Prof. dr. Sandra Ponzanesi

NWIB Visiting Professor 2024 | May - June

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University: Utrecht University

Title of the research project of Sandra Ponzanesi as NWIB Visiting Professor at the KNIR: ‘Postcolonial Rome: Intellectuals’ Interventions.’

This project aims to revisit the ideal of Rome as a Caput Mundi in the twenty-first century through postcolonial eyes in order to bring to the fore the changes and transformations of Rome from the perspectives of postcolonial migrants (intellectuals, writers, filmmakers and artists) who have developed new narratives and visions of Rome as a multicultural, transnational and cosmopolitan place (Bianchi & Scego 2014; Parati, 2017).

The short-lived, but impactful, Italian colonial presence in the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia) and North Africa (Libya) (Del Boca, 1999-2005; Calchi Novati, 2011) generated a stream of intellectual exchanges, not only during the colonial time, in the forms of visits by Africa’s representative élites and governmental functionaries, but also, and in particular, through postcolonial migrants heading towards the capital of the former empire, i.e. Rome, after the end of colonial rule. Rome acquired a specific role as a shared imaginary of belonging, despite the conflicted colonial legacy.

Many postcolonial migrants, coming in different waves after the fall of the fascist regime and the dissolution of the Italian empire, opted to settle in Rome as an aspirational place that could connect the memory of empire with the reality of postcolonial existence.

The project aims to explore the work of postcolonial subjects operating across cultural sectors as intellectuals who give voice to their community of origin but also engage with the Italian public sphere and contemporary media debates. They do this as prominent writers who manage to reconfigure the stereotypes and tropes of the migrant Other, and as leading intellectual figures who are part and parcel of the new Roman community, as filmmakers who have immortalized the city away from the bombastic rhetoric of the fascist regime, seeking to experiment with genres and formats that can accommodate diversity and inclusion, and as artists whose collective exhibitions or productions open up the space for new forms of participation, relaying Rome not so much as Caput Mundi but as a networked city of the future.



Short bio
Sandra Ponzanesi is Professor of Media, Gender and Postcolonial Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. She has published widely in the field of postcolonial studies, Italian colonialism/postcolonialism, on the role of intellectuals, postcolonial cinema and digital migration. Her publication Paradoxes of Postcolonial Culture: Contemporary Women Writers of the Indian and Afro-Italian Diaspora (SUNY Press 2004) was one of the first works to address the issues of ‘the Italian postcolonial unconscious.’ Her more recent research has focused on the role of postcolonial intellectuals (Ponzanesi and Habed, Postcolonial Intellectuals in Europe, Rowman and Littlefield 2018) and approaches to artistic practices as a form of citizen media activism (Blaagaard, Marchetti, Ponzanesi and Bassi, Postcolonial Publics, Art and Citizen Media in Europe, Ca Foscari Press 2023). She has also published widely on the connection between digital media and migration (Leurs and Ponzanesi, Doing Digital Migration Studies, AUP 2024) and the role of virtual reality for humanitarian communication.

For more info about her publications see:

For more info about her current NWO project on “Virtual Reality as Empathy Machine: Media, Migration and the Humanitarian Predicament” see: