When we speak of borders, we usually either refer to the lines considered to separate nation states or to the actions we are asked to perform when arriving in another country (such as showing one’s identity document or choosing a green or red lane depending on the goods we wish to declare). However, researchers working in the field of border studies have long started to think about borders in a much larger sense as spatial phenomena related to processes of inclusion and exclusion. Today’s global cities provide numerous examples of such phenomena. From gated communities to gendered spaces or neighbourhoods described as ‘ghettos’, cities often display spatial orders that limit the free movement of their inhabitants.
I was inspired to study French banlieues through the prism of critical border studies after a series of encounters with colleagues from the Alsatian city of Strasbourg. Like many of their fellow Strasbourgeois, these colleagues often went to the neighbouring German town of Kehl, where goods such as fuel, cigarettes or basic necessities from discount stores are considered cheaper. In normal times, this border is not policed and thousands of commuters, tourists and shoppers cross the Rhine every day. In contrast, none of my colleagues had ever gone to the Neuhof, a banlieue with a poor reputation in the southern suburbs of Strasbourg. At university, I met a Comorian-born student who lived in this area. He told me that the most difficult part of living in this socially vulnerable neighbourhood were not the living conditions as such, but the police controls and the regular frisking he experienced at least every week when taking the tram to the city center. For him, the true border did not run along the Rhine; it separated his neighbourhood from the rest of Strasbourg.
Since the early 2000s Rabat has been subject to a spate of interventions that have sought to steer Morocco’s capital on a path towards global city-dom. The myriad changes read like a checklist of urban renewal: restoration work in the historic centre, slum clearance in the periphery, riverside developments, starchitect projects and the building of new cultural and transport infrastructure. Such changes resonate with the ways in which many cities across the Arab world have recently been repositioned to intercept global flows of capital. Over the same period, a series of minor but no less conspicuous visual adjustments to the city have also occurred, from the appearance of Tifinagh – the Amazigh (Berber) script – on public buildings to an increase in references to Africa on outdoor signage.
The classic hallmarks of neoliberal urbanism and the seemingly inconsequential tinkering with linguistic and semiotic landscapes are rarely considered in tandem. In Rabat, however, both find themselves entangled in the carefully choreographed project of political and economic liberalisation that has taken place in Morocco over the last twenty years. In particular, they point to the different strategies through which state actors and elites have mobilised ideas about cultural diversity; not just as a means to rebrand Rabat as an open and tolerant metropolis aligned with the demands of international tourists and investors, but also as a basis upon which to redefine Rabat as the national political capital and a conduit of Moroccan soft power.
On the 14th June 2017, a horrific fire swept through Grenfell Tower in west London, killing 72 people and leaving hundreds more homeless and traumatised. For those of us who witnessed the tragedy unfold, either directly or through media coverage, the images of the burning tower beyond the control of the firefighters will stay with us for a lifetime.
Situated within the wealthy borough of Kensington and Chelsea, with a 71% white demographic, the 24-storey tower block was home to mainly social housing tenants of many ethnicities and backgrounds. Much has been written about how social marginalisation had created a hostile and dangerous environment for residents of the tower. In the years preceding the fire, they were treated as expendable against the forces of gentrification, de-regulation and cuts, and their voiced concerns about the loss of green areas and fire safety in Grenfell Tower were repeatedly ignored. In 2019, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Report determined that the speed with which the fire spread was due to the combustibility of the substandard exterior cladding, an addition made largely to enhance the tower’s appearance to surrounding neighbourhoods.
In the wake of Colombia’s national branding as a pluri-ethnic nation, on the one hand, and of Black and Indigenous social movements denouncing racism, ethno-racial inequality, systemic necropolitics (Mbembe, 2003; Alves, 2014) and social injustice, on the other hand, Bogotá’s municipal ‘multicultural turn’ in the 2010s seemed a precious opportunity to partly reconcile the ambivalent reality of Colombia’s multiculturalism, torn as it is between the pluri-ethnic reality of its social constituencies and the simultaneous inclusion (often as commodification) and exclusion (racialisation) of its ethnic minorities.
In particular, the latest POT (Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial, or Land Use Planning) — that determines urban growth in Bogotá for a span of at least 15 years — and its first Ethnic Focus (or Ethnic Approach; Enfoque Étnico Diferencial, in Spanish) in the late 2010s, could have been an opportunity to develop an understanding of urban dynamics informed by ‘race’ and racism, whereby patterns of racialisation and antiblackness in the space of the city could be finally and formally acknowledged by the public administration and Colombian urban professionals (planners, architects, land economists, geographers, urban sociologists, etc.) — for the majority of whom urban inequality has long been conceived as a socioeconomic matter devoid of any racial inflection. However, as elsewhere in Latin America, the municipal ‘multicultural turn’ in Bogotá largely missed that opportunity.
