Migrants and City Making

Author:   Ayse Caglar & Nina Glick Schiller
Publisher:   Duke University Press
Reviewer:   Ahmed Murtala Hassan

Migrants and City Making

Ayse Caglar & Nina Glick Schiller (2018) Migrants and City Making: Dispersion, Displacement & Urban Regeneration. Duke University Press, Durham and London, Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7056-7, 296 p.

Ayse Caglar & Nina Glick Schiller’s book, Migrants and City Making: Dispersion, Displacement & Urban Regeneration focuses on the relationship between cities and migrants as part of strategies of urban reformation. Generally, exploration of such relationships tends to focus on major cities in the global economies like New York, London, Tokyo; etc. but this book focuses on cities that are not global power houses. They include: Mardin, in Turkey, which lies on the Turkish-Syrian Border; Manchester, New Hampshire, in the North-eastern United States; and Halle/Saale, Saxony Anhalt, a part of formerly socialist eastern Germany. The book also offers a multiscalar analytical framework placing both migrants and natives on the same level of analysis as social actors who are integral to city-making processes and are both connected to actors based in multiple social fields. Social fields are conceived as multiple and intersecting networks in which actors, as individuals, institutions, or corporate entities, hold uneven power, which may be locally, regionally or supranationally situated, as in the case of the EU, AU, ECOWAS, and UN.

 Caglar & Schiller argue beyond the methodological nationalism and ethnic lens, an intellectual understanding that approaches social and historical processes as nationally bounded, portraying individuals as having one country and one identity. They argue that using an ethnic lens to describe migrants as individuals sharing the same ancestral heritage and thus forming a diaspora, disregards the diversity of migrants’ relationship to their place of destination and important socio-economic commonalities between migrants and non-migrant populations (p. 4). They further argue that critical policy analysis offers uniformity for neoliberal policy regimes which guides municipal authorities to enable equal opportunity and access to resources and social fields for both migrants and non-migrants as important stakeholders in city-making. Migrants and City-Making adopts the “mutisighted” analysis instead of the traditional “multisited” deployed by the majority of city anthropologists. “Multisighted” analysis allows for a thorough study of transnational migration and globalization in one location through a multiscalar lens that traces the interconnection of unequal processes and relationships that connect different places.

The authors deployed a qualitative methodology in their studies combining ethnographic participant observation; in-depth interviews with people differentially positioned in the social, cultural, and political life of the city; and the collection and analysis of urban economic, political, and cultural development documents, initiatives, and regeneration programs (p. 25). They interviewed municipal officials, urban developers and politicians involved in urban regeneration. They also interviewed civil society organisations concerned with the presence of migrants and other minorities and vulnerable groups. In addition, they mixed their methodology with qualitative analysis and collected relevant statistical information about trade, unemployment, labour, investment, institutional structures and profiles, budgets, development plans, allocations, population composition and change, and local narratives about each city and its migrants from local, regional, and supranational websites connected to each city and from institutional offices, civil society organizations, and newspapers. 

