Transit, Trade and Travel

Transit, Trade and Travel (TTT) is a separate project funded by the Academy of Finland, and is working in collaboration with Crosslocations.

The main focus of TTT is transit zones and crossroads areas of the Mediterranean. For centuries, the Mediterranean has been depicted as a place where diverse places meet, and as a transit zone between them, particularly for trade and migration. That reputation continues today, as recent reports on refugees demonstrates. TTT will particularly focus on the places where the roads actually cross (e.g. between north and south), and where the transit is organized and managed (e.g. in trading and market centres). The project aims to analyse how the relative value of location is changing in such places.

A bit more on TTT

A major news story of 2015 was the large numbers of people trying to travel across the Mediterranean in an effort to reach the European Union (EU). Contrary to popular belief, this was not a sudden phenomenon, but had built up over the years since 2001 (starting with 9/11), intensified after the Iraq war (2003 onwards), and became even more marked after the ‘Arab Spring’ began in 2011. These events, and the population flights they regularly provoked, highlighted the geographical location of the Mediterranean region as a ‘transit zone’ or ‘crossroads’ between highly diverse places, a reputation that the region has had for centuries, amongst others. Based on a richly ethnographic analysis of one part of this ‘transit zone’ (the Spanish North African enclave of Melilla), and one if its ‘crossroads’ (the Grand Bazaar district of Istanbul), this research will analyse how the relative value of location is changing in the contemporary moment in such places. 

Drawing on the concept of ‘relative location’, which suggests that the social value of geographical space is defined by its material, structural and conceptual relations with, and separations from, other places, we will ethnographically study the movement of goods,people and ideas that pass through these two sites. Our approach will be to analyse the dynamics of the multiple ‘locating regimes’ that affect each site. These regimes not only involve the working of political borders, but also other commercial, legal, informal, infrastructural, financial, kinship-based, and religious structures and social dynamics. We will analyse the many overlapping locations,and the relations and separations between them, that result from these dynamics in each site. While much is known about the way globalization, transnationalism, and related technological, political and economic changes are altering relations across the globe and affecting people’s identities, this project analyses how such changes affect the relative value ofbeing located ‘somewhere in particular’ - a question of changes in 'where' things are, rather than ‘who’ or ‘what’ they are. Focusing onthe Melilla enclave and Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar as examples of sites regularly identified as being somewhere ‘in between’ other places,the research will particularly examine how the meaning and value of locations are changing in relations between the EU and its ‘near abroad'.

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

The ‘crossroads’: Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

Istanbul has been almost ubiquitously represented as being located at a crossroads between east and west, north and south, for centuries (Ahmad 1993; Secor 2001; Tugal 2008, Yazici 2013). The city’s location spread across both sides of the Bosphorus Strait, a key route of access connecting the Black Sea to the Aegean, has in the past given the city a pivotal position.

At the heart of Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar, the construction of which began in 1455. It is one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets (Ahmad 1993), and about as grand as a crossroads designed for trade and exchange can be. Currently, the Bazaar is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, with approximately 3000 shops distributed over more than 50 covered ‘streets’. It is situated in what is popularly referred to as the ‘historic centre’ of the city, in the district of Fatih in the ‘European’ side of the Bosphorus and situated within a few meters from other historical landmarks such as Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace.

As political regimes have come and gone, the Grand Bazaar has continued to trade, though clearly reflecting wider changes in the practices and activities occurring around it and within its confines. By following goods and their movement into and out of the Bazaar, and by engaging with the people and their stories, the research will explore different locating regimes operating in the area.

Melilla, Spain in North Africa

Melilla is a fenced city-enclave in northeastern Morocco that has been under Spanish sovereignty since 1497. Melilla is also one of the European Union’s southernmost territories in Africa, and a key entry point in trade and migration routes linking Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. 

Over the past years, Melilla has found itself at the centre of the Mediterranean ‘migrant crisis’, and the six-meter fence that surrounds the enclave has been the stage of increasingly violent "border spectacles". Human rights’ organisations and NGOs have denounced the practice at the hands of the Spanish military police of returning migrants to Morocco as soon as they reach Spanish soil, calling into question the legality of this increasingly common practice, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has publicly expressed concern over the Spanish government’s attempts to legalise ‘expedited returns’.

But Melilla is also an important trading hub in the region. Thousands of Moroccans access the Spanish territory on a daily basis to work as domestics, perform menial jobs and smuggle goods out to sell them across the border. The enclave relies heavily on this informal but highly profitable frontier economy, and border regulations allow these workers daily entrance to the city.

So Melilla is both one of the ‘hot-spots’ of the Mediterranean’s refugee/migrant ‘crisis’ and an important transit point in trade networks extending across the Mediterranean and beyond. 

Laia Soto Bermant - PostDoctoral Researcher

Laia Soto Bermant  is a social anthropologist trained at the University of Oxford, where she received her  PhD in 2012. She has been a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University (2013-2014), a Research Associate in the Department of Geography at the University of Loughborough (2014) and a Visiting Researcher at the Nucleo de Estudios Migratorios of the Universidad de San Martin in Buenos Aires (2016). She has also worked as a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Bournemouth (2015).

Originally from Spain, Laia has conducted fieldwork in Spain and Morocco since 2008, and has a long-standing interest in the historical and contemporary relationship between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean.  Her doctoral thesis was an ethnographic study of the enclave of Melilla, a fenced territory under Spanish sovereignty located in northeastern Morocco. Her work on Melilla focused on researching spatial imaginaries and narratives of place-making in relation to the large-scale political and economic processes affecting this region since Spain’s incorporation into the Schengen Area. She has published in Social Anthropology, the Journal of Borderland Studies and the Journal of North African Studies among others, and is completing a book manuscript based on her research in the North African border enclave of Melilla.


Patricia Scalco - PostDoctoral Researcher


Patricia Scalco earned her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the University of Manchester and her Masters Degree from Yeditepe University, in Istanbul. Her research interests are focused on urban spaces, the politics of space and place, moralities, borders and boundaries and narratives of state formation. Her doctoral work explored the relationship between space, place and sexual moralities in two neighbourhoods of Istanbul.

Within the Academy of Finland Trade, Transit and Travel project, Dr Scalco will be focusing on  the area of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Turkey is a key crossroads area in the Mediterranean region, and trade in the city of Istanbul forms a core part of the connections and separations between places.