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Migration and Urban Transformation: boundaries in an age of resentment

Event type: UT
Date: 09/03/2017

COMPAS Seminar Series, Thursdays, Hilary Term 2017

In her speech to the 2016 Conservative Party conference, Theresa May made the following statement “ … if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means”.

In this era plagued by doubt over what it means to ‘belong’ to a territorial boundary, amidst mass migration, populist nationalism, and politics that divide so vividly along geographical lines, what does it mean to be an urbanite? If the city has historically been seen as an “integration machine” (Keith 2016) the site where most people might describe themselves as “citizens of the world” and therefore, to others, “of nowhere,” then this seminar seeks to better understand boundaries of the urban in terms of migration. As borders tighten because of and against the will of many, are there increasing instances of people identifying as “citizens of the city” (or as “citizens of the non-city”)? And if migration has become a constitutive principle in the public’s understanding of city-ness, perhaps the urbanite as proponent of cosmopolitan nowhere-ism, then how must we now think of migration to places that are not framed as such (the ‘rural,’ the suburban, the post-industrial, etc.”)? In sum, as some boundaries become more rigid, and as resentment turns within, do boundaries of ‘the urban’ begin to transform?

26 January

Revaluing the informal: Urban development and brokerage in Recife’s favelas, Brazil
Martijn Koster, Anthropology and Development Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

In analyses of urban development, the informal often equates to spontaneously grown, messy and dangerous neighbourhoods and the disorderly practices of their residents, while the formal is associated with well-structured planning and administration. Moreover, urban planning literature makes metaphorical use of the Deleuzoguattarian concepts of tree and rhizome, where the formal is considered tree-like and the informal rhizomatic. Such analyses contribute to the reproduction of inequality as they portray the urban poor and their living environment as ‘wild’ and haphazard (rhizomatic), while bourgeois urban planning is considered well-organized and structured (tree-like). Countering this view, building on long term ethnographic fieldwork on slum upgrading in Recife, Brazil, this paper reappraises the informal as a well-organized and stable domain of practices. Reversing the tree-rhizome metaphor, the paper shows how, from the perspective of marginalized city residents, formal planning tends to be very arbitrary and unpredictable (rhizomatic), whereas informal practices and networks can be predictable and stable (arboreal).

Further, this paper discusses the interconnections of the formal and the informal in particular assemblages. It approaches formal-informal assemblages by zooming in on the role of specific ‘assemblers’: community leaders from the favelas who operate as brokers between the formal urban development institutions and enterprises on the one hand and the residents of informal settlements on the other. They connect the official procedures of upgrading programmes with personalized relationships and transactions with residents, bureaucrats, politicians and entrepreneurs, giving rise to an intricate entwining of the formal and the informal.

02 February

Reconceptualising the household in the age of migration
Dr Frances Pine, Dept of Anthropology, Goldsmiths, University of London

This paper is about shifting contexts of east-west European migration, from the points of view of both sending households and individual migrants. I draw on my own ethnographic data from Poland, spanning the past 30 years, and on other material. The lives many migrants imagine before they leave their homes and the ones in which they find themselves on arrival often starkly diverge. I consider the conundrum of time as it plays out in complicated life courses that take people on journeys across borders and often continents, putting their present time, and the emotional, economic, and social relationships which comprise it, on hold in search of a promised ‘better’ time in the future. I argue that in many cases migrants’ journeys must be considered as outcomes of complex negotiations with household members and other kin, friends and peers, and as risks taken at least partly consciously. What is being gambled is the challenge of present hardship against the imagination of a better future. Drawing on scholars such as Massey, Harvey, Guyer and Jackson, I argue that the spatial fragmentation of migrant journeys is paralleled by temporal fragmentation, where an imagined future is weighed against an existing but sometimes non-viable (economically, politically, socially) present.

09 February

Contained: exploring out-of-the box tools to build resilience in refugee-receiving communities
Marieke van Houte, Research Fellow, International Migration Institute (IMI), University of Oxford

Globally changing patterns of conflict and inequality, leading to increased refugee flows, have exacerbated existing tensions and polarization in refugee receiving communities, which leads to decreased civic and political participation on one hand and escalations of violence and hostility on the other. Arguably, resilient societies that are able to develop creative, sustainable and proactive strategies to survive, adapt, transform and grow in the face of stress and shocks, are less prone to polarization.

However, interventions to build resilience and to mitigate polarization struggle to find successful approaches, as cognitive discussions between people disagreeing tend to lead to further polarization (Wojcieszak 2011, Van Swol 2009), and social and arts based initiatives also risk to contribute to more rather than less polarization as they are often based on a normative agenda and reach biased audiences.

