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On the route of multiculturalism(s). Marking and hybridizing identities in the late 17th and early 18th centuries Mediterranean port cities

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MedRoute (On the route of multiculturalism(s). Marking and hybridizing identities in the late 17th and early 18th centuries Mediterranean port cities)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2020-08-31

This project aims to analyze the phenomenon of multiculturalism in four premodern Mediterranean port cities. The research uses three identity markers (foodways, clothing, and language) to chart how differences in the political and physical environments affected the balance between marking and hybridizing identities in the port cities of Izmir, La Valletta, Livorno and Marseille. Although very different among themselves, these four cities, placed
on a maritime trading route cutting the Mediterranean from east to west, shared a highly developed cultural, ethnical, and religious pluralism. The comparative analysis adopted sheds light on the concept of pluralism in the premodern Mediterranean space, explaining how members of the same group handled coexistence following different strategies. In the project, identity is primarily intended as ‘a way of being and doing’, a way of making things in everyday life involving material practices. The concreteness of this aspect of identity leads to an act of self-positioning with respect to other individuals who are recognised as similar or different according to the way in which they do things. While inquiring into the way foreigners used material practices for channeling and expressing their cultural belonging, MedRoute highlights the role played by the political authority in determining the balance of acculturation. In fact, the adapting strategies of foreigners were deeply conditioned by the state’s attitude towards otherness. In the field of Mediterranean studies, the crucial role played by the political factor appears to have been neglected so far in favor of a greater emphasis on economic dynamics. From this perspective, MedRoute enters into the historiographical debate on the conceptual unity of the Mediterranean and proposes an interpretative model that can be fruitfully applied to the study of cultural pluralism in other border spaces. This project is deeply meaningful for nowadays society, since it addresses the problem of cultural coexistence and the role of political authority in enhancing welfare though the exploitation of the potential expressed by cultural diversity. In focusing on how political authority determined historical forms of pluralism, it reveals the ethical role of politics in assuming tolerance as a tool for fostering a more vibrant and resourceful society. In stressing the leading role played by the state and on how this is reflected by the attitude of foreigner dwellers living away from their homeland, MedRoute wishes to demonstrate the functionality of multicultural policies in enhancing civil welfare, also by the conscious use of ad-hoc policies that, ultimately, portrait pluralism as a resource for the society and not as a danger for the receiving country's perceived identity.
My last year as a Marie Curie Fellow (September 2019–August 2020) coincided with my incoming phase at the ISEM-CNR. I moved back in Europe in the summer of 2019 and I conducted the last of my research trip in France on September 2019. However, due to the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in march 2019, my project was affected by delays and some major changes. Of the three milestones foresaw by the project, only the delivery of internal seminar at the colleagues ISEM has been accomplished as originally planned. The international conference scheduled for April 2020 was moved online to October 2020, the completion of a monograph was changed into a collective volume that will be submitted to the editor in the spring 2021. Both the production of the online course and the the secondary school project in collaboration with teachers has been moved to the spring of 2021. Nevertheless, I was able to complete my training in French–obtaining the DELF B2-and to launch a new and more attractive project website, while I have presented my research both in academic and non-academic environments, live and online. Despite this critic situation, the MedRoute final online workshop The Visibility of Strangers. Diasporas, Urban Spaces, and Material Pluralism in the Mediterranean was a successful event that represented an important and vibrant moment of discussion and confrontation among scholars at different career stages and with diverse methodological and theoretical approaches, working on foreigner groups mobility, urban pluralism and identities’ expression.
I think that in spite of the difficulties of the present situation, MedRoute really reached a quite significant audience during this last year and I am confident on its capacity to stimulate an even vaster interest when the actions for its implementation will be accomplished, through the collective volume, the online course, the school project and a short documentary that will be released in the spring 2021. My presence at the ISEM and my contribution to the research discussion at the Institute has been finally consolidated by my integration in an informal research group that will guarantee continuity of my presence at the ISEM could be an opportunity to contribute to the Italian academic debate beyond the term of my fellowship. Finally, the research I have conducted in these last three years thanks to my MSCA project have made me to conceive a vaster project that I wish to submit for an ERC Consolidator research grant for the year 2021.
What I have been expecting with MedRoute it is to provide a fresher approach to the problem of cultural coexistence. In fact, I have proposed to look at differences as a complex of practices that give sense to daily life. This can represent a privileged way for familiarizing with what is unknown, making diversity concrete and less frightening and driving the members of a plural society to the knowledge and acceptance of otherness in its whole. Through the history of the possibility of cultural coexistence, contemporary European society could find paradigms in answering to the issues linked to the mass migrations. It can also represent a source for political actions that want to contrast the increase of populist movements in Europe that are exploiting the fear for the difference for pursuing anti-democratic and racist policies in several European states.
Popularizing MedRoute in schools, through an online course and a documentary will provide a real access of non-specialized audience and it will tell a different story on the significance of our actions in daily life as a way to express who we are. I believe that it could also offer a different perspective on what we do in the respect of who we are especially in this critical moment in which we are not entirely able to do what we would like to do in order to protect our health. I am confident to be able to present these results in the continuous report I will submit in the near future. Finally, the expansion of MedRoute in an ERC proposal will provide a new focus on the dialectic between “vision” and “visibility”, and between “institution” and “strangers”. I believe the interplay between the vision of the state about its cultural composition and the values of the newcomers it is mainly played through representation and that often could be more related to form than to its content. With this I mean that multiculturalism is much more linked to our formal sensibility than to our substantial perception of radical differences in issues that are at the core of the civil life.
Poster Workshop Entangled Wrolds
Logo MedRoute Project
Program Workshop The Visibility of Strangers
Map for the Workshop The Visibility of Strangers
Program Workshop Entangled Worlds