Migrants and City-Making: Dispossession, Displacement, and Urban Regeneration

Migrants and City-Making: Dispossession, Displacement, and Urban Regeneration


Reviewed by Susanne Urban

First Published:

03 Oct 2019, 10:09 am


Migrants and City-Making: Dispossession, Displacement, and Urban Regeneration

Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2018; 280 pp.: ISBN: 9780822370444, US$25.95 (hbk)


This fantastic book is a result of committed long-term research by Çaglar and Glick Schiller on migration and the regeneration of cities. The cities followed in this book – Mardin, Turkey, Manchester, USA and Halle, Germany – are all dealing with poverty and other social problems. In Çaglar and Glick Schiller’s relational terminology, these cities are disempowered cities – ‘cities that responded to the pressures of neoliberal urban restructuring but entered the competition with a given configuration of limited assets’ (p. 13). In these cities, the leaders and residents tried to regain power while confronting the challenges of restructuring and being able to compete successfully (p. 13). The city leaders demonstrated an explicit understanding of the loss of power. The regeneration projects also have in common that they developed migrant/minority-friendly narratives and policies to attract migrant entrepreneurs and tourists in the hopes of improving social and economic development (Chapter 1). By carefully recounting the city-making processes, the authors uncover how multiscalar networks and capital accumulation are interconnected in business (Chapter 2), sociability (Chapter 3) and religion (Chapter 4).

By drawing on their previous studies, Çaglar and Glick Schiller systematically develop and apply several useful concepts for understanding the role of migrants in city-making processes. The book presents migrants as active agents who not only are dispossessed and displaced, but who also have important roles at different levels in the economic, cultural, political and social aspects of city-making.

Following the three cities between 2000 and 2016, Çaglar and Glick Schiller systematically develop what could be termed a multiscalar analytical methodology. I read this approach as a constructive alternative to the all-too-common methodological nationalism, an approach that views social and historical processes as if they were contained within the borders of individual nation-states (e.g. Wimmer and Glick Schiller, 2003). The book’s arguments are driven by a desire to understand how sites, cities, companies, organisations and people are interconnected in power structures at different levels within and between nation-states. I argue that the concepts are also useful for analysing society in broader terms.

The multiscalar analytical methodology developed in this book takes into account the specific conjunctural configuration of multiple institutional social fields of uneven power, spanning national, regional, urban and local institutions. The sub-studies in the book clearly illustrate the analytical advantage of placing the analysis of daily sociabilities in a multiscalar perspective. This approach results in an understanding of the multiscalar constitution of localities as an ongoing production of all places and social relations that constitute them (p. 12).

Analytical terminology is systematically used throughout the book and the key implications from the multiscalar approach are also presented, developed and summarised in the introduction and the last two chapters (Chapters 5 and 6). I get the impression that the separate studies on the three cities were not originally planned to be interrelated and presented together as a ‘multisighted’ study, and that the multiscalar approach that connects them has been developed by the authors over time. While a project like this is probably impossible to replicate (who could get the funding to follow three cities over such a long time in this systematic and patient way?), it provides us with several useful analytical concepts.

Multiscalar is the most important concept in the book. Multiscalar research discards the notion of levels and instead examines sociospatial spheres of practice as they are constituted (p. 8), exploring their interconnections through institutionalised and informal networks of differential economic, political and cultural power. Structures of unequal power exist in the multiscalar perspective within multiple, but not nested, networked hierarchies.

Accumulation by dispossessiondisplacement and emplacement are interrelated processes of the restructuring of space and social relations. The studies in the book examine who benefits and who pays for redevelopment, by documenting the short-term successes, long-term disempowerment and dispossession of different social groups. They thereby trace the channelling of capital, and resources mobilised for local development, to various national and transnational centres of power.

Sociabilities are defined as social relations that provide pleasure, satisfaction and meaning by giving actors a sense of being human (p. 128). Çaglar and Glick Schiller demonstrate the importance of setting aside neighbourhood and migrant organisations as the primary units for studies of urban sociabilities in order to grasp multiscalar relations within multiple hierarchies and institutionally networked structures of power.

The book describes sociabilities of emplacement through individual histories of spatial displacement and precarity that form new social relations of emplacement in the city. The concept of sociability brings hope by showing that sociabilities can form the basis for new kinds of political action.

Non-migrant is not an analytical concept, but is one that Çaglar and Glick Schiller use to ‘counter assumptions of many public policy makers and national politicians that migrant newcomers stand outside the social system, constitute a threat to social cohesion and require integration’ (p. 5). The use of the concept ‘non-migrants’ instead of ‘natives’ signals that a migrant has an experience that the non-migrant lacks. This stands in contrast to the more common way of talking about migrants as people with deficits; migrants are often presented as people who lack a sense of belonging and need to develop new identities, who have less access to resourceful social networks and who lack language proficiency and knowledge about the society they live in. In this book, migrants are described as belonging to various networks and sociabilities and as social, political and economic actors. The same could also be said about non-migrants, but this book focuses on migrants to highlight the interrelated multiscalar relations of social and economic processes that evidently transcend nation-states.

The studies this book is based on, and the coherent analysis of them, illustrate the necessity of situating social analysis and action within a shared temporality of all of a city’s inhabitants as the city transforms at changing historical conjunctures. The detailed studies clearly show how accumulation by dispossession causes not only displacement and emplacement, but also counteractions and new sociabilities.

The main conclusion of the studies is that economic processes relate to cultural processes of racialisation, stigmatisation and the delegitimation of claims to humanity and the rights associated with such claims. The studies show that all residents of a place are involved in the imbricated processes of displacement (p. 210). The multiscalar analysis makes it possible to actually show how conjunctural forces involve multiple globe-spanning actors within intersected social fields of power. Çaglar and Glick Schiller conclude in the final chapter that it is necessary to address multiscalar globe-spanning relationships of power, including the changing and increasingly fraught processes of capital accumulation, if we are to identify the transformative change necessary for social justice and for the empowerment of the dispossessed (p. 211).

The analytical concepts that are systematically applied throughout the book will be useful for researchers in the field of migration and cities. I recommend this book also for those who do not have a particular interest in migrants or even in cities. Çaglar and Glick Schiller write that ‘migration scholars often live at a different conjunctural moment than that in which their key concepts were constituted’ and that ‘[m]any scholars write as if conceptual tools forged under one set of conditions can be used to speak to a very different world’ (p. 215). This is probably true also for scholars in most other fields. I argue, however, that a multiscalar perspective, focusing on dispossession and displacement by capital accumulation, and the force of sociability, should be considered a useful tool for understanding societal processes in general, from any site, for many times to come.




Wimmer, A, Glick Schiller, N (2003) Methodological nationalism and the study of migration: Beyond nation-state building. International Migration Review 37(3): 576–610.
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