Migrant Cartographies

On May 12 at Goldsmiths:

Goldsmiths Sociology Department's photo.

Migrant Cartographies: Cities, Circuits and Circulations


Cities are in part constituted in myriad enactments of migrant presence which generate urban dialectics of self-and-city composition. Cities also condense many of the challenges we face in migration in the generation and navigation of local circuits composed through forms of social provision, distributions of opportunities and social goods, labour markets and so on, making cities a crucial scale for the research and analysis of transnational migrant mobility. Circulations of transnational migrants within and between cities articulate other circulations – of money, objects and various forms of property – providing a challenge in thinking about the ways in which these circuits might be connected.

This symposium intends an interrogation of cities through the transnational mobilities co-composing them. It aims to develop a conversation among scholars of migration, mobility and urbanism reflecting on, developing and refining some of the conceptual categories we use in our research. It invites interrogation of transnational urbanism’s underlying logics and theoretical frameworks in concepts like circuit, migrant, city, mobility, migrant journeys, trajectories and circulations.

Morning Session

Chair: Prof Noel Dyck, Simon Fraser University.


1) Vered Amit, Concordia University, Montreal

‘Changing Tacks: A consideration of the improvisational dimension of mobility’

In a recent essay, Caroline Knowles and I argue that the notion of ‘tacking’ could be useful for further orienting the study of mobility towards the creative interaction between skill, experience and improvisation. There are two meanings of ‘tacking’ to which I want to draw attention in this paper. First when used to describe a particular sailing maneuver, tacking often involves bearing against the prevailing winds. In other words, tacking, which often requires several shifts of course as responses to developing environmental conditions, is anything but linear in direction. It requires an ability to quickly read shifting circumstances and maneuver accordingly. Secondly, the term connotes stitching elements together. In this paper, I use tacking as a frame through which to focus on the improvisational dimension of mobility and the way in which it combines or draws on knowledge and experience in crafting impromptu responses to shifting contexts. I argue that in shifting away from a homo economicus model of migration, contemporary studies have often implied recognition of the improvisational dimension of mobility. But this acknowledgement has rarely involved a concerted effort at conceptualizing improvisation as it manifests in movement or in other fields of social interaction and agency.

2) Michaela Benson, Goldsmiths, London University

Cartographies of lifestyle, constellations of (relative) privilege: circuits and circulations of middle-class capital, lifestyle marketing, and property ownership
In this paper, I examine the dialectics of self- and place-making in the construction of lifestyle migrant populations. In particular, through reflections on my research with North Americans in Panama, I seek to develop the conceptual and theoretical underpinnings of (a) the migration-development nexus and (b) privileged migration.
On the one hand, through the consideration of cartographies of lifestyle, I make visible the state- and market-led pursuit of international property investment. I stress that while such investments are epitomized by the ‘gilded ghetto’, the pursuit of transnational capital is also focused on the global middle classes, supported by the circulation of lifestyle marketing of destinations outside the global cities. Under conditions of increasingly precarious futures for the middle classes, such destinations provide opportunities to shore up the advantages gained through living and working in high-value economies, at a lower cost, thereby ensuring a better quality of life. At the same time, to receiving states, these investments form part of a wider portfolio of foreign direct investment that supports into wider development ambitions.
On the other hand, through the discussion of constellations of privilege, I seek to deconstruct notions of privileged migration. Through exploration of migrant subjectivities I highlight the situational dynamics of privilege, emphasizing the complex interplay of class, ethnicity, gender and race within its production.
Developing these two conceptual framings alongside one another reveals the complex interplay of self- and place-making in contemporary lifestyle migrations.

3) Anne-Meike Fechter, University of Sussex

Transnational Hubs: Charity City

The circuits of transnational urbanism and charity flows are not necessarily considered together. In the context of a Cambodian town which draws significant numbers of foreign visitors, however, I suggest that resident foreign and Cambodian brokers engage travellers in order to forge sets of transnational connections. These may enable the flow of money, goods, stories, and even further visits and ongoing commitments. Partly sustained by the tourist presence in town, private aid initiatives are successfully making use of such connections in order to channel resources towards the local people they are supporting. These can take the form of medical, environmental, or livelihood projects. Key to such circulations are the brokers, whose activities constitute the city at once as a transnational hub of charity flows, while relying on local difference to provide visitors with the opportunity to establish relationships with people who are perceived as radically other. The notion of cities as hubs of transnational charity flows thus highlights a significant, if perhaps less obvious set of practices within transnational urbanism.

4) Matthew Hayes, Canada Research Chair at St Thomas University, Fredericton

UNESCOfication and Transnational Mobilities: Thoughts on Mobilizing the Past in Cuenca, Ecuador

The presentation will discuss ‘patrimonialization’, or state-led urban interventions designed to preserve architectural heritage and enhance real estate values. This new modernization process (which calls upon new articulations of the city’s past) is deeply entrenched in Cuenca’s history of transnationalism, producing new urban circuits and accentuating social inequalities. The ongoing lifestyle migration of North Americans and West Europeans to the city has led the municipality to force growing numbers of independent vendors into intra-urban circuits of mobile street vending, while it threatens to displace others from more permanent abodes in the city centre’s main squares. All this to enhance the aesthetics of a landed elite, whose French neo-classical architecture sought to demonstrate good European taste, from years spent abroad in Paris in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

5) Jennifer McGarrigle, Maria Lucinda Fonseca, Franz Buhr, University of Lisbon

Migrant spatialities, mobilities and incorporation in the city: evidence from Lisbon
This presentation draws on two research projects conducted on migrant spatialities and mobility in Lisbon. Both focus on challenging the fixed spatial boundaries often imposed in migration/integration scholarship whether in studies of transnational mobility or urban integration. First, we examine the ‘emplaced mobilities’ of migrants from the Indian subcontinent who arrive in Portugal normally as secondary and long-term transitory movement in the search for a regular pathway into legal integration in the EU. We place emphasis on the relationality of multiple scales focusing on the socio-spatial connections that emerge and interact along the migration journey and while dwelling in the city. Our findings show how local migrant infrastructures ensure local incorporation in the city, a necessary step in the pathway towards legality which ultimately contributes to wider mobility regimes. Moreover, long-term temporariness in the city and aspirations to onward migrate represent an individual strategy to realize different aspects of integration across EU destinations challenging nation-state bound understandings of citizenship/settlement and integration.

Second, we examine migrant spatial integration at the city scale by looking at individuals’ awareness of urban resources and their abilities to navigate urban space. We explore possible connections between mobilities and migration scholarships in order to illuminate the various ways cities teach their inhabitants how to use them. We rely on a fieldwork carried in Lisbon with migrants of different nationalities, occupations and socioeconomic statuses as way to discuss migrants’ urban apprenticeship – the practical knowledges acquired, constructed and mobilized by them as to juggle the demands of everyday urban life. We show how these multiple ‘urban pedagogies’ are testament to complex place-attachments and, therefore, to multiple modes of being spatially integrated to urban space.

Afternoon Session

Chair: Karen O’Reilly Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Loughborough University.


6) Benjamin Gidley, Birkbeck

Arrival Quarters: Diasporic Cartographies and Migrant Urbanism

Drawing on both historical research on Jewish disparate formations in the age of early globalisation and comparative urban research on Europe’s migrant Metropoles, this paper explores the concept of the arrival quarter, as a specific spatial formation, and the urban practices which characterise it. The socio-economic and morphological structures of arrival cultures enable forms of violence and extreme exploitation but also autonomy and opportunity, often mediated through forms of fictive kinship developed in migrant journeys. The translational and convivial tools which emerged in such spaces, and the narratives which sediment in them, provide resources for rethinking urban citizenship.

7) Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex

A migrant city and its multiple elsewheres

In this presentation I will argue that to understand what a place stands for – the important question Doreen Massey raises about London in World City – it is necessary to consider its relation to the multiple places elsewhere to which its residents are connected. To explore this point further at the Symposium, I will be drawing on four books based on the lives of residents of the provincial city of Peterborough. Over the last seven decades Peterborough has become home to large numbers of migrants, both from within the UK and beyond. Taken together the four books evoke city residents’ connections across space and time, and show how the ever-shifting present in the city is made, at least in part, by the geographically wide-ranging pasts of its people. They also hint at the opposite: how the work, actions and objects produced by and with Peterborough residents affect, influence and shape other places.

8) Alex Rhys-Taylor, Goldsmiths

Delectable Non-Histories: Unwrapping Metropolitan ‘Cuisines of Origin’

In this talk I’ll discuss the ways in which national narratives have over coded the complex histories of migration that lie behind the local cuisines of cities like London. Looking at a range of everyday culinary practices, I argue that, while they are increasingly invisible to the narratives through which we ‘make sense’ of our identities, the ‘invisible non-histories of modernity’ remain delectable in both the sensoria, and sensibilities, of the contemporary city.

9) Caroline Knowles, Goldsmiths, University of London

Navigating Migrant Mobilities

In a recent paper with Vered Amit we proposed a radical rethinking of the concept of trajectory, and with it mobility’s underlying logics, in favour of more emergent conceptions of time and space, which work from human creativity on the move. This paper explores a concept of navigation that dialogues with the practices and epistemologies of movement. It suggests that navigation be disconnected from the determinations of trajectory, acknowledged as a much freer set of practices engaged in mobility work, with finding a way through the world, which is embedded in the processes and mechanics of continuous motion. It argues that navigation operates in a deep absorption with motion in conscious and unconscious ways, processes that are deeply imbricated in the living of everyday lives, which do not need an endpoint, or indeed any point. Instead of spatially distributed points articulated as trajectory, navigation is open to all kinds of existing possibilities, as well as new ones, and operates in small-scaled, localised encounters with time, space and travelling biography.

10) Round Table Discussion with Kaoru Takahashi, Vanessa Hughes, Laura Henneke, Goldsmiths, University of London

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About bengidley

Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Science, History and Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. View all posts by bengidley

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