The book, Migrants and City-Making is organized into five (5) chapters. Chapter one, introduces three cities that are brought together as a social laboratory for the broad study- Mardin, in Turkey, lies on the Turkish-Syrian Border; Manchester, New Hampshire, in the North-eastern United States; and Halle/Saale, Saxony Anhalt, a part of formerly socialist eastern Germany. The chapter describes their similarities and differences. Major similarities presented in the chapter include the disempowered history of the three cities, neoliberal policy of capital accumulation as a strategy of urban regeneration and the processes of displacement and emplacement that affected both migrants and non-migrants that contributed to the repositioning of the cities. Chapter two covers interesting welcoming narratives of migrants and the concomitant emergence of their small business within a multiscalar neoliberal structure.  It presents a critical debate between scholars who see migrants’ businesses within the concept of ethnic entrepreneurs and those who situate migrants’ businesses within the transnational flow of capital and the process of globalization (p. 97). Chapter three discusses the urban sociabilities of migrants within multiscalar powers. Theories of migration and social relations are introduced to provide a clear framework for understanding “sociability of emplacement”. The book reveals that migrants in Manchester one of the three cities studied, established socibilities in three domains: proximal, workplace and institutional; which means that sociabilities is shared in physical spaces of apartment buildings, city streets, workplaces, and urban institutions. By corollary, sociabilities emplace migrants in their destination as important partners in city-making processes. Chapter four discusses the emergence of the concept and ideology of social citizenship of undocumented migrants, a social structure of the multiscalar reality that was established through embracing global Christianity. In both Manchester, New Hampshire and Halle in Germany two of the cities studied, undocumented migrants sought their rights as legitimate inhabitants of the cities through a theological understanding that placed both migrants and non-migrants as people under the power of God who believe that all places and power belong to God. Generally, discussions of social citizenship examine how those who are excluded use forms of discourse and social relations, organizations, and movements of inclusion to establish themselves as social and political actors. Chapter five presents another interesting example of migrants as important actors in a multiscalar city-making process. Mardin, in Turkey, a historic global trade route lies on the Turkish-Syrian Border; used to be the home town of Syriac Christians before the 1915 massacre that forced them into exile to Europe and North America. The people referred to by religious and state authorities as Syriac Christians are divided by linguistic differences, geographical borders, and Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Church divisions but are by no means a unified religious group (p. 179). The prominence of Mardin and its revitalization emerged in a multiscalar social field constituted by multiple and intersecting social, political, and religious networks and institutions, including the EU, UNESCO, the US State Department, and the networks of Eastern Christianity; as part of the changing positioning of Mardin and Turkey within regional and global processes of political and economic restructuring at that historical conjecture, the interest of Turkey to join EU and that of NATO to expand its military preponderance in the middle-East. Syriac Christians who are now Returnees became city-makers in this context. Turkey in collaboration with these supernational stakeholders designated Mardin as an important international tourism hub to revitalize the one-time economically viable city into a huge tourism economy. One of the most important sources of funding for tourism infrastructure and urban regeneration projects in Mardin was the EU. Although Turkey was not an EU member country, but since it indicated interest and had initiated a political process to join the EU and was considered as an Ascension country, from 1999 it became eligible for financial assistance through Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA) funds. This opportunity is another evidence of a multiscalar effect of the role of migrants in the city-making process.

Migrants and City-Making offers a critique of international migration scholars who portray migrants as isolated ethnic groups in destination countries and pay very little attention to their role in city-making process. The book highlighted opportunities for innovation for migration policy managers to learn from the experiences of these three disempowered cities around the world- Mardin, in Turkey, lies on the Turkish-Syrian Border; Manchester, New Hampshire, in the North-eastern United States; and Halle/Saale, Saxony Anhalt, a part of formerly socialist eastern Germany; whose leaders acted in the interest of the cities and embrace the Neoliberal multiscalar policy framework and recognise both migrants and non-migrants as important social actors in rebuilding their cities. However, the findings of the authors are only tenable for cities that had history of disempowerment and are in the process of reconstruction, because the possibilities of successful migrants’ emplacement as revealed by the findings emerged from this historical conjecture. Thus, relaying on the findings as if migrants’ emplacement experience in city-making process is the same across all cities is misleading. The authors can support their findings with more data from other cities that do not have similar disempowerment experiences as the three cities studied in order to introduce control in their data and produce findings that are more critical and general about migrants’ emplacement in city-making.


Reviewed by Ahmed Murtala Hassan

Ahmed Murtala Hassan is currently a PhD candidate in human geography working on migration and the SDGs, with specific focus on migrants’ entrepreneurship in Nigeria, at the department of Geography, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He has 10 year experience in migration management with the Nigeria Immigration Service and also serves on part time basis as project coordinator at the Centre for Community action for Peace and Development (CCAPAD), Nigeria. His Research interest lies in Regional Development, Migration, Urban Resilience and Geographic Information Science. Email: [email protected]





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