Tag Archives: Migration

On Manchester Chinatown

Elena Barabantseva, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, write about Manchester’s chinatown …

Yet again this year Manchester’s city centre was a stage for Chinese New Year Celebrations, making it a perfect occasion for a family day out to experience a different culture. Manchester Chinatown is one of the major tourist attractions in the city and is considered to be the most vibrant Chinese quarter in the country, but how did it become part of the city’s architectural and cultural fabrics?

With the seedcorn funding from cities@manchester I was able to conduct an archival study on the origins of Chinatown and a series of interviews with the members of Manchester’s Chinese community organisations. What emerged from this pilot research is that the origins of Manchester Chinatown are somewhat paradoxical. From the first wave of migration in the early twentieth century, the Chinese have been the most geographically dispersed migrant group in the UK due to the nature of their occupations, first in laundries and then in take-away restaurants. Yet, the dominant social perception of the Chinese as a closely-knit and inward-looking community has persisted until the present day.

The early Chinese residents in Manchester were far from an insular community. They actively integrated into the city. An article in the Manchester Guardian in February 1912 estimates the total number of Chinese immigrants in Manchester to be around one hundred and comments on their life in the following way:  ‘They are mainly Cantonese, and when they land at Liverpool they can speak little or no English. The Manchester Wesleyan Mission (8 Cable street), under the direction of the Rev. S. F. Collier, has carried on work amongst them. A New Year’s party was held last evening at the Albert Hall’ (Manchester Guardian, ‘Chinese in Manchester’, 20 Feb 1912). In the pre-Second World War period, the local community efforts to interact with the newly arrived immigrants were paralleled by the furnishing links between Manchester and China at the national level. The pre-war textile boom in Manchester prompted strengthening links with China, and for the first time in 1933 the Chinese Kuomintang government appointed a consular representative to Manchester to oversee the day-to-day trade links with China with an office in Spring Gardens in Central Manchester (Manchester Guardian, ‘China comes North’, 11 February 1933). In 1942 The Universities China Committee in London, with the funds from the Boxer rebellion (1898-1901) indemnity, established Manchester China Institute on George street to ‘provide a place where British people could meet Chinese people and learn from them in various ways’ (Manchester Guardian, ‘China Institutes: A new one for Manchester, 11 May 1942). These facts testify to the vibrant official and community-based links which existed between China and Manchester in the early twentieth century.

In the post-World War Two period Chinese migrants keenly settled in the city and its suburban areas to satisfy British tastes for Chinese culinary.  In a parallel development, an increasing number of Chinese businesses started opening in Central Manchester, with the first Chinese restaurant Ping Hong opening its doors on Mosley Street in 1948. Recalling the origins of Manchester Chinatown, senior Chinese residents unequivocally assert that ‘there was no Chinatown in Manchester in the 1970s’. Yet, 8y the mid-1970s the local newspapers were announcing that a Chinatown was emerging in central Manchester bounded by George, Nicholas, Faulkner, and Princess Streets. By the early 1980s, the geographical and socio-cultural place of Chinatown in Manchester was secured when in 1983 Manchester City Library added the entry “Chinatown” to its catalogue of newspaper clippings.

In the 1980s Manchester Chinatown boomed, when in the span of less than ten years key community organisations and societies were set up in the quarter: Chinese Cultural and Education Centre in 1979, the Chinese Arts Centre in 1986, Tong Sing Chinese Housing Association in 1984, Wai Yin Chinese Women’s Society in 1988, and Chinese Health Information Centre in 1987. The symbolic birth of Chinatown culminated in 1987, when the Chinese Imperial Arch, physically marking the area’s association with the Chinese community, was erected on Faulkner street.

The early 1980s also witnessed an active lobbying by Chinese community leaders of the City authorities to clearly mark the boundaries of the Chinatown by translating the names of the streets into Chinese and displaying street signs in Chinese characters: ‘It may not be long now before you can walk up the Street of Capturing Blessings, turn left into the Street of Fairy Happiness and end up in the heart of Manchester’s Chinatown…. Faulkner Street would become Fuk-Ngar Gai (street of capturing Blessing) and Charlotte street Sar-Lok Gai (Street of Fairy Happiness)’ (Manchester Evening News, Comment ‘Turning into the Street of Happiness’, 21 February 1983). The attempts to translate the names of the streets into Chinese were stalled in June 1985, when the City Council designated this area as a ‘George street conservation area’ where ‘signs should be designed and located so as not to compete with the architectural details of buildings’ (Manchester City Council, no date). The value attached to the history of the area took an upper hand over contemporary social trends.

A quick browse through the historical maps of Manchester city centre from the collection of Manchester Museum of Science and Industry confirms that the area of Manchester’s Chinatown developed in the Georgian times, and the layout and names of the streets haven’t changed since the 18th century. Until the early 19th century, this district was a well-to-do residential area, centred on St James’ church built at 7 Charlotte street in 1786 and demolished in 1928. The pattern of streets and street names are the only surviving witnesses to the layers of time which shaped and transformed this area of the city. A cluster of important societies and institutions also operated in the area, including Literary and Philosophical Society at 36 George street. Portico Library was opened in the area at 57 Moseley street in 1806 and still occupies its original site. Royal Manchester Institute was built on Moseley Street between 1824 and 1835 in the Greek neo-classical style and now hosts the City Art Gallery, and the Athenaeum, a club for a society for ‘advancement and diffusions of knowledge’ was founded on Princess street in 1835 and is now linked to the Art Gallery.

