Making Cities through Migration Industries

Blog post by Nir Cohen, Tatiana Fogelman and Henrik Lebuhn

30 May 2022, 3:13 p.m.
Nir Cohen, Tatiana Fogelman and Henrik Lebuhn



The early history of urban studies is very much entangled with studies of transnational human mobility. Yet despite specific research agendas at the end of the previous century that sought to rekindle this intertwinement, notably that of transnational urbanism, the disciplinary divide between urban and migration studies had been quite persistent. In the last two decades, migration scholarship has started to pay attention more systematically to the urban implications of research focused on a variety of migration issues. Taking up this thread, our special issue explores the significance of the “migration industries” debate for understanding the urban. How do private and public actors of the so-called migration industry mould the structure and character of cities while at the same time mediating cross-border mobility and offering migration-related services?

Our impulse behind this special issue was then in the first place, to address this lack of explicit and focused investigation of urban aspects of migration industries and interest in migration industries amongst urban scholars. And second, it was to explore more theoretically the significance of migration industries - as a framework for theorising an intertwinement of a variety of actors, practices and infrastructures - have for understanding the urban. In our article-length introduction we elaborate on this argument, providing an overview of the development of migration-urban studies nexus and introducing the concept of migration industries, highlighting the most recent work and contributions within this field. We stress the three key analytical vantage points that the attention to migration industries enables us to see as central to contemporary city-making: its political-economic embeddedness, the urban-constitutive nature of trans-local connectivities, and how business-driven city-making dovetails with more serendipitous, bottom-up shaping of the arrival city.  

The twelve articles gathered in this multi-disciplinary special issue provide a variety of examples for this scholarship, gathered from a broad range of research from cities in Europe, Asia, North America and South Africa. Researching a variety of public and private actors, as well as private-public entanglements, our authors examine diverse but specific practices through which migration industries contribute to contemporary city-makings. The papers engage with topics such as speculative urbanism, ethnic enclaves and entrepôtes, residential segregation in cities, trans-urban field construction, urban bordering and care, liveable urbanism promotion and more. And while they contribute to these varied urban scholarships, by examining also new, and at times unintended or smaller-scale actors through the lens of migration industries, they also help develop conceptually the field of urban and migration studies.

We hope that Urban Studies readers will find inspiration for their own work in our editorial as well as in the rich empirical case-studies from cities around the world and the interdisciplinary discussions offered in this special issue. We welcome your comments on the entire collection, or individual articles, and look forward to continuing the debate!


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.



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