Eleanor Paynter

Eleanor Paynter (Cornell University)

Eleanor Paynter studies displacement, asylum, and migrant testimony, focusing on Africa-Europe mobilities and the Black Mediterranean, within the Italian context. Her current book project, Emergency in Transit, draws on oral, written, filmic, and visual witnessing forms to discuss the complex dynamics shaping Italy’s recent immigration emergenzeShe holds a PhD in Comparative Studies from the Ohio State University and is currently a postdoctoral associate with Cornell University’s Migrations initiative and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.


Captivity as Crisis Response

In this short talk, I explore the relationship between captivity and crisis, considering how the perceived urgency of Italy’s recent migration or refugee “emergency” has been used to justify increasingly exclusionary border and asylum policies. Drawing on examples including the establishment of emergency reception structures and the criminalization of rescue, I argue that emergency response strategies have relied on and produced multiple forms of captivity that enact racializing processes and hold migrants in situations of extended precarity. Seen in this way, captivity can be understood as a critical mode of migration governance, especially in contexts of crisis, where it manifests not only in the formal detention centers where it is most readily recognized, but across a broader, evolving set of rescue and reception sites. My discussion is informed by policy and discourse analysis, and by fieldwork I conducted at migrant reception sites in four Italian regions between 2017–2019.