By the end of the 1990s, Chinese organisations and initiatives which were founded and started their activities in Manchester Chinatown in the 1980s started relocating to other parts of the city.  Most notably, The Chinese Arts Centre moved to the Northern Quarter and was recently renamed into the The Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Fo Guang Shan Temple moved to Trafford, Manchester Chinese Centre re-established in Ardwick, and the Wai Yin Chinese Women’s Society moved to Ancoats. Chinese supermarkets are not limited to the Chinatown anymore and can be found in many different locations around Manchester. These processes point to the moving and changing character of Chinatown, what Doreen Massey coins as a continuous process of ‘multiple becoming’. The dominant perspective on Chinatowns around the world refers to them as ‘ethnic enclaves’, yet the dynamic history and ongoing transformations of Manchester’s Chinatown show that it embraces multiple histories, contested present, and an open future.  The physical demarcations of Chinatown are less important than social processes and experiences which both define and escape the attempts to pin down Chinatown’s spatial and cultural demarcations.

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“What do you mean by ‘urbanising the informal settlement’?” Migration, informal settlements and everyday politics in Buenos Aires

By Tanja Bastia, IDPM

Food for all without clientism, image; Tanja Bastia

Food for all without clientism, image; Tanja Bastia

A couple of weeks ago we had a one day workshop (link to http://informalpoliticsinthecity.wordpress.com/) on ‘informal politics in the city’, funded by cities@manchester.  The papers included circular migration and migrants’ identities in Southern Africa; step-migration through Western African countries; street peddling in Barcelona; and two papers on Buenos Aires.  The aim was to bring together discussions about informality and migration.  While there is a large literature on informality and internal migration, there is far less work on cross-border (international) migration and informality.  Towards the end of the workshop one of the participants who works on migration and informality in Africa asked another, who works on informal housing in Buenos Aires, “what do you mean by ‘urbanising the informal settlement’”?  I remember asking the same question when I first started researching migration and informal settlements in Buenos Aires.

There is the issue of the extent to which concepts translate across different regions.  The straightforward answer is that ‘urbanising’ in the Latin American context is usually referred to as ‘upgrading’ in Africa.  It refers to the process of ‘opening up’ informal settlements through widening and paving of main roads.  This makes the informal settlement look more like a ‘normal’ – read formal – neighbourhood (though in some countries informal parts of the city are built on square grids).  Widening and paving of main roads means that services which are usually available in other parts of the city also become available in the informal settlement.  For example, police can patrol the streets, ambulances can get to those who need it, bricks and building material can be brought by motorised vehicles instead of having to be pushed in wheelbarrows.  

‘Urbanising an informal settlement’ also involves the state arranging for the provision of water services, electricity and sewers, to the same standard as in other parts of the city.  The 2003 Plan to Urbanise Villas and Precarious Neighbourhoods of the City of Buenos Aires includes three main objectives:

  1. The physical and social integration of precarious settlements so that they become similar to existing urban neighbourhoods
  2. Improved quality of life for those living in informal settlements with the provision of services to a similar standard to those available in the rest of the city
  3. The integration of the community in the process of decision-making through the active encouragement of the participation of the population living in precarious settlements in the configuration of their habitat (Plan summary available http://www.cnvivienda.org.ar/revistas/revista9/CiudadBA_9.pdf)

However, the question points to an issue that is more complex than the translation of concepts across different regions.  When I first came across the term ‘urbanising the villas’ – as the informal settlements in Buenos Aires are known – I was perplexed by the etymology of the term.   To ‘urbanise’ means to make something more urban, usually referred to the process of urbanisation – the growth of the urban population or the turning of village or town into a city.  However, in this particular case, the term ‘urbanise’ is being referred to informal neighbourhoods.  How can you ‘make more urban’ something that is rapidly becoming the very image of urban life for the majority of the urban population across the globe?  Is there any aspect of the ‘slum’, as informal settlements are despectively called, that is not ‘urban’?  The use of the term ‘urbanise’ to refer to the villas, favelas or any other precarious part of the city implies that informal settlements are not really part of the city, a reference to the early process of urbanisation, when informal settlements were seen as vestiges of village life in the city and their inhabitants as ‘peasants in the city’ (see e.g. Bryan Roberts Cities of Peasants, published in 1978). 

Internal migration was indeed important for the growth of informal settlements.  In Buenos Aires, villas emerged during the 1930s and the process of industrialisation, to house the large number of workers that were unable to find housing in other neighbourhoods.  As in other Latin American countries, villas were built on public land and were an integral part of the growth of the city, with the main difference being that the state played a small role or no role at all in the provision of basic services, such as water, electricity or sewage.  The auto-construction of the houses was often complemented by collective efforts to bring basic services to the informal settlements. 

Buenos Aires, Image; Tanja Bastia

Buenos Aires, Image; Tanja Bastia

The military regimes during the 1970s attempted to eradicate informal settlements from the city of Buenos Aires, as these were seen as key bastions of opposition.  The city was associated with order, cleanliness and obedience and villas were seen as lacking in these characteristics.  They were associated with dirt, chaos, subversiveness.  The military regimes therefore aimed to move all informal settlements on the other side of the boundary of the city of Buenos Aires.  Racist stereotyping preceded the forced evictions and over 200,000 are thought to have been forcefully evicted from the city of Buenos Aires (see Blaustein, Eduardo, Prohibido vivir aquí: la erradicación de las villas durante la dictadura, published in 2006).

With the return of democracy in 1983 many of these residents returned to the places from which they had been evicted and they were increasingly joined by migrants from neighbouring countries, such as Paraguay and Bolivia, and during the 1990s, Peru.  Some informal settlements today are associated with specific nationalities.  For example, the villa 21-24 is predominantly Paraguayan and the parish church bears the name of a Paraguayan Virgin, the Virgin of Caacupé.  However, while there might be a cultural association with Paraguayan ancestry, and while anecdotal accounts give estimates of ‘90% of those in 21-24 are from Paraguay’, a recent census conducted by the Instituto de la Vivienda de la Ciudad, (IVC – City Housing Institute) indicates that in fact only just over a third of its residents were born in Paraguay (34.7%), while 48% are Argentinean (they might have Paraguayan parents but given that they were born in Argentina, they are Argentinean).  This is significant, given the fact that many public authorities attempt to ‘export’ the issue of informality by attributing it to a problem generated by the migration from neighbouring countries.

Migrants from neighbouring countries and Peru have suffered decades of discrimination.  Xenophobic attitudes in public discourse intensified during the 1990s, during the Menem government, when migrants from neighbouring countries, particularly Bolivia, were accused of stealing jobs from Argentineans, and therefore increasing unemployment, increasing crime rates and insecurity, and blamed for health scares, such as a cholera outbreak.  These xenophobic attitudes were also present in everyday actions, such as a brutal murder of Marcelina Meneses, a young Bolivian woman, who was pushed off a train in Buenos Aires in January 2001 while carrying her ten month old son, who also died in the accident.  The event, painfully illustrates the everyday acceptance of xenophobic and racist attitudes towards migrants from neighbouring countries.

It is clear, however, that much has changed in Argentina, which today boasts one of the most progressive migration legislations in the world, the law 25,871, which was approved in 2003 after years of lobbying by civil society organisations, and implemented the year after.  However, migration as a subject, as in many other parts of the world, continues to be studied from the point of view of the nation, that is, it suffers from methodological nationalism.  Beyond public figures that attribute the growth of informal settlements to a problem of neighbouring countries, there is very little research that takes a deeper look at the association between informality and migration (some notable exceptions include work by Alejandro Grimson, Lucia Groisman and Carla Gallinati).

In a pilot research project we are currently exploring the relationship between informality and migration, specifically through the everyday politics of informal settlements.  We are particularly interested in understanding how migrants organise as ‘neighbours’ (vecinos), often in conjunction with non-migrants, around issues that affect them.  These sometimes relate to their condition as migrants, but most of the time, they organise on the basis of their experience as residents of informal settlements.

Organisational strategies and aims vary greatly.  However, we find that the scale at which we address migrants’ everyday politics matter.  When we look at the city as a whole, migrants tend to organise around their particular country of origin, and on the basis of their national identity.  We find many organisations that (claim to) represent Bolivians, Paraguayans or Peruvians.  However, when we shift the focus to the informal settlement, there are many more cross-national organisations, those made up of migrants from different countries, as well as migrants and Argentineans.  While it is not surprising that the everyday politics in informal settlements aim to address the most immediate needs – adequate access to electricity, connection to sewage system, better security and access to health services – what is surprising is the absence of claims in relation to their condition as migrants.

Does this mean that migration is irrelevant at the more micro level of analysis, at the level of informal settlement?  Some interviewees vividly remember the nights following the 2001 economic collapse when they had to gather around fires to fend off attacks from other groups of migrants.  However, most grass-roots organisations are able to transcend differences on the basis of nationality and unite their activists around issues that affect them all.  This is encouraging, particularly if taken together with the progress at the national level on migration legislation, as it could point to a top down and almost simultaneous bottom up recognition of difference but a willingness to work across these differences, to form what Amin terms a ‘society of strangers’ (see Ash Amin, Land of Strangers, published 2012).  There remains, however, the level of the city, where public authorities as well as those claiming to represent different groups of migrants, reproduce and often strengthen divisions among groups of strangers.  

In the same way that informal settlements are an integral part of the city and, many would argue, are here to stay as long as the current system remains in place, so too is migration.  To wish to ‘urbanise’ informal settlements, lends little recognition to the structural elements that have generated existing inequalities, the same inequalities that encourage people to move from one country to another, despite having to live in an informal settlement.  What is clearly missing is the recognition of the fact that informal settlements are already urban, they are an integral part of the city life, and its residents are already proposing creative solutions to their problems.  Listening and paying attention to these proposals is a vital ingredient of constructing a more just, and less unequal, city in the future. 

