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Sonia Paone: Emergency/exception and production of space - Temporary Detention Centers for foreign immigrants in Italy

The aim of this paper is to explore the relationships between the state of exception/emergency and the city by the analysis of  Italian Temporary Detention Centers for foreign immigrants .
The Temporary Detention Centers were created  in 1998, in enforcement of the Turco-Napolitano law. Their original purpose was to receive and assist, for a brief period, people subjected to an expulsion measure. Yet, even if they are not part of the penitentiary circuit, these centers have become more and more similar to a prison for their geographic location, the segregation and the control practices that characterize them( Paone, 2008). 

Temporary Detention Centers are the product of a situation of emergency, due to the massive arrival of immigrants, and are created in a “state of exception”, when “a temporary suspension of order based on a fictitious situation of danger, acquires a permanent spatial layout which, as such, nevertheless remain constantly on the margins of normal order” (Agamben,1998).
They can be defined places of “emergency localization” (Augé, 1998) as they provide food and health safety to immigrants: ”like emergency first […] in this context more than elsewhere what is temporary is lived as if were definitive“ (Augé, 1998).

The oscillation between temporary and definitive, normal order and state of exception has transformed Temporary Detention Centers into permanent spaces for immigrant control and segregation by the multiplication of walls and barriers that divide groups in urban space.


  • Agamben G., Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life,  Stanford University Press, 1998
  • Augé M., The Sense for the Other. The Timeliness and Relevance of Anthropology, Stanford University Press, 1998
  • Paone S., Città in frantumi. Sicurezza, emergenza e produzione dello spazio, FrancoAngeli, Milano, 2008

About the Author

Sonia Paone is a lecturer in Urban Sociology and Environmental Sociology at the University of Pisa. She holds a PhD in History and Sociology of Modernity. Her research interests regard: language of space and stigmatization through the analysis of words (ghetto, banlieue, favelas, slum, barrio, corea),spatial organization and control mechanisms in the temporary detention centers for immigrants, utopia and dystopia in  functionalism architecture, urban marginality, informal urbanism. Among her recent publications are: Città in frantumi, Sicurezza, emergenza, produzione dello spazio, Milano: FrancoAngeli, 2008; Alla ricerca della città futura. L’ambiente nella dimensione urbana (ed.), Pisa, Ets, 2007; Lo sguardo che esclude. Marginalizzazione e segregazione nello spazio urbano,Pisa: Plus, 2005.

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