The Unknown City: the (in)visibility of urban displacement

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Global Studies

Abstract

Public attention is typically focused at the minority of forced migrants who are able to cross an international border and claim refugee status, although the large majority of forced migrants remain within their countries of origin. A growing number of people at a global scale are seeking shelter in cities, particularly poor areas of cities in poor countries. Urban displacement may result from political instability, environmental stress or extreme absolute poverty in areas nearby the city, or as a result of policies of forced eviction within the city. People who are forced to move to or within the city are rarely welcome in the areas where they end up. They are often forced to live in low quality housing where disease and crime are more common than in the city as a whole. To make matters worse, they are frequently blamed for those problems by city authorities. In extreme cases, where forced displacements raise highly racialised tensions, forced migrants may face eviction or even complete removal from the city. For these reasons forced migrants may prefer to try to remain hidden and the city offers plenty of opportunities to do so. Yet invisibility also raises challenges and if individuals are not visible to state and civil society institutions they may not receive the support they need. This raises a tension between visibility and invisibility. This project explores when, how and why forced migrants to poor areas of cities prefer to remain invisible. It also considers attitudes of city authorities who frequently have very little information and almost no direct experience of living in such neighbourhoods. Official responses to the (in)visibility of displaced people range from solidarity and support to repression.

This project is concerned with the visual. These underserved areas of cities frequently remain unknown even to city authorities. Research will develop comparative fieldwork in selected neighbourhoods in Colombo, Dhaka, Harare and Hargeisa, working with excellent partners in each city. These cities all have long histories of forced migration from neighbouring areas and within the cities themselves. The project is concerned with a multi-level analysis, focused on different scales of (in)visibility. This may vary from individual forced migrants, to city level authorities via the common practice of collective or community organisations within particular neighbourhoods. At each of these three scales individuals or groups have a choice to remain invisible, to hide away and avoid official contact, or to make themselves visible through strategies of protesting or claiming rights. These scales intersect with three sets of questions that investigate first how much decision making forced migrants actually have, second, how these processes have developed over time and third, how different individuals experience, perceive and imagine space differently. This leads to a series of innovative methods, exploring visual representations, graphic accounts of forced migration, and cartographic accounts of individuals and local residents association.

The project will contribute to changing ways of thinking about the city, and particularly the place of forced migration in the cities. Ongoing engagement with city authorities will help to challenge understandings of forced migrants as deceitful or parasitic, which remains extremely widespread. It will also contribute to the broader project of 'global urbanism' highlighting how cities in poorer countries have begun to challenge assumptions of the universality of theories developed in North America and Western Europe. Forced migration is a particularly common occurrence in cities in Africa and Asia and the project aims to draw on that to develop new theoretical understandings of urban displacement.

Planned Impact

Four non-academic audiences are targeted:
1. International stakeholders: UN agencies, international NGOs
2. Influential actors in each city: eg. representatives of local government, planning office, police,
3. Collective organisations in selected neighbourhoods: eg. residents' associations
4. General public and education sectors: national and international media, senior high school and undergraduate.

