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On shipwrecks and sea nymphs: Fragments of Maltese hospitality

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In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul is shipwrecked on the shores of Malta, and through the welcome granted to him the archipelago’s inhabitants are converted to his new religion, while in The Odyssey, the sea nymph Calypso keeps Odysseus prisoner on Malta for seven years until freed by the gods. Tourists, refugees, expatriates, migrants, investors and ethnographers (not necessarily mutually exclusive and certainly not unproblematic categories) in Malta today find themselves caught in one or more junctures between these two poles of hospitality. For Derrida too hospitality is constituted by a double injunction, an aporia between the unconditional and the conditional, simultaneously mutually necessary and mutually contradictory. With these two accounts of divided hospitality in hand, and on the basis of fieldwork in Malta, this article explores the operations of multiple overlapping levels of political, social, cultural, economic, religious and ethnic conditions placed on hospitality, whether at the level of households, communities, States and so on. Particular attention is given to the ways in which such conditions do or do not manifest the inspiration and aspiration of unconditionality through what Derrida dubs ‘intermediate schemas’ between the conditional and the unconditional, as well as to defending the usefulness of the Derridean understanding of hospitality for ethnography.
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Keywords: Malta; ethnography; hospitality; migration; mobility; tourism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The New School for Social Research

Publication date: 01 March 2017

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  • Hospitality & Society is an international multidisciplinary social sciences journal focusing upon hospitality and exploring its connections with wider social and cultural processes and structures. The journal welcomes submissions from various disciplines and aims to be an interactive forum expanding frontiers of knowledge and contributing to the literature on hospitality social science. Articles that stimulate debate, discussion and exchange across disciplines are welcomed, as well as review essays or short topical pieces that are provocative and problematic in nature.
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