isolation’

Traditionally islands have been represented as isolated, remote, and immobile. However, several studies demonstrated that islands are fully immersed in the logics of globalisation and are involved with human and non-human mobilities. Islands have often been considered as experimental grounds for exercising power and policies, and historically have been used as spaces of exclusions and marginalisation of ‘disposable’ or ‘dangerous’. Today, the relevant role played by borders-islands is evident in the EU’s guiding documents on migration issues. At the same time, the phenomena involving islands and detention are constantly evolving and changing. The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak influenced the Italian government in its decision to use cruise ships and ferries as ‘quarantine ships’ proposing ‘floating islands’ – or ‘floating prisons’ – to contain migrants, a practice already experimented with in the past and with current experimentation in other countries.

Various elements allow drawing a parallel between ships and islands both on the material and metaphoric level: spaces of isolation, mobile/immobile spots, idyllic tourist destinations, territories to occupy or extra-territorial spaces. Both spatially defined by apparently clear and defined boundaries, which can be easily turned into isolating and reclusion spaces. Islands are also tourist destinations. Cruise ships, initially meant themselves as tourist vectors or destinations, were re-signified after a global crisis in the sector. Moreover, the mobility/immobility implications of the island space and that of a ship (inherently meant as mobile but used as an immobile device in the case researched) open to reflections on mobility issues that are strictly connected to insularity.

Setting the Mediterranean Sea as central and considering it a crossroad opens reflections on fruitful connectivities but also violent and exploitative implications. Analysis of the border-island properties such as detention, confinement, and control can lead to further reflection on how ‘spaces of detention’ are reproduced on ships/barges and what are the specific characteristics of these new spaces of confinement, as well as their representation. In this sense, considering how these devices of detention and the associated technology can expand our understanding of the intersection of migrants’ practices with enforcement exercises in sovereign and biopower. The materiality of the passage of people through the islands, such as structures and buildings, objects left behind, memorial places and art pieces, contribute to telling stories of connectivity and resistance.


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