In this series, we introduce the researchers of the Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives.

Elisa Pascucci is a post-doctoral researcher in EuroStorie’s subproject 3, Migration and the narratives of Europe as an "Area of freedom, security and justice". She is a human geographer with a special focus on political geography. Elisa’s fields of interest encompass for example refugee and migrant political agency, humanitarianism and humanitarian aid, borders, spaces and infrastructures of refuge and the question of mobility. She has also been very interested in the political implications of moving or leaving one’s home behind.

Elisa has a background in Middle Eastern Studies with a major in Arabic and Politics. Her research has largely focused on migration and refugees in North Africa and the Middle East. She wrote her doctoral thesis in Britain at the University of Sussex handling urban displacement and urban refugees.  In it, she was particularly looking at the governance of refuge in Cairo, Egypt, examining how urban environments shape refugee governance and the refugee experience, with particular attention to the spatial practices of international aid  and refugees’ use of public space for political action.  

Elisa, who is originally from Italy, first came to Finland three and half years ago to do her first post-doc at the University of Tampere based geography centre of excellence. She received a grant from Suomen Akatemia for her project called “New Spaces of Refugee Aid”, in which she was concentrating to the relation between refugees, and   emerging humanitarian practices and economies.  The subproject 3 of EuroStorie is quite an ideal position for her as she is interested in examining the connections between migration in the Mediterranean and the Southern Mediterranean and the geographies of Europe.

Elisa became interested in Middle Eastern studies and migration already at a young age. Her studies were multidisciplinary, combining for example politics as well as linguistics and geography. Coming from a country that is at the very front of migration to Europe, it was quite a topical and thus very natural subject for a person interested in politics and development. “However, at the moment a rather populistic and racist attitude towards immigration and refugees reigns in Italy.” Having lived in many different countries, Elisa also has a first-hand experience of being a migrant. This is also one of the reasons, why she finds it not only an interesting subject to research, but also easy to relate to.

In EuroStorie Elisa has three main areas of research, through which she will bring her previous work into EuroStorie. Firstly, she will look at the question of refugee subjectivities and refugee knowledges. One example of the kind of knowledges that she would like to examine is the question of refugeeness and what kind of community practices of, for example, care and solidarity people bring into the experience of displacement and migration – how people get together and get organized or find shelter for each other. “As there are all the time growing spaces of marginality, exclusion and precarity, it is interesting to find out, how people help and support each other and try to get by together.”

Earlier this year Elisa has been involved in a University of Tampere based project called “Spaces of Justice”, led by Anni Kangas. In collaboration with a Russian artist and theatre director Olga Jitlina, a collective of refugees based in Germany, and asylum seekers residing in Tampere they produced a theatre performance on the experience of seeking asylym in Europe. According to her, people who are perceived as being “on the margins” also produce art and knowledge. “This way they can generate new knowledge and be productive, instead of only being called an anomaly, a crisis, a social pathology and something to be fixed.”

Furthermore, Elisa will examine, what is an area of safety and security and where is it located. She states that even a space that at first glance seems like an area of safety, away from war and violence, can be experienced as unsafe too. She will also look at experiences of how it feels to be a migrant or a refugee and different narratives concerning it.

Elisa has done a lot of ethnographic research in the past and also in EuroStorie, her methods of research will include ethnography, interviews and qualitative research that look at the experiences of people. According to her, in order to explore matters relating to safety, security and the ideas of Europe, the interview approach – looking at people’s life stories and experiences – is particularly useful. Combining arts and research is also something that she finds inspiring and would like to further explore. 

Even though Elisa’s research is closely linked with the bigger narratives of Europe and Europeanness, it will mostly focus on the experience of being a migrant or a refugee. She shall explore refugee knowledges and refugee subjectivities and look at the question of new humanitarianism – new forms of humanitarian aid for instance. She is interested in new forms of volunteering by citizens and activists towards refugees, but also on the mobilizations within migrant communities towards newcomers – the engagement of migrants helping other migrants or refugees helping other refugees. Elisa wishes to change the way we think, because usually if we think about aid and migration, we tend to see it as something that Westerners give to people from for example Africa or Middle East – people who are nonwhite and have no agency. “There is, however, a lot of aid and protection that is provided from within communities, by peers and extended networks that people have within their own community.” Lastly, she will examine the politicization of solidarity – what happens when for example help and aid to refugees is criminalized, as we are seeing in many places today.

Elisa wants to bring a new way of looking at things when it comes to refugees. They are usually seen either as a dangerous security threat to be kept out, as a burden to the welfare state (who do not have anything to contribute) or alternatively as victims to be assisted, who do not have agency. According to Elisa, refugees shouldn’t only be seen as a burden and as costs, because they can also be a possibility to the community they come to. She wants to make the voices of refugees visible and attach them to larger narratives. Another aim of hers is to question the Eurocentric, nationalistic and to some extent, racist idea of what is Europe and who belongs to the Europeans. 

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