Patrolling the border of the settler body: Andrea Tarchi, Building the Intimate Boundaries of the Nation: The Regulation of Mixed Intimacies in Colonial Libya and the Construction of Italian Whiteness (1911-1942), PhD dissertation, Free University of Amsterdam, 2023


Abstract: The study of the regulation of “mixed” intimacies between Italian settlers and people that fell under Italian colonial rule can clarify processes of racialization of subaltern social groups while pointing at the construction of Italian whiteness in the colonial environment. However, research on mixed intimacies during Italian colonialism has focused solely on the Eastern African colonial contexts, namely, how such relationships unfolded and were regulated in Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia during Italian colonial rule. With this research, I aim to add to this research landscape the context of the Italian colonization of Libya (1911-1942), to assess whether Italian colonial administrators regulated intimacies between Italians and Libyans and to ascertain whether these regulations played a role in the racialization of Libya and the identification of Italians as white. In order to do so, I deployed a socio-legal and cultural analysis approach to the examination of official archival sources collected in the Italian state, Vatican, and Missionary congregations’ archives. Through such an analysis, the regulations of mixed intimacies collected in the archives are juxtaposed with the social changes that influenced and were influenced by the policing of intimacy in the Libyan colonial context. The main finding of this research is that Italian colonial administrators regulated mixed intimacies throughout their colonial presence in Libya to establish the category of whiteness on the settler population while racializing Libyans as Others. In particular, this research found that the racialization of the colonial Other through the regulation of mixed intimacies was a significant factor that allowed a modern, white, European subjectivity to emerge and represent itself as a signifier of Italian identity in the empire. Regulating mixed intimacies coincided with keeping control of categorization processes that affected both colonizing and colonized societies, therefore representing an untapped resource in understanding the historical production of racial categories in the Italian colonial context.

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