Elena  Fontanari Author of Evaluating Organization Development

Elena Fontanari

Post Doc Fellow
University of Milan

I have a PhD in Sociology (University of Milan/Humboldt University of Berlin). I am currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Milan. My research focuses on the tension between the refugees’ mobility and the control mechanisms implemented in Europe, applying feminist and post-colonial approaches. I am part of the editorial board of the journal Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa, and co-founder of the Coordinated Research Centre Escapes (a research network about forced migration)


Elena Fontanari was born on the 1st of March 1986 in Venice, where she obtained the Secondary School Diploma in Classics and Humanistic Studies. She graduated in Sociology at the University of Trento (Bachelor) in 2009. During her Bachelor she studied for 12-month at Humboldt University in Berlin through the Erasmus Program. She obtained the MA degree in Social Science for Research at the University of Milan in 2012.
Elena Fontanari has a PhD in Sociology at the Graduate School of Social and Political Science of Milan, and was Visiting PhD at the Institute of European Ethnography, Humboldt University of Berlin. She has the certificate of Doctor Europaeus.
She is currently a post-doctoral researcher in Sociology at the University of Milan (Italy), living and doing research in Berlin (Germany).
She is part of the editorial board of the journal Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa (edited by Il Mulino, Bologna), whereby she organizes and coordinate the two-year International Conference of the journal. She is a co-founder of the CRC (Coordinated Research Centre) Escapes, a critical research network about forced migration, at the University of Milan, whereby she organizes seminars and the Escapes one-year Conference.
Lecture in General Sociology at the University of Milan (Faculty of Medicine) for the academic year 2018/2019.
Her monograph book “Lives in Transit. An Ethnographic Study of Refugees’ Subjectivity across European Borders” has been published by Routledge (2018). Peer-reviewed articles published in journals like “Sociology” (SAGE), “City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action” (Routledge), “PERIPHERIE: Zeitschrift für Politik und Ökonomie in der Dritten Welt” (Westfälisches Dampfboot), “Berliner Blätter: Ethnographische und ethnologische Beiträge Heft” (Panama Verlag), “Mondi Migranti” (Franco Angeli), “Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa” (Il Mulino).
She is an activist in support of refugees and migrants and has worked on several projects with non-governmental organizations in both Italy and Germany. She regularly gives talks about the topic of refugees and Europe’s borders in universities, public lectures, and lectures that are a part of profes-
sional training courses.

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    My research interests focus on the topic of migration and the related production of borders. I aim to shed light on the relations (tensions) between the structural constraints – migration policies, mechanisms of border control and containment of mobility – and the agency of migrants and refugees. I investigate how individuals negotiate the macro-level forces of border and mobility regimes in their everyday lives, and which are the effects upon their subjectivity. I conducted several empirical research on asylum seekers’ camps in Germany, deportation prisons in Italy, and on the condition of refugees in cities like Milan and Berlin. Moreover, I have investigated the tensions between the mobility practices of refugees and the control mechanisms implemented in Europe over their “secondary movements”. I am working with theories of critical border studies, mobilities studies, migration and refugee studies as well as theories of subjectivity and feminist and post-colonial approaches. I apply ethnographic methodology with a participatory approach, developing collaborative methodologies together with the research subjects. I also conduce collective ethnography and research. Within the Coordinated Research Centre “Escapes” at the University of Milan, a network of researchers and non-academic actors working on the topic of forced migration from a critical perspective, we implement participatory ways of producing collective knowledge.  
    My professional expertise intertwines research activities, hosting and organizing conferences and workshops as well as teaching at the University and in professional training courses for practitioners in migration and asylum rights. Through my work in activist groups and non-governmental organisation I developed competence in juridical consulting in the field of asylum rights in Italy and Germany.  


