Dissertation Abstracts

Happy 18th? Unaccompanied minors and the transition to adulthood. An Italian case study

Author: Sarah Walker, sarahwalker848@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Prof. Les Back
Year of completion: 2021
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: unaccompanied minors , migration , race , Italy
Areas of Research: Migration , Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations , Youth


This qualitative study considers the interaction between the Italian migration regime and young male African migrants (age 14-21) who have made the precarious, illegalised journey to Italy, where they are bureaucratically labelled as ‘unaccompanied minors’. The thesis focuses on what happens when these children become legally adult; examining how the idealised concept of ‘childhood’ has a bordering effect, dividing between (deserving) children and (undeserving) adults. This rigid age binary is reproduced in research and policy on unaccompanied minors, reducing those over eighteen to an invisibilised category. Yet, it is at this moment that the rights they are accorded as children, including the right to stay in the host country, may be lost. This thesis focuses on this lacuna and, in doing so, reveals how these young men position themselves as ‘wrestlers’, contesting the subject position of the ‘vulnerable child’. Theorizing mobility and illegality in relation to young people through a raced lens, the thesis examines the everyday lived realities of the transition to adulthood for these young men. Adopting a multi-modal ethnographic approach, carried out over a period of eight months of fieldwork in an Italian reception centre between 2017 and 2018, data is drawn from repeat interviews, enhanced by visual methods, with twelve of the young men, plus ethnographic observations. Drawing on Derrida’s notion of hostipitality, attention is drawn to the temporalized hospitality for the child. I make the case that the specific socio-legal landscape implemented in the ‘home’ site of these young men, together with the social relations therein, allowed for a form of hospitality that could give time and exceed the threshold of childhood. The thesis deepens knowledge of youth mobility and the temporality of borders, providing important theoretical insights that can nuance understandings of the interaction between young migrants and immigration controls.