The project to which this blog refers to “Seeking justice: migration, informality and political participation in Buenos Aires” is being carried out by Tanja Bastia and Jerónimo Montero Bressán, in collaboration with Diana Mitlin and Melanie Lombard (Global Urban Research Centre, University of Manchester). We gratefully acknowledge the funding from cities@manchester.

 

From contribution to collaboration: Refugee Week and the value of seeing like a city

by Jonathan Darling, Geography, University of Manchester

Image from Refugee Week 2013

Image from Refugee Week 2013

Today sees the start of Refugee Week 2013, an annual celebration of the contribution of refugees to the UK that seeks to promote better understanding of why people seek sanctuary. Refugee Week has been held annually since 1998 as a response to negative perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers and hostile media coverage of asylum in particular (Refugee Week 2013). Refugee Week promotes a series of events across the UK, from football tournaments and theatre productions to exhibitions and film screenings, all designed to promote understanding between different communities.

Whilst Refugee Week is a national event it finds expression in local activities organised in a range of cities. In part, this is in response to the dispersal of asylum seekers across the UK, meaning that refugees and asylum seekers have been increasing visible in a range of towns and cities over the last decade. Asylum decision-making and policy take place at a national level, but the implications of such policy and the demands of integration and service provision are experienced at the level of urban authorities and communities. But what is the relationship between asylum seekers and cities, and how might we understand this relationship through the lens of Refugee Week? In this commentary, I want to suggest that by focusing on cities we might destabilise some of the problematic assumptions of national discussions of asylum and refugee politics, through drawing on the resources of cities as sites of social and political creativity, contestation and collaboration. Doing so shifts our view of asylum and refugees from a state-centred account of national hospitality, to a more complex account of the lived realities of urban refuge. 

National celebrations such as Refugee Week are in many ways positive interventions into public discussions over asylum. They have played a central role in challenging stereotypes, contesting myths over benefit claims and bringing to the fore the heritage of sanctuary that has shaped contemporary Britain. Refugee Week has also offered a platform for politically contentious campaigns for rights to work, access to education and anti-deportation campaigns, all of which have benefited from the shifts in public opinion and political will that Refugee Week has produced.  

However, as many of those working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK note, Refugee Week alone is not enough. Rather, there are risks attached to ‘celebrating the contributions of refugees to our history and heritage’. These words, the slogan for Refugee Week 2013, suggest three of the central challenges of refugee politics in contemporary Britain. Firstly, the emphasis placed on ‘our’ history establishes a fixed group defined by distinction from refugees, a ‘we’ whose history refugees may contribute to but always a ‘we’ at a distance from refugees themselves. Secondly, a concern with ‘history and heritage’ positions the contributions of refugees in the past. Refugee issues thus become concerns to look back on through visions of a hospitable past, without necessarily providing a means to address issues of contemporary asylum. Most strikingly though, Refugee Week foregrounds a logic of contribution in celebrating refugees. While a claim about contributions can appear to be a strong argument in the face of those who assert that refugees and asylum seekers ‘abuse’ welfare entitlements, it risks reinforcing perceptions of worth and worthiness that make refugee status into an economic commodity. Whilst we should recognise the skills, knowledge and dynamism that those seeking sanctuary bring, a logic of contribution places asylum into an economic frame of reference similar to the points-based system that determines immigration status.

Taken together, these three concerns suggest that Refugee Week might be taken as a governmental tool for the production of benevolent responses to those deemed to have ‘contributed’ enough to be worthy of refugee status and humanitarian compassion. Akin to forms of celebratory cosmopolitanism that market cities as sites of diversity, whilst tightly regulating the limits of tolerance, the rhetoric of ‘contribution’ recalls a conditional hospitality that may be open to a select few. Often such hospitality is open only to those past groups who have contributed to ‘our’ history, rather than reflecting an ongoing process in which this history is continuing to be made. A concern with contribution thus makes asylum and refugee discussions part of government efforts to ‘manage migration’ for the ‘good of the nation’, rather than in the interests of those seeking sanctuary and fleeing persecution.

How then might we envisage a different view of refugees and asylum seekers, one detached from a concern with their potential contributions to the nation and with representing a benevolent history? It is here that cities come to the fore. If we take seriously Magnusson’s (2012) demand to ‘see like a city’ rather than ‘seeing like a state’, we might find a different view of asylum seekers and refugees, one less concerned with contributions to an already existing entity and its history, be that the nation or the city, and rather more concerned with the collaborations and collective engagements that shape urbanism as a way of life. For Magnusson, cities are complex constellations of ideas, relations, encounters and institutions, never exhausted by their present form and never subject to a single mode of authority. Rather than a common ‘history and heritage’ to which refugees may contribute, seeing like a city implies multiple histories vying for attention, histories which are being made and remade as the city is itself becoming something new through the actions of those who inhabit it and the material relations that form it. What we might take from this view of the city as a site of incomplete political authority and multiple histories, is a vision of how cities are formed through collaborations, through the coming together of diverse interests and opinions to make urban space.