Featured Title
 Featured Title - Lives in Transit - Fontanari - 1st Edition book cover


Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

Obstructing lives: local borders and their structural violence in the asylum field of post-2015 Europe

Published: Jun 03, 2019 by Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Authors: Maurizio Artero and Elena Fontanari

The focus is on local-level as a crucial arena of migration government in Europe, after the so-called refugees crisis in 2015. Drawing on an ethnographic research in Milan between 2017-2018, we shed light on the implicit and informal obstructions deployed by police immigration office to hinder the attribution of legal status to asylum-seekers. Bureaucratic obstructive practices are interpreted as forms of structural violence turning the urban space into a setting of enforcing internal borders


Into the Interstices: Everyday Practices of Refugees and Their Supporters in Europe’s Migration ‘Crisis’

Published: Jun 01, 2018 by Sociology
Authors: Elena Fontanari and Maurizio Ambrosini

This article investigates the interconnections between migration to Europe and the multiple crises of the border regime. The concept of “interstice” highlights the spaces of autonomy opened up by refugees’ everyday practices crossing several territorial, juridical and material borders. Drawing on 22 months of ethnographic research in Italy and Germany, the case study focuses on a protest staged by refugees in Berlin and the active involvement of its civil-society supporters.

Border Criminologies Blog - Oxford University

Dispersing their Lives: Refugees Kept On the Move between Italy and Germany

Published: May 29, 2018 by Border Criminologies Blog - Oxford University
Authors: Elena Fontanari

The article focus on the politics of migrant dispersal that has been enforced in Europe for controlling the multi-directional mobility of refugees. Ethnographic research conduced in Germany and Italy shed light on how practices of border enforcement occur within the national and urban territories, and not only at the EU external borders. The main effects of politics of dispersal is the dispossession of time in refugees’ lives, which struggle and claim for temporal justice more than spatial one

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Looking for Neverland: the experience of the group »Lampedusa in Berlin« and the refugee protest of Oranienplatz (in R. Römhild, A. Schwanhäußer, B. zur Nieden, G. Yurdakul: Witnessing the Transition: Moments in the Long Summer of Migration)

Published: Jan 01, 2018 by Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Authors: Elena Fontanari

This chapter of the book Witnessing the Transition focuses on the experience of a self organized political protest of refugees in Berlin. This refugees’ struggle was challenging the European border regime claiming for freedom of movement and the possibility for refugees to autonomously decide upon their own lives. The ethnographic field gives insights on how the Kreuzberg neighbourhood and the solidarity supporters network played crucial role in supporting the refugees’ protest.

Mondi Migranti

Introduction. Civil society on the edge: actions in support and against refugees in Italy and Germany (Special Issue edited by Elena Fontanari and Giulia Borri)

Published: Dec 01, 2017 by Mondi Migranti
Authors: Elena Fontanari and Giulia Borri

This special issue focuses on the increased involvement of European civil societies in the fields of asylum and migration in Italy and Germany after the summer 2015. The six articles present empirical research which gives insights into the heterogeneity of civil society’s activities both in solidarity with refugees and in opposition to them. The aim is to place the topic of solidarity and active civil society in the wider theoretical field of the European border regime and its crisis.

Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa

It's my life. The temporalities of refugees and asylum-seekers within the European border regime

Published: Jan 01, 2017 by Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa
Authors: Elena Fontanari

The article focuses on the temporal dimension in migration and border studies. It applies the theory of subjectivity highlighting the power dynamics of EU border regime. Drawing on two research (German asylum-seekers’ camps and refugees’ mobility across Europe) this article stresses how control mechanisms influence the temporal dimension of refugees’ lives. They claim temporal, rather than spatial, justice in relation to the biographical time they have wasted since their arrival in Europe

Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa

Afterword. An ethnographic gaze on power and refugees (edited special issue "Refugee experiences in Europe Subjectivity, surveillance and control" by Elena Fontanari and Barbara Pinelli)

Published: Jan 01, 2017 by Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa
Authors: Elena Fontanari and Barbara Pinelli

This special issue focuses on refugees, their movements and the policies and mechanisms deployed for governing their subjectivities. Europe and the Mediterranean basin, Italy and Greece in particular, are the geographical areas that allow highlighting the increasingly tentacular form of European internal and external borders. We aim to highlight the necessity to explore how multiple forms of control deeply affect subjectivities of women and men asking for asylum and protection in Europe.

Mondi Migranti

Soggettività en transit: (im)mobilità dei rifugiati in Europa tra sistemi di controllo e pratiche quotidiane di attraversamento dei confini

Published: May 01, 2016 by Mondi Migranti
Authors: Elena Fontanari

The article focuses on the concept of transit related to refugees’ mobility and the European border regime. Migration policies aiming at control refugees’ mobility across Europe entail refugees to be subjected to a transit condition which became permanent. Everyday lives of refugees are characterized by multi-directional movements (forced and autonomous) alternated with long periods of waiting time for bureaucratic procedures related to documents. Subjectivities in transit are hence produced

Near Futures Online

Europe / Crisis: New Keywords of "the Crisis" in and of "Europe" - New Keywords Collective (edited by Nicholas De Genova and Martina Tazzioli 2016)

Published: Jan 01, 2016 by Near Futures Online
Authors: Soledad Álvarez-Velasco, Nicholas De Genova, Elena Fontanari, Charles Heller, Yolande Jansen, Irene Peano, Fiorenza Pico

This project of collective authorship aimed at formulating New Keywords of “the Crisis” in and of “Europe” during the year 2015. It emerges from an acute sense of the necessity of rethinking the conceptual and discursive categories that govern borders, migration, and asylum and simultaneously overshadow how research on these topics commonly come to recapitulate these dominant discourses. Concepts of mobility, humanitarian and migration and refugees crises are discussed


Milano, città di approdi, transiti e ripartenze (in L. Ciabarri e B. Pinelli "Dopo l’Approdo. Un racconto per immagini e parole sui richiedenti asilo in Italia")

Published: Dec 01, 2015 by Editpress
Authors: Elena Fontanari

This chapter focus on the everyday resistance practices of refugees living as homeless in the city of Milan (Italy). It gives insights on the condition of refugees after several years of their first landings and after having obtained a refugee status. The voices of refugees struggling with homelessness and unemployment shed lights on the intertwining of politics of abandonment and mechanisms of control deployed by Italian reception system, and their effects upon refugees' everyday life.

City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action.

Confined to the threshold: The experiences of asylum seekers in Germany

Published: Sep 01, 2015 by City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action.
Authors: Elena Fontanari

The paper develops the concept of threshold to explore the everyday experiences of asylum seekers in Germany. The ethnography highlights how residential accommodations for asylum seekers function as border places within the national territory. The experience of confinement emerges from its spatial, temporal and relational dimension. Threshold means a condition of time suspension, nonbelonging and in betweenness. It shows how the experience of confinement affects asylum seekers’ sense of self

Peripherie. Zeitschrift für Politik und Ökonomie in der Dritten Welt

Lampedusa in Berlin: (Im) Mobilität innerhalb des europäischen Grenzregimes

Published: Aug 01, 2015 by Peripherie. Zeitschrift für Politik und Ökonomie in der Dritten Welt
Authors: Elena Fontanari and Giulia Borri

The article applies the analytical lens of mobility to the topic of forced migration and European borders. Drawn on two diverse multi-sited ethnographies between Italy and Germany, this article gives insights on “secondary movements” of refugees and how the EU border regime attempt to govern them. Specifically, the fragmented multi-directional trajectories of refugees across European borders are explored as an example of a process of Europeanisation from below enacted by non-EU citizens.

Berliner Blätter

Kollaboratives Forschen als Methode in der Migrations und Sozialarbeitswissenschaft im Handlungsfeld Flucht und Migration

Published: Feb 01, 2014 by Berliner Blätter
Authors: Elena Fontanari, Johanna Karpenstein, Nina Violetta Schwarz and Stephen Sulimma

This article explores collaborative methodologies in the field of migration and border regime research. It emerges from diverse experiences of four authors both active as researchers and as activists or social workers an non-governmental association working in support of refugees in Berlin.