Paper: From beneficiaries to humanitarian workers : the politics of difference about migrants working at the Eu Italian border

Paper details

Paper authors Giovanna Cavatorta
In panel on Humanitarianism and Inequality
Paper presenter(s) will be presenting In-Person / Online


This paper explores one dimension of the politics of difference that are implicated in the humanitarian action at the Southern European border. It focuses on a particular group of humanitarian actors : the cultural mediators who are employed in Italy as NGO staff at the disembark operations and in the reception centers. This group of aid workers can be described as a liminal figure, neither expat, nor ‘national’ staff. Most of them were previously beneficiaries of the services where they are now employed as workers, having arrived in Italy through the sea and now relying upon international or national protection residence permits. I consider that focusing on a such case of figure can allow to enhance the understanding of the social distinctions that are embedded and naturalised in humanitarian practices.
The analysis will explore the subjectivation processes of this workers in being involved within a border regime which is still affecting their lives. I will discuss their understandings of the humanitarian action and their moral economies about their involvement. I’ll argue that their subjectivity offer fresh insights on the ambivalence of humanitarianism and its ethnocentric presumptions.
This paper is based on an anthropological fieldwork that I started in February 2021 in Eastern Sicily, Italy.



Giovanna Cavatorta