We might see examples of this form of thought in some of the practices and events of Refugee Week, most notably those that seek to undermine assumptions of asylum as an issue of compassion and humanitarianism. For example, as part of Manchester’s Refugee Week celebrations, artists Anna White and Emily Hayes have been working with the Rainbow Haven centre for displaced people in Manchester and Salford, to discuss the journeys individuals took to the UK and their experiences of life in Manchester and Salford.[i] The project involves asylum seekers and refugees embroidering their journeys to the UK onto a map, using disposable cameras to take images of their everyday lives and of things that are important to them, and collectively making banners to express different aspects of their lives in the UK and to display some of the relationships that emerge through the Rainbow Haven group. These resources are to be displayed at a series of events across Manchester during and after Refugee Week, including a celebration of the city’s ‘Shared Future’ with refugees. [ii] 

Image courtesy of Anna White and Emily Hayes

Image courtesy of Anna White and Emily Hayes

The significance of this work is not simply that it offers a creative means of exploring and expressing the social relations of refugees and asylum seekers. It does this and draws in part on the diversity of people, histories and stories that are brought together in the city. But it is also a project of collaboration. This is not a case of narratives being extracted and displayed by experts or analysts, but a process in which stories are made through working with others, in making banners, sewing journeys onto maps and discussing photographs. The product of such interactions are snapshots of a creative process, owned by all those who played a role in such a process. It is this sense of being part of a creative endeavour and employing this as a means to communicate stories of asylum, that is so valuable as it works to negotiate two sets of barriers. Firstly, those between asylum seekers and other residents of Manchester and Salford – through communicating common concerns, shared spaces and the realities of the asylum process. Secondly, those often unspoken barriers between asylum seekers and those who seek to offer support to them – through a creative engagement that is productive rather than dependent, collaborative rather than charitable. Projects such as this gesture towards the potential that creative approaches have in both communicating multiple understandings of the city and in destabilising assumed notions of how asylum seekers should engage with cities.

More than this however, projects such as this reflect an appreciation of urbanism as a way of life tied to the multiplicity of the city. The banners and maps created in this process are not contributions made by asylum seekers and refugees; rather they reflect collaborations that express the coming together of different journeys, narratives and experiences. They are not individual expressions or timeless versions of events to be placed into an archive of ‘our history and heritage’, but are the products of encounters, relationships and shared collaborations that communicate understandings of the here and now. In this process, the banners and maps of this project become collaborations in shaping, rather than contributions towards, a ‘shared future’. Seeing like a city is to view the politics of asylum in a similar vein, to think of the city as a compositional arrangement of multiple stories and journeys, all in the process of being made, diverted and retraced. As a compositional arrangement, the city is made through such journeys, and whilst such a reading implies a ‘history and heritage’ that is reworked through the presence of diverse stories, this is never a static or fixed narrative, nor is it ever ‘our’ history, the property of any singular group. Rather, the city becomes a banner in the making – a collaboration of those present, always being made yet never finally displayed.

A further resonance for this mode of thought might be found in the ways in which a number of UK cities have made tentative steps to challenge the state over asylum. We might trace a number of examples. Firstly, the manner in which urban authorities can act to support and publicise anti-deportation campaigns for local inhabitants threatened with deportation, such as recent cases in Leicester and Glasgow. Such situations position the authority of the city against the will of the state and seek to oppose deportation on the basis that individuals and families are part of the city, actively engaged in the fabric of local communities. Secondly, city councils in Bristol, Glasgow, Oxford and Sheffield have all recently passed motions that express concern over the destitution of asylum seekers and have begun lobbying national government to allow local authorities to assist destitute and refused asylum seekers. Again such voices stand at a critical distance from the decisions of the Home Office and challenge national policy from the perspective of those living with the consequences of such policies. In Manchester a ‘day of action’ is proposed at the end of June to highlight the situation of destitute asylum seekers in the city and to call upon the city council to both oppose the government’s stance on destitution and to intervene by offering support to destitute asylum seekers. Doing so would challenge a concern with refugees that extended only to those able to ‘contribute’ to the city or the nation, and would instead mark a concern with the needs of all those present in the city, regardless of status, contribution or ‘worthiness’.

These gestures, whilst limited and fractured at present, highlight the importance of viewing asylum from a different lens to that of a state-centred concern with contribution and historical hospitality. The potential of the city, as Derrida (2001) argues, is to take a critical stance relative to the forms of conditional hospitality and welcome offered by the state – to demand more on behalf of all of those who inhabit the city. Seeing like a city implies an awareness of the complex and unfinished nature of urban life, of how cities evolve, change and adapt as newcomers arrive and others leave. This framing of the city is therefore centred on valuing those who inhabit the city, those who make urban space at any given moment and through it perform a claim to a ‘right to the city’ that arises precisely from taking part in the negotiations, tensions and contradictions of urban life (Darling and Squire 2012; Lefebvre 1996). Whilst such a lens is unlikely to ever fully usurp a state-centred account of asylum, its importance may be in proposing a critical alternative, an urban critique of asylum and refugee policy centred on the possibilities that collaboration may bring.