Eight tools are planned to engage with these four key target audiences.
1. Engagement with forced migrants and residents of target neighbourhoods: much of the communications and engagement with residents will come through research engagement, that is interviews, walks and participatory mapping on the Ushahidi platform. This process will require a clear explanation of the aims and objectives of the research and feedback on these topics will be noted carefully as an integral part of the research process. The results of all these activities will be communicated back to research participants, particularly through the use of graphic accounts of the migration process and perspectives on the two neighbourhoods.
2. Project website: established and maintained by the communications team at the RGS-IBG. This will be a development of the current Migrants on the Margins introductory site (http://tinyurl.com/ojvnjxu) and will be shared by all research funded under the Migrants on the Margins programme. It will provide the main window onto the research for all stakeholders with Internet access. It will introduce all partner institutions and team members, provide basic information on research design and questions and showcase the following two communications tools.
3. Blog posts written by members of the research team will be posted regularly and communicated widely through social media. They will discuss research decisions and experiences at all stages of the research process. They will be edited as an educational resource for upper level school students and undergraduates.
4. Graphic accounts are a particularly innovative way of communicating individual accounts of forced migration. They can be developed from several accounts in order to fully respect anonymity and disguise identities without sacrificing details. They can also be easily communicated to forced migrants themselves, as a way of reflecting on the oral histories they have previously provided. They thus provide both a research tool and a dissemination/impact tool. PositiveNegatives have a great deal of experience of using such accounts in a variety of challenging contexts
5. Maps will be used in a variety of formats. Like graphic accounts they provide a way of reflecting on individual experience in a way that camouflages individual identity. Individual maps will be constructed from individual oral histories and accompanied walks and neighbourhood maps will be produced in collaboration with neighbourhood associations. Finally, city maps or urban plans will be analysed as part of the historical profile of each city.
6. Community archives will allow engagement of residents associations in identifying, validating and preserving knowledge about the community.
7. Open access publications will communicate a greater complexity of detail and argument to a more specialised audience. Ten working papers will be produced during the life of the project, two led by the PI and one each by the eight CoIs. These will be developed into peer reviewed journal articles, though published after the period of project funding ends.
8. Exhibition: the final exhibition will contain visual materials produced throughout the project, particularly graphic accounts of forced migration, maps of individual, community and city level and associated photographs. It will provide a method of communicating results but also a point of encounter to discuss those results. It will initially appear at the RGS-IBG in London but funding for this project will allow it to travel widely.

Publications

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Positive Negatives (2018) Migrants on the Margins

 
Title Migrants on the Margins 
Description The exhibition consisted of photographs and comics arising from the research 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact We have continuing interest from media and from schools about our research, including requests for the book of comics 
URL https://ahrc.ukri.org/newsevents/events/calendar/the-unknown-city/
 
Description The project takes place in four cities: Colombo, Dhaka, Harare and Hargeisa. Research focuses on three low income neighbourhoods in each city. The principle aim of this research is to change the way that key stakeholders think about the city, and particularly the place of forced migration in it. This includes local government authorities, city planning departments and key public authorities, but also civil society organisations, including residents associations. It is clear from our stakeholder meetings how rarely these different stakeholders meet. Those people who have come to project meetings are interested and open to learning new things and have contributed useful suggestions to shape the interview research. Interviews, mapping and ethnographic engagement in each of the neighbourhoods have now been completed and the results have been presented in the form of a comic with narratives of each city. We have two main findings, which are highlighted in the comics. First, despite the difficult physical conditions faced by migrants to these cities, the large majority of migrants are happy that they came. This suggests that continued migration to the cities is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Second, once people move to the cities they are much more mobile than initially expected, our initial analysis of the second survey suggests that (depending on the city) as many as a third of initial respondents have moved residential location over the course of the year. Further analysis of this 'churn' of population is one of the themes we are writing up in peer reviewed journal articles.
Exploitation Route Our findings highlight the perspectives towards movement and particularly forced displacement of people living in very poor neighbourhoods. Our meetings have resulted in valorisation of participants from residents associations, who have rarely had the experience of speaking directly to city officials. Ongoing results are of interest to local government and local authorities but also to NGOs and international organisations working in this field. We also hope to contribute to urban theory with detailed empirically based observations of urban areas in the global south, which will be of interest to academics working in this area. Through the UK's Royal Geographical Society we are also developing resources for schools around the key themes of cities and migration. We have now printed up over 1,000 copies of the comics and distributed them to schools, given the widespread interest in our exhibitions.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://migrantsonthemargins.tumblr.com
 
Description The main aim of the research is to change the way that key stakeholders think about migration to the city. The use of the findings depends on the city, but it is clear from the narrative we receive that the regular stakeholder meetings have had an impact. In Harare, a total of 10 meetings were held and it is clear that stakeholders from different branches of the city administration have become acquainted with one another. In Colombo, one of the residents from the community organisation attended the first stakeholder meeting and commented that it was the first time she had met any of those people. There have been a further 4 stakeholder meetings in Colombo, in addition to a final exhibition in which key stakeholders were presented with final results. In Hargeisa, key informant interviews have led to visits to two of our sites from the Minister of Planning. In Dhaka we have held a final presentation to city level policy makers. In London we have held two exhibitions that have seen more than 500 school children discuss and engage with results. These impacts are difficult to trace at present, but it is clear that in small ways in each city, and overall through educational programmes, bringing people together to discuss the context of the research is having some impact already. Even though the funding has now finished we are following up this work with short briefings on each city and a final report which will be circulated to all stokeholds, translated into relevant languages.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description International Development Challenge Fund
Amount £16,503 (GBP)
Organisation University of Sussex 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 09/2019
 
Description Colombo Unknown City meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 22 people from local government, planning authorities, local NGOs and residents associations attended a meeting to discuss the project. Note, this is closely linked to the related 'Trapped Populations' project (ES/N01474X/1) since the audiences overlap but the 'Unknown City' project supports greater engagement with residents associations in these meetings. This meeting was distinct from the earlier one organised in relation to the Trapped Populations project, though results of that project were also discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Dhaka Unknown City meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 22 people from local government, planning authorities, local NGOs and residents associations attended a meeting to discuss the project. Note, this is closely linked to the related 'Trapped Populations' project (ES/N01474X/1) since the audiences overlap but the 'Unknown City' project supports greater engagement with residents associations in these meetings. This meeting was distinct from the earlier one organised in relation to the Trapped Populations project, though results of that project were also discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Harare unknown city meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 26 people from local government, planning authorities, local NGOs and residents associations attended a meeting to discuss the project. Note, this is closely linked to the related 'Trapped Populations' project (ES/N01474X/1) since the audiences overlap but the 'Unknown City' project supports greater engagement with residents associations in these meetings. This meeting was distinct from the earlier one organised in relation to the Trapped Populations project, though results of that project were also discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Hargeisa Unknown City meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 19 people from local government, planning authorities, local NGOs and residents associations attended a meeting to discuss the project. Note, this is closely linked to the related 'Trapped Populations' project (ES/N01474X/1) since the audiences overlap but the 'Unknown City' project supports greater engagement with residents associations in these meetings. This meeting was distinct from the earlier one organised in relation to the Trapped Populations project, though results of that project were also discussed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Hargeisa public pr√©sentation seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A general presentation of all results on the project so far at the Hargeisa cultural centre to a large and engaged audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Migrants on the Margins lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In September 2018 Michael Collyer and Laura Hammond were invited to give the Monday night lecture at the Royal Geographical Society. This is the main weekly event in the RGS calendar and attracts a live audience in excess of 700 people, with several thousand more viewing it live streamed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.rgs.org/in-the-field/field-research-programme/
 
Description Presentation at African Centre for Cities conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A paper was presented at the African Centre for Cities annual conference in Cape Town by JoAnn McGregor (Sussex) and Kudzai Chatiza (DGI, Harare)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description RGS Exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We held an exhibition of comics and other material arising from the research, targeted primarily at groups of A-level children.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.rgs.org/geography/news/migrants-on-the-margins-a-week-of-comics-and-work/
 
Description Stakeholder meeting (Colombo) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Regular meeting of important stakeholders in the project to update them on study progress.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
 
Description Stakeholder meeting (Dhaka) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Regular meeting with important stakeholders involved in the project at the city-wide level in Dhaka.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Stakeholder meeting (Harare) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact 35 local representatives attended presentation of research progress.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Stakeholder meeting (Hargeisa) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact An official meeting of policy makers and other interested organisations, occurring regularly to provide research updates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018