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Between&Betwixt - Perspectives from Other Places


Perspectives from Other Places

The paper deals with the issue of migration and city on the basis of African migrants, in particular it defines the case of a religiousbrotherhood coming from Senegal in the city of Bolzano/Italy. The study focuses on describing those arising dynamics of informalspaces and their significance for new modes of cohabitation and interaction beyond traditional normative settings within a concrete andtangible urban context on the basis of an ‘urban topology’ which allowes to define the ‘topological invariants’ that are enabling theformation of identity. Furthermore it explores how such a framework, namely an ‘African village’, inscribes itself within the city ofBolzano as a kind of ‘sampling machine’ that transforms existing dwellings into an autonomous layer. The purpose is also to show howthose trans-local zones of acting get malleable and form a ‘collective’.

Keywords: transurbanism, transmigration, topology, ‘ethnic pattern language’, diasporic households.


The world today is confronted with the existence of precarious lives, temporary materialities that can be assembled and takenapart, urban and global mobility without any permanent base. The twenty-first century will be the century of mass migrations.The whole world situation will be disrupted. However, we are also seeing the opposite. According to Deleuze and Guattarideterritorialization processes have always to be understood as combined with processes of re-territorialization. In mico-politicalforms communities are coming back into existence, they ‚remake’, ‚invent’ or ‚fabricat’ themselves in creative and new ways. Weare looking at other types of relations between territoriality, mobility, temporality and identity. Immigrants are just theforerunners of the great traceability to come. So the question is: how will we cope with this perpetual motion?The paper presents some preliminary results of an ongoing research on migration and city. Its aim is to focus on global processesand their local effects on a medium-sized city in northern Italy. The global flows, multiple identities and cross-border networksrepresented by transnational migrant communities test prior assumptions critically regarding the nation-state functioning as acontainer of social, economic and political processes (see for instance Glick Schiller 1992, Pries 1999, 2008). And, as Clifford(1998: 369) suggests, ‘identity is never only about location, about shoring up a safe “home,” crucial as that task may be incertain circumstances. Identity is also, inescapably, about displacement and relocation, the experience of sustaining andmediating complex affiliations, multiple attachments.’ The interviewed groups stay in an in-between position, trying both to maketheir own 'home’ based on a hybrid of Senegalese tradition and Italian culture, introducing rural African realities in westerncontexts. Differences like 'here’ and 'there' are collapsing, as the traditional scale of the city can no longer describe the newemerging trans-urban phenomena. These changes in turn have important implications for analytical debates and constructs even inarchitecture. In our paper, we outline the analytical value of grounding trans-urban processes even if there seems to be no 'scale’,‘distance’ or 'place’ in the traditional sense.TransmigrationThe objects of analysis are ethnic groups and their respective strategies of appropriation of urban environments. In this paper wereport results from an empirical study on immigrant households in Bolzano/Italy. So-called ‚transmigrants’ live within an ‘in-between-space’, they neither belong to their country of departure nor to the country of arrival (Grillo 2000), they move constantlyand stay with various family members or friends of the same religious group, consuming Murid satellite channels only. Hence thisreplication creates a structure that many other groups do not have. The situation in Bolzano cannot be explained without referringto the history of the Murid networks. Most of the Senegalese migrants belong to the Murid brotherhood, therefore each of themhas to deal with multiple identities (Wolof, Senegalese, Murid). This organization emerged as a religious brotherhood from thesurroundings of Touba, the 'holy city’ of the Murid people. The brotherhood, a secession of West African Sufism (Schmidt diFriedberg 1994) founded by Amadu Bamba in rural Senegal in the late nineteenth century, is ever since experiencing a steady process of urbanization.