Based on the findings from a pilot of CONTAINED Project, an initiative that developed a trilogy of theatrical tools to connect experience, research and learning on migration, this explorative paper reflects a search for effective tools to provoke thoughts, inspire dialogue and enhance empathy between refugees, migrants and non-migrants, with the ultimate goal of developing proactive responses against polarization in receiving societies.

Marieke is a research fellow at the International Migration Institute (IMI) at the University of Oxford. Her research looks at the links between migration, conflict and change. She specializes in migration from (post-) conflict countries, return migration, transnational (political) engagement of migrants, and processes of structure and agency in mobility. Methdologically, she wants to contribute to improved and innovative qualitative and mixed research methodologies in migration studies. Marieke is also exploring ways to communicate research results to wider audiences, for example through (performative) arts. The insights and personal stories that she collected over the last decade form the research background of CONTAINED Project. Marieke is also a certified facilitator (joker) of participatory theatre and an actor of improvised theatre.

16 February

Pacifying the Souls in Cities: Yi Migrations in Chengdu, China
Dr. Yun Tang

With the development and urbanization boom in China, the last three decades have seen a new trend of domestic migration towards urban cities. This new trend is characterized by the massive migration from the so-called ‘minorities’ regions. Lots of migrants come from communities with a social structure and cultural logic that vary greatly from that of the urbanites, a difference that has been the source of conflict and culture shock. At the same time, because of the household system (hukou), most migrations can’t get a household registration in the city, even though they are settled there. That makes them citizens without citizenship. This embarrassing situation brings more severe challenges to urban planers and managers, what’s more, it leads a migrant’s ongoing sense of misplacement and a lack of belongs.

Recent migration studies have contributed much on the motives, dynamics and the politics of migrant life, and pointed out that one cannot fully understand the relationship between migrants and urbanites without understanding the social-cultural logic of specific minority/ethnic group. However, many scholars and managers often undervalue the social-cultural logic as the obstacle to development, modernity and urbanization, instead of regarding it as the key to pursue an alternative modernity or the hybridity in urbanization.

Based on the ethnographic data, this talk will first illustrate the exorcism ritual carried out by Yi migrations (mainly habitat in Southwest Sichuan of Southwest China) in Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan) as a symbolic way to perceive and overcome all the difficulties in urban life; and then go further to analyse the social-cultural logic embedded in this ritual. In conclusion, this talk will rethink some popular trends in migration studies and propose a possible perspective to understand the urbanization.

Yun Tang is an anthropologist specializing in Southwest China. Her research interests lie in the topic on landscape, environment, disaster and folk religion. She was awarded her PhD degree in 2008, and is now an Associate Prof. in the Southwest University for Nationalities (Chengdu, China). She is also the special editor of anthropology of the Journal of Southwest University for Nationalities and an academic visitor of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnology in the University of Oxford (Oct. 2016 – Oct. 2017).

In her doctoral research (2005-2007), she explored the landscape, legends and historicity in a migration village in the Tibetan-Yi Corridor, Southwest China. She also carried out fieldwork in this area on many subsequent occasions, broadening her interests to environmental anthropology, disaster studies, migrations, religion, among others. One of her ongoing field researches (since 2010) focuses on the urbanization, migration and rural construction in Chengdu; and another one (since 2012) has been on sacred mountain worship, landscape, myth and religious practices in Kham. She leads or joins 12 projects, including leading the project of Local Experience and the Construction of Long-term Scientific Measure of Disaster Control in Southwest China (funded by the National Social Science Fund of China), and has joined the project of The Local in China’s Heritage: Theoretical and Methodological Reflections (funded by the Leverhulme Trust of UK).

She published two monographs (in Chinese): In the Name of Mountain: The Landscape, Rumor and Historicity in the Cultural Contact in Central Guizhou (2008) and Stone of Otherness: the Ritual, Landscape, and Perception of Disaster (2016), and 25 papers, including ‘Crossing Borders and Paradigms: the Intermediaries and the Reformation of Anthropology [in English]’ (in Cashier d’Extreme-Asie (23), 2014) and ‘Misunderstanding J. Frazer in “Frazer Lecture”: the “Regicide” in Divine Kingship and its Anthropological Debates’[in Chinese]. She also lectured 3 courses to graduate students: Theory and History of Anthropology, Anthropology on Southwest China, as well as Ethnography and Fieldwork.