Refugee Week brings with it opportunities, opportunities for dialogue and discussion around asylum seekers and refugees, around current policies and around the histories of sanctuary that have helped to shape many British cities. But such discussions should not be limited to a concern with the contributions that refugees have made or may make to the nation or to the city. This simply expresses a paucity of imagination and a failure to recognise the realities of asylum in contemporary Britain. Refugee Week should be about offering space for the expression of collaborative projects, collaborative politics and collaborative realities. It is in collaboration that contemporary cities are made and remade, as much through the investments, experiences and journeys of those seeking asylum as through any other inhabitants. Taking seriously such collaborations implies a politics of critique towards narratives of refugee contribution, fixed histories of national hospitality and policies that produce the destitution of many asylum seekers. Such a politics starts with the critical potential of seeing like a city.

References

Darling, J. and Squire, V. (2012) Everyday enactments of sanctuary: the UK City of Sanctuary movement in Lippert, R.K. and Rehaag, S. (eds) Sanctuary practices in international perspectives: migration, citizenship and social movements London, Routledge, 191-204

Derrida, J. (2001) On cosmopolitanism and forgiveness translated by Dooley, M. and Hughes, M. London, Routledge

Lefebvre, H. (1996) Writing on cities translated by Kofman, E. and Lebas, E. Oxford, Blackwell

Magnusson, W. (2012) The politics of urbanism: seeing like a city London, Routledge

Refugee Week (2013) Refugee week: different pasts, shared future available at:  www.refugeeweek.org.uk (last accessed 10/06/2013)


[i] Rainbow Haven offers a communal space and drop-in centre for new arrivals in Manchester and Salford and seeks to meet the immediate and longer terms needs of asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers. Anna and Emily have been working on a series of creative embroidery, painting, drawing and photography exercises at the centre for Manchester Refugee Week as part of a project funded by the Arts Council. Further details of their work can be found here: www.podcollective.co.uk
[ii] The banners produced through the project will be on display throughout Refugee Week (17-21 June) at the Peoples History Museum, Manchester and the Lowry Gallery, Salford, alongside forming part of the Shared Future Refugee Celebration on 22nd June at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. This day of celebrations is organised by The British Red Cross to encourage understanding between and within communities and forms one strand of their work to support vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

Migrants and Comparative Urbanism

Nina Glick Schiller, Director of Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures and Professor of Social Anthropology University of Manchester.

afro shop by roboppy on flickr

 

It was in the back room of an ‘Afro-shop’ in 2001 in Halle/Saale, a downscaled city in eastern Germany, that I was introduced to the comparative perspective that African migrants deployed to assess the relative merits and deficits of living in various European and American cities. As the men exchanged information and experiences, interspersed with comments on the football match they were watching on a small television perched high on a shelf, I realized that they lived within a transnational social field —a network of networks—that provided them with information with which to compare cities. They discussed employment opportunities, the degree of surveillance by authorities, the cost of living, the availability of health care and the quality of life and the cultural ambience of various localities.

Based on information from siblings and other kin, co-religionists, and friends, the men compared general differences between state policies and the specific differences between cities in Germany, France, the UK, the United States and Canada. To these men, who came primarily from Nigerian cities but had often come to Germany after working as traders in cities across West Africa, not all cities were equal. They deployed a system of comparing and ranking cities in which the cities that urban scholars have called global cities and gateway cities such as London, Paris, and New York were most desirable, although sometimes other rich and prosperous cities with less global cultural prominence such as Frankfort were also highly ranked.  Cities that held less cultural allure but allowed for some industrial employment and anonymity such as Birmingham were acceptable.  In contrast, cities without the possibility of even illegal work and without urban cultural capital such as Halle/Saale were generally ranked as undesirable but not as undesirable as the African cities from which they had fled. Most of the migrants who remained in Halle did so because their asylum seeker, refugee, student status or marriage to Germans kept them in the area. However, some migrants found ways not only to settle in the city but also to claim rights to the city and make it their own. These included the Ghanaian woman who owned the ‘Afro-shop’ and sold cooked food to the men gathered in the backroom and the Pentecostal Christians in the group who saw themselves as claiming the city for Jesus (Glick Schiller, 2009; Glick Schiller and Çağlar, 2008b; Glick Schiller et al, 2006)

In the 1980s and 1990s, a set of urban scholars had declared a handful of primarily European and American cities global on the basis of a limited number of economic indicators. A closely related scholarship ranked cities as world cities based on factors such as their interconnectivity and whether they contained significant firms serving the financial sector—accounting, advertising, banking/finance, insurance, law, and management consulting. Over the succeeding decade, global cities/ world cities literature have been critiqued on many points including the implication that only a small set of cities could be considered globe-spanning in their economies, interconnections and flows of labour and capital. By implication, all other cities remained bounded within nation-states.

This weakness of the global cities literature led some scholars to characterize any attempts to assess the relative merits or attractiveness of cities as Eurocentric and elitist. For example, Jenny Robinson has popularized Amin and Grahm’s (1997) term ‘ordinary’ cities, suggesting that urban scholars ‘post-colonizalize urban studies’ by setting aside the binary modernist division between the west and the rest and examine the way cities “off the map” were globally imprecated. Robinson’s arguments highlighted the globally interconnected historic urban project of capitalist production and distribution. Recognizing interconnection does not necessarily preclude the possibility of comparisons. To say cities are all interconnected does not mean they all equally benefit from such linkages or experience them in the same way.  However, some urban geographers, fearing an econometric ranking system began to argue against any comparative perspective. Yet urban comparisons have flourished in recent European cross-national research programmes but without clear criteria upon which city comparisons are being made.

