ENAM Events

Emergency Imaginaries, Contested Witnessing, and Migrant Rights in Transnational Italy

Our contemporary age of migration is also a time of “crisis,” with movements from global south to global north perpetually framed in emergency terms. In Italy, these discourses are intimately tied not only to arrivals by sea, but to racialized notions of national identity and a general lack of reckoning with colonial history. Drawing on Paynter’s forthcoming book, Emergency in Transit (University of California Press), this talk posits testimony as crucial to understanding how this “emergency” operates, and to challenging its racializing, exclusionary tendencies. Engaging migration cinema and ethnographic research, I will consider how forms of witnessing in literature, film, and everyday life challenge “emergency imaginaries of foreignness” by elevating Italy’s colonial history to public consciousness and invoking alternative understandings of belonging and rights.

Eleanor Paynter studies migration, asylum, and testimony, focusing on Africa-Europe mobilities and bridging filmic, media, and literary analysis with ethnographic methods. Her first book, Emergency in Transit (forthcoming, University of California Press), draws on multiple witnessing forms to discuss the complex dynamics shaping Italy’s recent immigration “emergenze.” In current research, she examines entanglements across migrant, racial, and environmental justice work. Eleanor holds a PhD in Comparative Studies (Ohio State University) and an MFA in poetry (Sarah Lawrence College). She was recently a Postdoctoral Associate in Migrations at Cornell University and is currently Mellon Postdoctoral Associate in Italian Studies and the Cogut Institute for the Humanities at Brown University. In Fall 2024 she will move to the University of Oregon as Assistant Professor of Italian.