23 February

Viennese social furniture: Transforming urban hospitality with plywood and cable ties
Tom Scott-Smith, Associate Professor of Refugee Studies and Forced Migration, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford

When the London Design Museum awarded ‘Design of the Year’ to the IKEA refugee shelter last month, the resulting attention strayed once again to the complete, prefabricated unit. Drawing on recent fieldwork in Vienna, this presentation explores a more modest but potentially more successful series of architectural interventions that have been pioneered in the Austrian capital over the past twelve months. Grouped under the heading of ‘social furniture’, these interventions use mundane, everyday items to transform empty office space and circumvent existing employment restrictions for asylum seekers. After explaining the central idea, the seminar will evaluate the strengths and limitations of the model and place it in the context of Viennese urban planning.

02 March

Migrant urbanisms, identity politics and claims to the city: Latin American commercial spaces in London
Dr Patria Roman-Velazquez, Institute for Media & Creative Industries, Loughborough University, London

Businesses are at the heart of inner-city regeneration and at the centre of government initiatives for economic development. Empowering local communities in the transformation of places to encourage a greater sense of belonging, and the development of locally-sensitive policy frameworks for urban regeneration in London, are testament to the centrality of businesses, places and people in visions and aspirations for London as a global city.

In London regeneration is taking place in some of the most deprived and ethnically diverse boroughs. Thus, regeneration disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities across the UK’s regions, cities and town centres. Spaces long inhabited by migrant and ethnic businesses could be lost as a result of intensive regeneration projects, contributing to further isolation, inequality, displacement, lack of ownership and sense of belongingness. The vibrant multicultural environment of London’s multi-ethnic business clusters where small independent businesses and community members can thrive, is at risk.

Using the experience of working with Latin American retailers in London and many years of research with London’s Latin American commercial spaces in the capital the current presentation seeks to explore through whether claims to the global city become stronger or diluted under conditions of greater political and economic uncertainty.

I will explore whether strategies and manifestations of migrant urbanism could provide a useful critique to the perspective that privileges efficiency of resources for London as a global city at the expense of socio–economic and distributional impact of regeneration for particular communities and the identity politics behind such strategies.

09 March

The Need for ‘Smart Moves’: Metropolitan Challenges to ‘Old’ Certainties of State Order
Tassilo Herrschel, University of Westminster, London and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

‘Metropolitan elite’ has become a new battle cry in current populist vilification of the architects of globalisation and its seemingly failed promise of rewards for all. It marks increasingly evident deep divisions – both actual and perceived – within European and North American Society between metropolitan ‘winners’ and the ‘rest’, that run across states and through societies. These gaps give little consideration to administrative structures, territorial arrangements or forms of state organisation, reflecting instead a combination of anxieties, sense of threat and perceived injustice in access to opportunities. Much of that conflictuality expresses itself in the clash between claims for borders and boundaries to be re-/erected as defensive bulwarks and manifestations of territorial ownership and control, versus advocacy of openness and trans-border internationality.

Cities and metropolitan regions have become the foci of attention in this conflict between perspectives and agendas, as they represent both – quests for competitiveness, also supported by ‘their’ states eager to push out their best ‘horses’ in the competition of gains from globalisation, and a sense of belonging to states as expressions of shared interests and cohesive community. In other words, cities are located at the intersection between competitive localism, a manifestation of regionally-scaled economic pre-eminence, and acting as a tool of national economic development strategies in a globalised environment (Harding, 2007, Herrschel and Newman, 2002, Jobse and Needham, 1988, Scott, 2001). The result, it appears, is a de facto clash of metropolitan versus non-metropolitan political and societal cultures and agendas, which vie for own voices in the established state-based structures of power and identity. As cities’ ambitions increasingly reach across scales to the international or global level, this has fundamental implications for the role and nature of territoriality, democratic representation and participation, legitimacy, and political processes and mechanisms in both their individual manifestation and interaction with each other.

Facing these challenges, this paper argues, cities have become active players in their own right – increasingly independent of the confines of ‘their’ respective nation states. This development also raises questions conventional disciplinary approaches to ‘city’/’city-region’ and ‘internationality’ and their ability to embrace this de facto ‘pixelisation’ of state territory by policy making urban entities. ‘Smart’ signals here policy innovation or, at a more fundamental, structural level, political innovation, driven inter alia by actors taking political risks as they leave established ‘safe’ practices and formulae and push the boundaries of familiar conceptual and disciplinary explanations offered by urban studies and international relations, for instance.

Using the case of the international city-centric Øresund Region in southern Sweden, and its conflict with the geo-societally integrationist, conventional agenda of the surrounding administrative region of Skåne, this paper looks at the contestation between state structure, including internationality, trans-scalar urban/metropolitan agency, and concerns about democratic representation and voice. What lessons can be learned?