How and why does it matter to understand diverse urban engagements from the migrants’ perspective?

by Tilmann Heil

Working Papers WP 14-03
April 2014
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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The configurations of smaller cities increasingly diversify due to global migration flows. As local residents, migrants have tactics and views of engaging with the diversification of such places. They draw from experiences with multiple diversities in the ‘sending context’, transit spaces, and the ‘receiving society’. I ask how various ‘old’ and ‘new’ conceptions of diversity and difference combine in migrants’ everyday lived experience. I take recurrent examples of simple everyday encounters such as greeting and dwelling in urban spaces into account to disentangle the various levels of reflections, habitual expectations and tactical actions. I draw from 18 months of multi-sited fieldwork in neighbourhoods of regional capitals in Casamance, Senegal, and Catalonia, Spain. A matched sample of Casamançais migrants in Catalonia and their family and friends in Casamance links the two sites. My interlocutors of various cultural, religious, socio-economic and legal backgrounds shared the reference to Casamance as an early place of socialisation. Additionally, they had the national, sub-regional and global references of differentiation and integration at their disposal, both drawing from dominant discourses and the experiences gathered throughout the migration process. Engaging with this ethnographic case, I will show that, firstly, a regional focus prevents simple ‘groupist’ explanations. Secondly, assuming the migrants’ perspective on urban everyday sociality shows a distinct way of engaging multiple and overlapping ‘old’ and ‘new’ ways of differentiating and homogenising practices. Finally, my ethnography raises awareness for the multiple transformations of minimal sociality during transnational migration as well as in the respective local urban contexts. 

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