The Migrant, The Mediterranean, and the Tourist: Figures of Belonging in Post-Austerity Palermo
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The Migrant, The Mediterranean, and the Tourist: Figures of Belonging in Post-Austerity Palermo


This dissertation is grounded in twenty months of ethnographic research conducted during the touristic development of the centro storico, or historical center, of Palermo, Sicily. It investigates the effects of this development on the everyday experiences of residents – including migrants and locals – and examines how urban requalification and tourism are unsettling the sociospatial order of the city and disrupting the politics of belonging. Each chapter of this dissertation explores how the large-scale phenomena now defining Mediterranean cities – economic restructuring, international tourism, and the so-called “crisis” of immigration – are experienced in the microcosm of the everyday. This dissertation demonstrates how, in the midst of liberal development in Palermo, the racialized figures of the migrant and the poor southerner emerge more clearly than ever before. It ultimately argues that Palermo emerges as a battlefield defining the future of Mediterranean cities. Palermo is a historically poor and working-class city, held tightly under mafia control until the late 1990s. Since the 2010s, it has also become a migrant city: in its centro storico, migrants are highly visible and share the same dilapidated neighborhoods that unofficially belong to the local underclasses. But the recent funneling of structural funds into the city for tourist development – and the ensuing changes to the urban environment and the sociospatial order – heightens the stakes for belonging. Official discourse is positioning Palermo as a city emerging from the clutches of the past, catapulting towards a future of ‘smart,’ sustainable development, and as a cosmopolitan “citt� aperta” (open city) for migrants. This dissertation documents how liberal development strategies are moving the local poor and migrants out of the city. It shows how the regeneration agenda became, along with tourism, the main response to the Eurozone crisis and the so-called Southern Question, or southern Italian underdevelopment. Drawing from walk-along interviews with ‘locals’ and ‘migrants,’ and following guided tours of the city, this dissertation examines the everyday experiences of tourist development from a variety of angles.

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