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'.