‘Pre-Existing Conditions’ and Post-Covid Possibilities: Race and Place among Chinese Migrants in Italy


PSTC Seminar Room, Mencoff Hall 205

Elizabeth Krause, Professor of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

This paper takes racial formation to be a “pre-existing condition” for understanding population dynamics. The analysis concerns Chinese migrants in a historic factory-city considered one of Europe’s most “diverse” in terms of its population of foreign residents. The paper draws on collaborative ethnographic research concerning the past twenty years of Chinese migration in greater metropolitan Tuscany and delineates three phases of racial formation: 1) the politics of security and containment; 2) the rise of inspection culture; and 3) the emergence of resistance, respect, and solidarity. The paper argues that COVID-19 created a context for anti-Chinese racism to manifest and fester, but that the roots of that racism can be best understood through a periodization framework. The pandemic also, unexpectedly, carved a pathway for a new kind of citizenship status for Chinese migrants grounded in solidarity and respect. The goal is to lay groundwork for inquiries into a post-Covid world in terms of old racial formations and new forms of solidarity.

Elizabeth L. Krause is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Terence Murray Professor of the Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She specializes in migration, political economy, and reproductive politics. Krause is the convenor of the Ethnography Collective at UMASS Amherst. Her interest in modes of representation, from ethnographic writing to digital storytelling, has led her to push the boundaries of genre in her research and teaching. She has published numerous peer-review and popular articles as well as three books, including A Crisis of Births: Population Politics and Family-Making in Italy (Wadsworth, 2005), Unraveled: A Weaver’s Tale of Life Gone Modern (U of California Press, 2009) and Tight Knit: Global Families and the Social Life of Fast Fashion, (U of Chicago Press, 2018). The third book, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, entailed a transnational collaboration concerned with how Chinese migrants and Italians cope with globalization. Her next project is shifting from fashion to figs, or from the people who make the things we wear to those who cultivate the things we eat.


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