Book review: Curtain up: City diplomacy in global migration governance

reviewed by Daniel Pejic

3 May 2023, 12:08 p.m.

Curtain up book cover

Janina Stürner-Siovitz, Curtain Up: City Diplomacy in Global Migration Governance, Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2022; 233 pp.: ISBN: 978-3-658-39602-2, £37.99 (eBook), ISBN: 978-3-658-39601-5, £89.99 (pbk)


One of the major shifts in the role of local governments in international affairs over the previous 15 years has been a move from mere implementors of international agreements (often under the auspices of their national governments) to policy entrepreneurs who are attempting to directly influence global governance. Migration has been a key recent theme of these activities, particularly driven by collective efforts by cities to be recognised as essential actors in migration governance during the development of the UN Global Compact on Migration, the first intergovernmental agreement covering all dimensions of international migration. These efforts have coincided with the proliferation of transnational city networks and leadership organisations focused on the urban dimensions of migration, often supported by philanthropic or multilateral organisations.

While there has been some study of this phenomenon within migration studies (particularly on the networking dimensions, e.g. Caponio, 2018; Oomen, 2020), a limited scholarship has begun to develop that interrogates the implications of these changes for global governance (e.g. Thouez, 2020), international law (e.g. Oomen, 2021) and local government studies (e.g. Lacroix, 2022). In this context, Curtain Up is an important and timely intervention presenting findings from the first major systematic study of the role of cities in global migration governance and an explicit attempt to create a dialogue between the interdisciplinary research on this theme.

The book makes a convincing argument in its first chapter for the need to better understand the urban dimensions of international migration though its presentation of the ‘urban migration governance paradox’ (p. 6). The contention here is that rapid urbanisation and the devolution of governance to local authorities has created a dynamic where local governments are increasingly responsible for managing the impacts of migration (the majority of international migrants globally live in cities) but this growth in responsibility has not been matched with an increase in resourcing or authority. Traditionally, local governments have had almost no engagement with the development of interstate migration agreements, although they are essential partners in migration governance processes.

Chapter 2 presents the interdisciplinary dialogue on questions of city agency in global affairs and urban migration governance specifically, subsequently justifying the utilisation of role theory as the conceptual framework to analyse city interventions (expounded in the methodology presented in Chapter 3). In this way the study builds upon the foundational work by Ljungkvist (2015) who incorporated role theory and a constructivist theory of role formation as part of a seminal study of city agency from an IR perspective. While the engagement with work on the local governance of migration and integration and the international relations scholarship on city agency is extensive, there is a more limited engagement with the core of urban studies, particularly urban governance scholarship, which often addresses external relations through modes of entrepreneurial leadership. This is reasonably justified by the study’s focus on the global collective dynamics of city agency, as opposed to localised governance, which, is perhaps the weaker component of the tri-partite disciplinary dialogue.

Chapters 4–6 are the core of the text and present findings from an empirical study of the engagement of ten local authorities (Amman, Athens, Bristol, Freetown, Kampala, Los Angeles, Milan, Montréal, São Paulo and Zurich), selected due to their position as founding members of the Leadership Board of the Mayors Migration Council, one of the key organisations promoting the engagement of city leaders in international spheres. The case selection offers a solid balance of urban realities from the Global North and South, significant as Eurocentrism has defined a significant volume of broader research on urban migration. Interviews with representatives of these cities are supplemented with document analysis and a wide variety of interviews with experts engaged in this work from international organisations, philanthropies, policy organisations and universities. A notable strength of the work is its impressive empirical depth providing substantial detail on the motivations, actions and histories of the development of key infrastructures supporting city diplomacy in migration governance and city leaders in advancing this agenda. The author demonstrates an expert understanding of the timelines, key milestone activities and the mechanics of the international processes which led to the current level of recognition that local authorities have been afforded within the international system and the architectures that have been developed to support their continued intervention. This empirical detail will likely appeal not only to scholars and policy practitioners seeking to understand how the ecosystem of global migration organisations has been shaped by city diplomacy but equally the insights could have broader application in terms of understanding how cities can develop and execute collective strategies to influence global governance processes. Chapter 7 concludes the work and offers a reflection on the trajectory of this realm of municipal activity and the study of it.

My critical reflections on Curtain Up are less directed towards shortcomings of the work (of which there are few) and rather focus on potential areas for further exploration (which the author acknowledges in the conclusion). With the focus squarely on the collective interventions of cities at the international level, there remains significant scope for better understanding the relationship between the urban governance of migration and city diplomacy, including the way urban actors outside of local authorities contribute to these practices. These global interactions could equally apply to other policy areas and research of this kind may better lend itself to the incorporation of scholarship on urban governance which is less prominent in Stürner-Siovitz’s interdisciplinary dialogue. Equally, the mobilisation of role theory as an analytical and explanatory tool for understanding city agency serves the study well and continues an established approach but based on the literature review presented in Chapter 2 there appears further scope for theorisation on city agency in global affairs.

Overall, Curtain Up is a detailed and timely work which provides an important empirical basis from which research on migration city diplomacy can expand. It will have value for scholars engaged this in this field of enquiry (and for those studying city diplomacy in other policy domains) but equally for policy practitioners as the book concludes with a series of pragmatic and grounded recommendations for the advancement of city diplomacy in migration governance. For a novel area of academic inquiry, Curtain Up presents an astute, informed and readable ‘state-of-play’ that offers an outstanding foundation for future research within urban studies and across disciplinary boundaries.



Caponio T (2018) Immigrant integration beyond national policies? Italian cities’ participation in European city networks. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 44(12): 2053–2069. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Lacroix T (2022) Migration-related city networks: A global overview. Local Government Studies 48(6): 1027–1047. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Ljungkvist K (2015) The Global City 2.0: From Strategic Site to Global Actor. Abingdon: Routledge. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Oomen B (2020) Decoupling and teaming up: The rise and proliferation of transnational municipal networks in the field of migration. International Migration Review 54(3): 913–939. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Oomen B (2021) Cities, refugees and migration. In: Aust HP, Nijman JE (eds) Research Handbook on International Law and Cities. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 240–250. Google Scholar

Thouez C (2020) Cities as emergent international actors in the field of migration: Evidence from the lead-up and adoption of the UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations 26(4): 650–672. CrossrefGoogle Scholar


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