Identity on the Line
Identity on the Line

Webinar 7

Keynote speaker:Prof. dr. Pamela Ballinger

Date: 5 November 2020, 16:00 – 17:00 UCT+1 (Oslo time)

Topic: «The World that Refugees made»

This talk draws upon her recent book, The World Refugees Made, which charts the creation of the global refugee through a series of critical legal and political exclusions. In particular, the study focuses on the dilemmas posed by “national refugees” in post-1945 Italy for international classifications of “bona fide refugees,” demonstrating not only how definitions of refugees increasingly narrowed over time but also the consequences of those exclusions. Such distinctions between internally displaced persons and international refugees – as well as those between so-called “voluntary” or economic migrants and “genuine” refugees – continue to bedevil states coping with mass migration, as migration flows across the Mediterranean have made painfully clear.

Media coverage of the contemporary Mediterranean refugee crisis frequently reduces a global problem to its European dimensions, failing to adequately locate displaced persons within broader spatial and temporal landscapes. A crisis with deep roots thus appears as a sudden “emergency” that tests and burdens European states. Similarly, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, forced displacements of global scale and impact were misread as constituting a “European” refugee crisis, an error scholars have perpetuated. How, then, to write a globally attuned history of refugees that speaks to and contextualizes contemporary crises and their humanitarian responses? How to track “mobile histories” of subjects who move in and out of the documentary record? In the book, she takes up this challenge by examining how the conceptual and classificatory boundaries still employed in managing displacement have created persistent blind spots in our understandings of refugees. I do so through a detailed analysis of foreign and, above all, national refugees in the Italian peninsula in the decade and a half after World War II, an analysis that moves between the macro and micro scales and puts into dialogue documents from a series of archives usually kept apart. Between 1945 and 1960, over half a million such national refugees migrated to the Italian peninsula from a variety of possessions lost with the defeat of fascism. These possessions included African colonies (Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia), departments (Libya and the Dodecanese Islands), protectorates (Albania), and integral parts of the Italian state (the Venezia Giulian lands ceded to Yugoslavia).

In her talk, she will discuss how the Italian case refracts broader global processes — including war, decolonization, and international law — in ways that powerfully challenge conventional accounts of refugees and human rights. Putting migrants from Istria-Dalmatia in the same frame as those repatriated from Italy’s colonial possessions also challenges the conventions and compartmentalizations of area and regional studies. Doing so opens up new understandings of the redefinitions of Italian citizenship, national identity and belonging – that is, of “identity on the line” – after 1945.

Prof. Dr. Pamela Ballinger is Professor of History and the Fred Cuny Chair in the History of Human Rights at the University of Michigan. She holds degrees from Stanford (B.A. Anthropology), Cambridge (M.Phil Social Anthropology), and Johns Hopkins (M.A. Anthropology, PhD Anthropology and History). She is the author of History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans (Princeton, 2003). She has published widely on refugees, decolonization, human rights, sea space, Italy, and former Yugoslavia.

In The World Refugees Made, Pamela Ballinger explores Italy’s remaking in light of the loss of a wide range of territorial possessions—colonies, protectorates, and provinces—in Africa and the Balkans, the repatriation of Italian nationals from those territories, and the integration of these «national refugees» into a country devastated by war and overwhelmed by foreign displaced persons from Eastern Europe. Post-World War II Italy served as an important laboratory, in which categories were differentiating foreign refugees (who had crossed national boundaries) from national refugees (those who presumably did not) were debated, refined, and consolidated. Such distinctions resonated far beyond that particular historical moment, informing legal frameworks that remain in place today. Offering an alternative genealogy of the post-war international refugee regime, Ballinger focuses on the consequences of one of its key omissions: the ineligibility from international refugee status of those migrants who became classified as national refugees.


Please register here:

To listen to the recording, please click here