Inspired by what I learned from African migrants in Halle, who recognized hierarchies of economic, political, and cultural power in their ranking of cities I argue for a relative comparative approach to the study of cities. Such an approach, builds on and develops Kevin Ward’s work on a ‘relational comparative’ urban studies. I add a concern for the ways in which residents of cities including migrant populations experience, understand, and evaluate the relative merits of cities. It is important in such comparative work to actively engage in an analysis of city rescaling processes and acknowledge active agency of migrants as what Ayse Caglar and I have called ‘scale makers’.  As scale makers, migrants relate to cities not only as workers but as business people, transnational capitalists, cultural producers, gentrifiers, intellectuals, makers of sacred space, and participants in transnational activism.

The relative positioning of a city within hierarchical fields of power may well lay the ground for the life-chances and incorporation opportunities of migrants locally and transnationally. At the same time, migrants contribute not only to the daily fabric of urban life but also to the construction of these fields of power. In order to understand the different modes and dynamics of migrant incorporation and transnationalism, we need to address the broader restructuring of capital and the rescaling processes affecting the cities in which migrants are settling and the roles of migrants in both restructuring and rescaling processes.

In summary, in comparing the specific similarities and differences between cities, in terms of their relationship to migrants, the variations to be studied include: (1) the production/destruction of capital in a particular city and its region; (2) the power hierarchies (economic, political and cultural) within which that city is situated and to which that city contributes as they stretch within and across the borders of states; (3) the specific history of that city that has shaped its institutional and political structure and narratives; and (4) the ways in which these variations make it possible for migrants to act as scale makers within urban repositioning processes. Within the neo-liberal push toward competition between cities, the resources of cities, including their human resources – which encompass the migrants and their skills and qualities – have acquired a new value and became assets among global competitors.  A comparative variation-finding approach to the relationship between migrants and cities in relative different positions of power and global reputation allows researchers to assess when and how migrants become scale makers.

Migration and city making: An Integrated process

by Nina Glick Schiller, Director of the Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures.

Truthfully, I find the debates around migration unbearable. They all seem so far away from the realities of migration and settlement. Literally nothing I hear and almost nothing I read seems to connect with what I have learned from my migrant grandparents and my family’s subsequent experience in settling in the United States, what I know about the children of migrant background with whom I grew up, the migrants from all over the world among whom I have lived and worked for decades, and my own experience of migration. When trying to understand what happens when people migrate to a new place -whether to seek a new job, a new life, flee from intolerable violence, or some combination of circumstances – neither the common sense of ordinary speech nor the seeming precise terms of academic debate even begin to describe the contingencies within which migrants live their lives. Nor does simply turning to migrants’ ‘voices’ suffice since migrants learn to describe their experiences within the key words that dominate contemporary political rhetoric.

I first learned about the confusion wrought by the key words in migration debates several decades ago when studying Haitian migration to New York City. My co-researchers of Haitian origin stated categorically that that Haitian immigrants settling in New York City followed one of two opposing pathways. Either these newcomers assimilated and ‘forgot about Haiti’ or they did not integrate into a new life because they only focused on return. Yet the lives of my co-researchers as well as our data challenged this dichotomy between integration and maintaining an affinity with one’s homeland and its culture. Instead what actually happened was that most people, including my co-researchers, simultaneously settled into their new life and maintained some of their cultural practices, and home ties and identity. All of my four co-researchers were settling into New York City, where they were busy with their jobs, homes, family networks, and multi-ethnic networks of friends. Yet they also maintained multiple ties to Haiti and to Haitians settled in other countries and continued to identify as Haitian.

The data from that study and numerous research projects in which I have engaged since then also challenges the notion prevalent that migrants adopt or fail to adopt a new national culture. For example, the ways in which my Haitian co-researchers lived this simultaneous settlement and transnational connections was locally specific. That is to say, their way of life was not generically Haitian or American but was shaped by the changing identity politics, types of racism, housing possibilities, urban renewal and employment and educational opportunities they found in New York City in the 1960-80s. Forms of migrant settlement and transnational connection are shaped by the specificities of time and place. These specificities do of course reflect national immigration laws and policies but within economic, political, and social contingencies that are also local and global. Yet these basic contingencies, which affect whether, how, and why migrants are able to settle and transnationally connect, are often ignored in the migration debates. Often politicians and scholars talk as if there is a national if not global understanding of the key words of migration.

My research indicates that there distinct and varying local understandings and policies in relationship to migrants in cities within the same nation-state. Terms such as refugee, immigrant, ethnicity, diversity, multicultural, religious community, melting pot, integration, social cohesion, and race are deployed in various ways in different cities in the same country and by different types of functionaries within the same city. Local understandings may differ dramatically from national debates reflecting differences in local politics, regeneration strategies, opportunity structures and history, as well as the class background, position, neighborhood of residence, gender, and generation of the speaker. Moreover, in each city there may be differences between the ways in which local officials, social service providers, and citizens interact with migrants and people of migrant background. Exploring these variations allows us to understand why migrants experience such mixed messages about inclusion and exclusion as they settle in a place. Using a city as an entry point allows us to begin to move away from the sweeping generalities that politicians bandy when they speak of the ‘failure of multiculturalism’ and the ‘refusal of migrant to integrate’.

