Professor Elena Isayev

Research interests

Migration, Mobility and Belonging

Challenging prevailing conceptions of a natural tie to the land and a demographically settled world Migration, Mobility and Place in Ancient Italy (Cambridge 2017), argues that much human mobility in the last millennium BC was ongoing and cyclical. In particular, outside the military context ‘the foreigner in our midst’ was not regarded as a problem. Boundaries of status rather than of geopolitics were difficult to cross. The book discusses the stories of individuals and migrant groups, traders, refugees, expulsions, the founding and demolition of sites, and the political processes that could both encourage and discourage the transfer of people from one place to another. In so doing it highlights moments of change in the concepts of mobility and the definitions of those on the move. By providing the long view from history, it exposes how fleeting are the conventions that take shape here and now. Issues addressed here have been developed in further publications and the new research strands below, which have emerged from my research into the history and material culture of ancient Italy: Inside Ancient Lucania: Dialogues in History and Archaeology (London 2007); with Bradley and Riva in Ancient Italy: Regions Without Boundaries (Exeter 2007).  

*  Research on mobility and belonging has been supported by Fellowships from the Davis Centre for Historical Studies, Princeton Unversity, and the AHRC. 

My current research is based on 3 intersecting strands:

1) Hospitality and Asylum: asks what compels people to provide support & how hospitality is a measure of society

2) Potency of Displaced Agency: exposes contexts of power & agency – action – of refugees & asylum seekers.

3) Common and Public Space: questions the publicness of public space & highlights alternative common spaces.

* This research has been supported by Fellowships from: the Humanities Research Centre, Australia National University; the Center for Advanced Studies – Migration and Mobility, University of Tübingen; and a UFMG/FAFICH, Guest Lectureship at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.


Interdisciplinarity, Interpractice and Co-Creation (Links at end)

Fundamental to these investigations are the collaborations with researchers from multiple disciplines and practices, in and beyond the academy. These have involved co-creating with Campus in Campus in Palestine, and links with the Dandara Community in Brazil, resulting in collective processes, including: the publication with students of XENIA - Hospitality; and contributions to the volume, co-edited with Evan Jewell: Displacement and the Humanities. A nascent experimental process is underway: These partnerships stemmed from the initiative Future Memory, that brought together artists, muscians and wider community members (see Public Engagement section). Such enterprises and collaborative research will be at the core of the propositional initiative, Beyond Resilience, described below.

* This research has been supported by grants from: the AHRC, Beyond Text Scheme; the Arts Council of Wales; Arts for All, Scotland; the University of Exeter, and others. See Public Engagement section.

Beyond-Resilience: rights, exceptional politics & innovation out of displacement (proposal in preparation)

The aim is to bring together researchers and practitioners engaged with or in contexts of displacement who are invested in understanding, charting and enhancing the rights, agency and the potential of politics, beyond that enacted through nation states and territorial membership. There has been increasing awareness of the consequences resulting from the challenges of human rights, which, while promising equality irrespective of citizenship status, are still articulated within the framework of the Nation State. Nationality remains the basis of entitlement to rights, despite the guarantees offered for legal personhood to those deemed stateless by international human rights law. The situation has become critical, as the perceived state of exception of persons who are undocumented, who exist in refugee camps or detention centres, has not only engulfed whole life times, but become inter-generational. What will it take to shift the perception of displaced people from that of victims, threats, problems or emblematic figures, to that of potent agents (without denying their victimisation), who are equally invested in addressing shared global challenges? How can an opening be created for modes of engagement with the innovative, socio-political models that arise from conditions of displacement, without romanticising, in a way that is neither idealized or reactionary? It is the intention of this initiative to deliver tangible proposals to address these questions and the seemingly intransient, state-based understanding of rights and power, by conducting research through: history, practice, institutional frameworks, and theory.



Displacement and the Humanities: Maifestos from the Ancient to the Present:

XENIA – Hospitality

Campus in Camps: Place, Heritage and Belonging – Livy and Cicero:

Future Memory: