Cities, Mobilities, Citizenships

ICS Seminar Series 17 April, 2014

A Report by Ashley Anderson ICS Intern from University of Notre Dame

This round table discussion in the ICS Seminar Series was presented by ICS member Shanthi Robertson (opens in a new window) and three international guests, Francis L. Collins (University of Auckland), Ryan Centner (London School of Economics) and Elaine Ho (National University of Singapore). It looked critically at the theoretical and empirical intersections of urban theory, migration studies and citizenship studies. Each speaker presented a ‘provocation’ in line with their disciplinary perspective and area of focus in stimulating discussion on the key research directions on the changing nature and usefulness of urban scale in a time of increasing diversity and mobility.

Shanthi Robertson addressed the changing nature of migration from a sociological and ethnographic perspective. She argued that the traditional ways of dealing with mobility and mobile subjects are no longer viable and that the categorisation of such notions is becoming increasingly blurry. Time was presented as a key concept affecting mobile subjects such as labourers seen as solutions to shortages in particular aspects of the work force. The indefinite wait policy in detention centres holding migrants without visas blurs the roles of these mobile subjects as they move in and out of nation states. A key notion here is that of ‘commitment’ and its intersection with citizenship in an era of hyper-mobility. What it means to hold citizenship in a nation state is changing due to the increased diversity and mobility of subjects. The length of time an individual should have to wait in order to gain some form of citizenship and identity is in question and demands adaptation and re-evaluation.

Shanthi also discussed the ways in which individuals, groups and institutions interact with mobile subjects. Cities are the hosts of such introductory cultural and political interactions within nation states. Are formal and informal mobility a key problem, and how can we define the movement of individuals in and out of nation states and capture the interactions between these mobile subjects and the institutions of the nation state? Shanthi’s principal provocation is to question the meanings of the terms migrant and migration, and their usefulness in a changing and diverse world. 

Elaine Ho’s provocation focused on migration regimes in Australia, drawing on the key aspects of flexibility and identities regarding culture, race and gender. She emphasised intra (rather than ‘inter’) ethnic relations in order to escape popular perceptions of them. She then moved on to the idea of national identity in post colonial states, applying the concept of ‘emotional logics’ in analysing  the shaping of  feelings about space, residence, migration or travel. Elaine suggested that unpacking emotional logics could change dramatically the ways in which migration is viewed. Emotions are an important aspect of this discussion as they help understanding of urban space and citizenship, allowing us to see how experiences, rights and responsibilities are not only shaped but are developing in the context of diversity and mobility.

Francis Collins offered a provocation on the subject of urban issues intersecting with migration studies. He described all cities as ‘ordinary’, a perspective that allows them to learn from each other. Francis discussed the new temporary migration in Australia and New Zealand as an example of the ‘inbetweenness’ of categories in dealing with the changing nature of migration in various places. Francis presents this concept as important to the task of rethinking the ways in which we deal with dynamic processes of migration. Not only are migrants mobile subjects but they are also individuals seeking something - whether it be citizenship, work or holiday experiences. Knowing what migrants desire helps institutions and the nation state as a whole to facilitate their desires, whether short or long term, and to incorporate these experiences into the wider community and so facilitate the growth of global cities. 

Ryan Centner, from an urban studies and space perspective, focussed his provocation on the impact of newcomers on a space, what adjusting it takes, and the contributions that they bring to a community or nation state. Ryan highlighted not just people, but the mobility of ideas and resources. Migrants bring different dynamics to an urban space, such as the appearance of graffiti in certain cities. What brought it into that space and how has it changed the way that space is seen and lived in? Mobile subjects bring diversity and culture to cities, and also a need for changing attitudes and policies regarding the operation of society in order to adjust to and incorporate these mobile subjects into the community. Citizenship intersects with these notions of change, both in terms of the meaning of citizenship and the ways in which it is obtained, which can vary dramatically as the dynamics of a nation state are altered. The differentiation between lives, people and mobilities is important when discussing changing urban spaces and effects on the way that people move in and out of nation states, and the cities that act as the backdrop to this diversity and change.

In the discussion following these provocations, various positions on comparative urbanism and differences between disciplines were articulated. Among the points made were that there is a global north and global south distinction when it comes to globalisation and its associated phenomena. Those in the global north do not necessarily think of their own mobile subjects moving to the global south as migrants, tending to think that migration involves people from the global south coming into their urban space as a place of belonging. 

The problematic nature of the term migrant was a pivotal point of interest throughout the discussion. As Shanthi had earlier noted, the categories migrant and migration come into question in urban spaces that are growing and changing through hyper diversity. As the concepts of mobility, time and space intersect and act as facilitators to this rapid change in society, there is an ever-changing need for new discourses and approaches to migration and to the cities that hold them. These terms, therefore, need to be rethought in accordance with the growth in individuals travelling between nation states and calling more than one place ‘home’.