Cities and within cities different urban neighbourhoods around the world vary in the degree to which they are ‘migrant friendly’- that is providing possibilities of people to move to them from other places from within a country and internationally and find opportunities to work, begin businesses, acquire an education including the dominant language of the country, and live in safety and without significant discrimination or racialisation. Cities that are open to newcomers and people of migrant background and welcome them as part of the city, rather than casting them as an indigestible lump within the body politic, benefit from migration. These cities are in fact built by the creativity, energy, and transnational connections of migrants in a process that extends across generations. Migrant friendly cites attract flows of capital, businesses, tourists, creative industries and talented individuals.

If those interested in the outcomes of migrant settlement were to set aside their preconceived notions that all migrants of a certain national or religious background stick together and form tightly organized communities, then they would be able to see that migrants develop an array of different settlement strategies. In many of these pathways of settlement, migrants form networks of interaction between themselves and more established residents, including people who identify themselves as ‘natives’ of the city and the nation-state. That is to say research on migrant settlement and personal narratives tell a different story than the national imaginary of migrants huddled everywhere in segregated or self-segregated ‘communities’.

In a situation where a city needs newcomers to contribute to its economy and cultural energy, public discourses and policies tend to differ from the national anti-immigrant polemics by being more open to immigrants. Cities of global renown such as London and New York are such places. Educated young people from all over the globe including Europe have flocked to London, for example, even in cases in which they have to live or work without proper documentation. They go to these ‘global cities’ because they find a sense of freedom and cultural energy there that they don’t think they can find elsewhere.

Cities that aspire to a cosmopolitan reputation on the global stage such as Manchester (UK) may also prove welcoming because they need migrants’ talents, education, and energies to fuel their efforts to rebrand themselves as up and coming and to compete for investors and new industries as well as tourism. Other cities, which are less competitive in terms of economic, political, or cultural power may provide a different array of advantages to some migrants and may in turn welcome migrants that provide hi tech talent, businesses for regenerated urban areas, or transnational connections that assist in regeneration efforts. In these globally less desirable cities, it may be the migrants who connect local residents to opportunities for education, travel, or economic opportunity located elsewhere.

While these processes are readily apparent to those who look and can be found in British, European, and North American cities as well globally from Dubai to Sao Paulo, this fundamental aspect of urbanism is being ignored most politicians and policy makers. My own research in cities in Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom as well interviews with city leadership conducted as part of a comparative city research project in diverse European cities reveal that those engaged in urban regeneration may see past generations of migrants as city builders. However, urban policy makers tend to see contemporary migrants as poor and at most lending a bit of exotic culture to efforts to rebrand their city.

Misguided policies emerge when contemporary migrants are seen as organized self-segregated communities that represent a challenge to social cohesion rather than as part of the talent and energy necessary for urban regeneration. Through their calls for social cohesion and integration directed at immigrants and people of migrant background, urban administrators and planners may reinforce false images of migrants as outsiders to urban life rather than part and parcel of the every day vitality of successful cities. Even more disastrously, in the name of integration, rather than addressing general conditions of impoverishment for local populations they may by provide services only in neighbourhoods identified as migrant, bypassing majority poor neighbourhoods. Such policies foster anti-immigrant rhetoric and movements.

To try to lend both specificity and comparability to research on migration and debates about it, I suggest that we need to see the cities, towns, and villages in which we live as places that are constantly being built and rebuilt overtime by all people who live there. If we think of the places and our society as always in process and always constructed by people who live in a place, we have a different and I believe better vantage point into the relationship between the movement of migration and the cohesion of established places and their social life.

Arriving from the United States four years ago, I settled in Manchester, became engaged in life local life and maintained transnational ties to family and friends elsewhere. My way of settling is not generically American but is shaped by what I find in both my city and country of settlement. I become part of my new city as the city becomes part of me. However, these days migrants, including myself, face a strange irony. Whilst our new city may be welcoming, nation-states including the UK have changed immigration laws so as to impose drastic limitations and costs on permanent settlement and family reunion. We find that we are increasingly criticized for not trying to belong to our new home and only concerned about our old, despite the fact that it has become increasingly difficult if not impossible for us to permanently settle.

Friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in Manchester, after noting I am not from the UK, frequently ask me if I am planning to stay. Although British citizens, they know nothing of their own country’s immigration laws nor do they acknowledge the impact of constant anti-immigrant hostility on immigrants’ identities, incorporation, or dreams for the future. Influenced by the immigration debate and its key words, the people I meet who don’t have immigrant backgrounds continue to see immigrants as having a choice to settle permanently and abandon their transnational ties or to return ‘home’. They continue to define immigrants’ retention of home ties, language, culture and beliefs as self-segregation, neither acknowledging the possibility of transnational lives or the fact that both legally and socially the UK increasingly makes it difficult for immigrants to permanently settle. As I said, I find the immigration debates unbearable.