In my Identities article, ‘The governmentality of multiculturalism: from national pluri-ethnicity to urban cosmopolitanism in Bogotá’, I detail the ambiguities inherent to Colombia’s pluri-ethnic turn at the urban scale, from a situated perspective on its capital city, Bogotá: inclusive and plural in its narrative and for which concerns the extraction of value from ‘ethnic presence’ in the city, but exclusive and tailored at regulating (constraining) ‘diversity’ through its policies and planning practices.
While never entirely going away, the relationship between football fandom and racism has over the past few months come into renewed focus. In a UK context, this concerns the continued controversy over players choosing to ‘take the knee’ before professional matches in protest of racial injustice, as well as online abuse targeting the three black players who missed penalties in this summer’s final of the Euro 2020 tournament. Against a back story of overt racism in English stadia throughout the 1970s and 1980s, these episodes remind us of the need to keep interrogating the use of racist language across English football.
In this context Millwall FC holds a somewhat unique, although unwanted, position. It is a club that is widely recognised – for its association with racist hooliganism – even among those who know little about football. This reputation dates back to the 1970s. Therefore, the idea of the black Millwall fan – as a category and an identity – causes raised eyebrows, as it appears an oxymoron that goes against existing perceptions of what constitutes a Millwall fan. It is the oral histories of black Millwall fans and players that are at the core of the Millwall's Changing Communities Research Project, funded by the Lottery and led by the South London-based charity Bede House.
The future will be urban, sure, but how will it look? The subversive constitutionalisation of cities and the possibility of radical change
Cities represent simultaneously one of the crucial evolving realities and at the same time blind spots in the interdependent political and economic order of the early 21st century. This order is dominated by usual suspects of states, corporations and their cross-border operations, and international organisations, as well as occasional rogues such as criminal networks, armed groups or unruly territories and polities. Yet cities are major battlefields of social and political struggles of our time as well as primary theatres of violence and war.
Exclusions, enclosures and fences, incorporating both visible and invisible walls, are the growing reality of our urban experience. This is where global flows of capital demonstrate their splendour in concrete and glass, in luxury apartments and glittering skyscrapers, even swimming pools in the sky exclusively for the rich. The wealth attracts misery to keep the whole unequal organism alive and the contemporary misérables live in ruined neighbourhoods, distant suburbs and slums.
The recent protests in Myanmar and elsewhere are lazily interpreted as a sign that people in these places want what people in the West already have: free elections, the rule of law, protection for minority rights, and so on. This is a very comforting reading for the powers-that-be.
There is another, more accurate reading, however, which comes to mind when we consider that even in the West there have been mass popular protests recently: for instance, the gilets jaunes in France, the indignados in Spain, and the Occupy movement more generally. The rapid spread of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and beyond, the success of populist politicians of the left and right, and the widespread distrust of the authorities everywhere are all signs that Western-style institutions are disappointing for people. It seems that they would like more in the way of democracy, although it isn’t exactly clear what would satisfy them.
Has anyone actually figured out what a more democratic system would be like, and how it would work practically?
What can we learn from responses to the accommodation of asylum seekers about superdiversity, integration and the mainstream?
Superdiversity and integration are prominent yet contested terms to capture increasing population heterogeneity due to migration and participation by, and inclusion of, migrants in the arrival context. These terms have been criticised for ignoring the implication of established residents in processes of integration and their contestation of migration-based diversity. Yet, to date, limited research has shown how established residents differ in responding to superdiversity and how they conceive of integration.
My Identities article, ‘Towards a differentiated notion of the mainstream: superdiversity and residents’ conceptions of immigrant integration’, sets out to explore variations in established residents’ responses to diversity and the extent to which they consider themselves as playing a role in integrating newcomers. It draws on fieldwork that captured the reactions to the installation of a large asylum seeker reception centre on the outskirts of a large German city. Interviewing residents of the neighbourhood and participating in meetings of the 'local partnership', the article counters the common assumption in the literature that migration-related diversity is either contested or seen as a banal aspect of everyday urban life.
Disentangling culture, religion and economy in the native communities of the Shenzhen megalopolis
The rise of China is mostly perceived as an economic phenomenon. Yet, there is also the cultural dimension: What are the implications of Chinese leaders proclaiming that Chinese cultural traditions must be endorsed, as they essentially define what it means to be Chinese? The revival of popular religion in China, such as ancestral worship, which was suppressed over decades, but is now even applauded by President Xi Jinping as an expression of cherished core values of the Chinese, family and filial piety.
However, many phenomena related to religious practices in China defy conceptions of ‘religion’ developed in the light of Western historical patterns. Rituals are central in these phenomena, which can also be conceived as local customs and community traditions that express social norms and conceptions of social order without implicating ‘religion’. This ambiguity or even dissociation of ritual and religion is characteristic for East Asian societies and can be also observed in Japan, where ritual practices flourish, yet the majority of Japanese claim that they are ‘not religious’. Our Identities article, ‘Interaction ritual chains and religious economy: explorations on ritual in Shenzhen’, looks at these phenomena in the Shenzhen metropolis.