Anthropology Talks with Didier Fassin, Anne-Claire Defossez, Judith Marcou, Lorenzo Alunni

Crisis at the Border

Keynote and Workshops, 05. and 06. October 2021

The Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern is pleased to announce the upcoming Anthropology Talks taking place on the 5th and 6th of October 2021. In this lecture and workshop series, we invite influential scholars in social and cultural anthropology to discuss their current research. Anthropology Talks 2021 features Prof. Didier Fassin, Anne-Claire Defossez, Judith Marcou and Lorenzo Alunni. (Here you can find information on their current research project "Crisis. A Global Inquiry into the Contemporary Moment".)

Registration: Students please register for the lecture and the workshops via KSL, all others via email to


 When What  Where
Tuesday, 05 October
14:00 - 17:00 Workshop 1: Enquiries into the Workings of Borders: Roissy and Lampedusa (Judith Marcou und Lorenzo Alunni)


European migration policies have created borderlands where individuals on the move experience precarious living conditions and find themselves between life and death. Judith Marcou and Lorenzo Alunni’s ethnographic works explore contemporary workings of borders, through the prisms of practices of border detention and the management of healthcare at the border. Marcou’s current ethnographic fieldwork takes place in French border detention centres, called the ‘waiting zones’. Her research focuses on the criminalisation of migration, institutional violence, and border-crossing experience. Alunni’s presentation is based on his ethnographic work in Lampedusa. He focuses on health issues through the articulation of two perspectives: healthcare provision for migrants as a form of border management, and the embodiment of borders. Through their ethnographic approaches, the two presentations aim to suggest a common framework for a discussion on the “migrant crisis” and the different forms and effects of its local production and elaboration.


* Registration is requested on CTS (KSL) or via email (only for guests).

Seminarraum 028, Hauptgebäude, Hochschulstrasse 4
18:00 - 20:00
Keynote Lecture: Crisis at the Border - The Dramaturgy of the Politics of Immigration (Didier Fassin)

Politics of immigration are commonly presented in terms of policies of control of flows, especially so since 2015 when many displaced persons arrived in Europe through the Mediterranean causing what was called the “migrant crisis” by governments or the “refugee crisis” by non-governmental organizations. Starting with the ethnography of a scene at the French-Italian border where I have been conducting research in the past three years, I will propose a critical approach bringing together the various protagonists of this scene: the exiles, whether individuals or families; the volunteers, whether working as rescuers or in shelters; border patrols, whether from the police or the army. Within a few years, what was a free traffic zone between the two countries under the Schengen regulation has become a highly tense area where migrants and refugees risk their life crossing in the mountain above the pass, where a unique social movement has emerged to assist them, and where the state has deployed an impressive military presence while recognizing its concrete inefficacy. It is this dramaturgy that I will explore, considering the performative function of the politics of immigration.

* The event is for registered persons only. Participants must hold a valid Covid-19 certificate (vaccinated, recovered or tested). Certificates will be checked at the entrance. Please register via KSL or via email to

Audimax, Hauptgebäude, Hochschulstrasse 4
Wednesday, 06 October
10:00 - 12:00 Workshop 2: Lives Exposed, Lives Rescued at the border. (Anne-Claire Defossez)

The French-Italian border in the Alps has become the arena where two logics of intervention towards migrants and refugees compete, and where the lives of exiles are treated in irreconcilable ways, implemented by protagonists with opposing goals and positions. The first logic is based on the constitutional principle of fraternity. This is the logic on the basis of which activists (they call themselves solidaires) champion the principle of the unconditional rescue and welcome of all migrants. The second logic rests on the principle of the State’s sovereignty, the fight against illegal immigration being one of its components. According to this logic, which is enforced by the police and the gendarmerie, the State has the right to control the borders and to decide who is granted access to the national territory.

Based on long-term fieldwork, this presentation describes the scene at the border and discusses the theoretical approaches of hospitality (Arendt, Derrida) as well as sovereignty and biopolitics (Foucault, Agamben), posing the question of the value of actual and concrete, rather than metaphysical or abstract, lives.

*Registration is requested on CTS (KSL) or via email (only for guests).

Seminarraum 028, Hauptgebäude, Hochschulstrasse 4
14:00 - 16:00 Workshop 3: Attacks on Critical Thinking

In this interactive workshop, Didier Fassin proposes a brief reflection on the violation of academic freedom before discussing contemporary examples of attacks on critical thinking with the workshop participants.

*Registration is requested on CTS (KSL) or via email (only for guests).

Seminarraum 028, Hauptgebäude, Hochschulstrasse 4


Didier Fassin Didier Fassin is the James D. Wolfensohn Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, and Professor to the Annual Chair of Public Health at the Collège de France. His research is focused on moral and political issues, especially around policing, prison and migration. He was the first social scientist to receive the Nomis Distinguished Scientist Award. He recently authored Life. A Critical User’s Manual and Death of a Traveler. A Counter-Investigation both at Polity Press. 
Anne-Claire Defossez Anne-Claire Defossez is a Visiting Researcher in Sociology at the Institute for Advanced Study. She works on the relations between gender, class and political representation in democracies. As part of a Nomis Foundation grant, she currently studies protagonists and policies involved at the border between France and Italy in the area of Briançon.
Judith Marcou Judith Marcou is a PhD student in Social Anthropology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. Her work focuses on various areas of administrative detention run by the police at the French border, particularly the waiting zone at Roissy airport.
Lorenzo Alunni Lorenzo Alunni is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie post-doctoral Fellow at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. He works on the relationship between bodies, health and border management at several European sites, especially on the island of Lampedusa.