Performativity and hopes for success in Italy

Italy is one of the main arrival countries of migrant routes, however its reception system is one of the most complex in Europe: the result of decades of contradictory legislation, stratified over time without smoothing out its distortions, which has normalised and made definitive structures such as the CAS (Centri di Accoglienza Straordinaria - Extraordinary Reception Centres), created in the wake of the 2015 "landings emergency", and whose extreme bureaucratisation produces delays in obtaining documents and conflicts between different offices.

However, in this general chaos, there is a very lucid thought that moves soflty under the great framework of the system: performativity. The hopes of success of those who arrive in Italy leaving, behind so many pieces of their lives, are conditioned by how they will be able to respond to the ability to integrate, that is, how worthy they will be in their effort to adhere to the model of the exemplary immigrant. This is particularly true in the SPRAR system (Sistema di Protezione per Richiedenti Asilo e Rifugiati - System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees), the second haven that an asylum seeker encounters after the first reception centre. As one SPRAR worker told us:

"The SPRAR project starts from a logic of performativity. That is, your authorisation to stay is extended if you demonstrate that you adhere to the dominant logic of what it means to integrate. Therefore, if you learn Italian quickly enough, within a certain amount of time, if you are able to participate and hold a training course, if you are able to hold an internship, and then find a job, and then find a house on your own, because the system does not help you. All the others [...] are perceived almost as a residual waste. Because maybe they are illiterate from the beginning, they cannot learn Italian well".

There are those who manage to adhere to this model. A young refugee who arrived from Guinea after the Libyan route and crossing the Mediterranean somehow confirms this view of the reception system, recounting a successful project - also made possible by the fact that he had already done some studies in the country of departure - which led him to approach activism for migrants' rights and find a job in a big company:

"When I arrived here I was a bit like a baby, more or less... because I realised that all the things I had done in Africa were no longer worth anything. I was depressed at first [...] I started to recover, more or less, slowly. And I said to my friend: ‘Take me where I can look for a job, I want to work’. I went to the reception centre. The lady asked me what I can do in life and I said, ‘ can do everything!’ [laughs] And the lady said, ‘No, you can't come to Italy and say you can do everything! Whoever knows how to do everything means he doesn't know how to do anything!’ Of course, you're right... Do you know that that word gave me great strength? I thought on that day... I said... This lady here... This is not a matter of racist [sic.], she told me the truth. If I have to work, I have to know how to do something. I started studying to learn the language, I did different trainings...Now I work for Telecom”.

Examples like this show how it is possible to adhere to the performative model of integration. However, not all people who hope for Europe are able to perform to the fullest. These are people with a low level of education (or no education at all), people who cannot adapt to the Italian context, people whose life plans were destined for other European destinations and who have been 'stuck' in Italy - because of the Dublin system, in order to apply for asylum or humanitarian protection, it is necessary to deposit one's fingerprints and make oneself identifiable in the country of first arrival and, in any case, the documents are only valid for the country in which the application was made - or people who have suffered so much trauma and harassment during their journey that they can no longer bear the psychological burden.

What hope is there for those who do not fit the model?

This article was written by Lapsus.

Photo by [2Ni] on Unsplash.