Urban Arrival Infrastructures. An International Workshop on Migration and Cities in the 19th and 21st Century

Deadline: 1 June 2015 - 12:00am

Dates: 10 - 11 December 2015

Where: Brussels

In the course of the large-scale migrations wrought by the nineteenth-century transition from preindustrial to industrial society, the majority of Europeans ended up living in cities, swelling the ranks of the urban poor and fostering fears of complete societal disruption. Similarly, the dynamics of economic deregulation and globalisation that have characterized the world from the late 1970s onwards have gone hand in hand with an unprecedented expansion of migration, turning cities into the habitat of the majority of humanity and resulting in a dramatic growth of slum dwellers surviving in an increasingly informal economy. In both periods, the arrival of newcomers has created new fields of tension and conflict, often posing fundamental challenges to the existing social order. These tensions and conflicts spur regulatory interventions by established residents, by newcomers themselves and by emerging governmental programmes, the interactions of which produce new patterns of integration and new forms of urban life. Indeed, newcomers constantly engage with and renew the urban fabric and hence form an integral part of it. Their imaginations, aspirations, dependencies and responsibilities can be both local, translocal and transnational. But through their (search for) work, consumption and reproduction, newcomers interact with and change the existing urban fabric.

In this international workshop, we want to investigate the role of urban arrival infrastructures in shaping the interactions between these newcomers and the broader urban fabric. We broadly define the arrival infrastructure as those parts of the city with which newcomers interact upon arrival and in which their future social mobility is negotiated. Just like other urban infrastructures, the arrival infrastructure enables certain futures but constrains other. The arrival infrastructure can be part of governmental programmes specifically directed towards newcomers such as asylum centres, integration and language courses, but can also reside in social welfare agencies, schools, local police and their respective street-level-bureaucrats as well as a wide range of governmental artefacts and procedures. Other parts of the arrival infrastructure can consist of diaspora groups or place-based solidarity networks through which jobs and housing are exchanged, faith-based organisations, newcomers’ self-organisations, local oecumenical languages and so on. The arrival infrastructure hence emerges in specific but diverse spatial settings and eventually generates distinct and superdiverse neighbourhoods and cities of arrival.

All over the world, the arrival infrastructure ‘plugs’ newcomers in the urban fabric but does this in particular ways which reflects the broader migration regime and political economy of the city. It therefore relates to wider historical processes of social transformation. In that respect, we are not only interested in comparing arrival infrastructures that currently emerge all over the world, we are also interested in comparing current developments with arrival infrastructures that emerged in the 19th century. The two periods compared have in common a radical nature of social transformation, intense migration levels, and marked urban growth, but differ substantially in – among other things – economic and employment structure, the types of migrants involved, and the knowledge, level and ambition of governments to intervene in the urban fabric.

Central questions in this workshop are therefore:

1) How do arrival infrastructures come into being in particular urban places?
2) How and to what extent do current and historical forms of arrival infrastructure connect to the broader urban fabric? How do forms of arrival infrastructure help or constrain newcomers to integrate in the broader infrastructures of the social state?
3) How do the place-based interactions of street-level-bureaucrats such as social workers and local police with newcomers and established residents generate particular place-based arrival infrastructures?
4) What is the role of specific artefacts and procedures such as in-take interviews for access to refugee status and so on?
5) To what extent does the concentration of the arrival infrastructure in specific neighbourhoods of arrival strengthen or weaken its function?
6) On what basis have governments historically decided to intervene in the existing arrival infrastructure? What programmes were and are compiled and how do and did they articulate with the world outside governmental intervention?
7) How does the arrival infrastructure reflect the broader urban power geometries?

The workshop is organised by the interdisciplinary research project ‘Cities & Newcomers’ of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), which brings together research groups from history, criminology, demography and geography. We invite researchers from these and other disciplines to submit an abstract by June 1 for this two-day workshop that will take place in Brussels on 10-11 December 2015. Full papers of around 4,000 words should be submitted at the latest on October 30. Following the workshop, the aim is to publish a selection of workshop papers as special issue or edited volume.

For more information on the research project, take a look at www.citiesandnewcomers.wordpress.com. Abstracts and queries should be sent to [email protected].


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