Mobile people and cities 
Laura Hirvi (The Finnish Institute in Germany)
Hanna Snellman (University of Helsinki)
Jakobi 2, 428
Start time:
3 July, 2013 at 10:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

This panel explores the relationship of mobile people and cities. The intention is to highlight how tourists and immigrants, for example, contribute to the shaping of urban space, while also discussing the ethnographic means for studying such dynamics.

Long Abstract

In the contemporary world an ever-increasing number of people seem to be on the move. Artists are attracted by Berlin, tourists visit Shanghai or New York, while migrant workers with different educational backgrounds move to cities such as Dubai and Singapore. For different reasons cities around the world seem to attract mobile people.

But what impact do these people whose lives are marked by a certain degree of mobility have on the urban settings in which they stay either temporarily or for a longer period of time? Do their lifestyles produce a condition of flow that transcends their individual lives and furthers the formation of global and mobile cities in which the local gains a translocal character? Do people who move foster the circulation of cultural practices, goods, and images within and across national borders? And how does mobility as encountered in everyday life of cites affect the process through which inhabitants of urban space negotiate their identities?

Papers in this panel are eager to explore the relationship between people and cities. How, for example, do tourists, immigrants, refugees, expatriates, visiting artist or exchange students contribute to the shaping of the urban space they visit or in which they live, work, or study? In what ways do cities affect their lives? In terms of method, what are the means researchers apply in order to gain a deeper understanding of the impact that mobile people have on the making of cities?

Accepted papers:


Matthias Klückmann

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the relationship between immigrants and cities by means of a praxeological approach. It focuses on religious groups and ethnic entrepreneurship to show how immigrants shape the (established) urban space through practices as well as the dynamics initiated by these processes.

Paper long abstract:

Immigrants are residents of cities. Thus they contribute actively to the cultural, social and economic shaping of urban spaces. Taking practice theory, as developed by Theodore Schatzki, into account, these contributions are understood as social change insofar as they transform (established) "bundles of practices and material arrangements" that describe social reality.

Neighbourhoods and city districts are one possible locus to examine this process of transformation. In order to maintain their identity immigrants transform these specific urban settings by means of following routinized practices, including practical understanding how to handle certain things, e.g. the materiality of cities. (While at the same time this materiality influences which kinds of social practices are possible.) On the one hand this fosters the (global) circulation of practices and practical understanding and affects a diversification of the local. On the other hand it initiates a process where established and new bundles of practices and material arrangements become a matter of negotiation and eventually of identity as well as community.

Moreover these dynamics influence the perception of the districts as a whole, oscillating between perceptions as places of deprivation and multicultural hot spots that are marketed for city branding reasons.

The paper is based on my ongoing dissertation project, wherein I examine the question how migration related transformation of urban space is perceived and negotiated. To answer this question I focus by means of a comparison between Glasgow (United Kingdom) and Stuttgart (Germany) on the development of ethnic entrepreneurship and religious groups in two distinct neighbourhoods.


Hossam Adly (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne)
Luca Pattaroni (EPFL)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the impact of the UN employees on Geneva’s urban settings and spaces through the production of an expatriates’ ethnoscape. Global circulation of social and spatial forms and norms results in contested territories and oppositional identities.

Paper long abstract:

After having for long time been neglected by social anthropologists, cities are nowadays central in numerous researches, and more particularly in the field of migration and transnational mobility. However, studies of the impact of migrants on cities themselves remain insufficient. Based on ethnographic work within the United Nations office in Geneva, this paper argues that the impact of international civil servants on the city's settings and space lies in an expatriates' "ethnoscape" (Appadurai 1990) transforming Geneva's architecture, public space and patterns of sociability. The presence of highly mobile professionals in the city induces a circulation of global architectural forms and norms such as furnished apartments, luxury penthouses or "expat bars" where "UN Drinks" are held. The impact of UN employees in Geneva is also characterized by the frequent use of English in public spaces or in media productions. The paper also analyses in what terms these urban mutations get contested in a central neighbourhood where inhabitants criticize gentrification, the rise of rental prices and eviction. Not only do the results of this study shed light on the process through which the presence of the UN office transforms Geneva in a global city, but they also show how such transformations of the urban space may produce symbolic boundaries and contested territories that bring inhabitants to negotiate oppositional identities.


Andreas Hackl (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Palestinian Israelis are a "trapped minority", living in a Jewish state while being part of the Palestinian people that state is in conflict with. They mostly do not settle down in the "Hebrew" city of Tel Aviv, but they use the city, and the city uses them.

Paper long abstract:

Today, Palestinians don't have a state they can call their own. But those 1.5 million Arabs who are citizens of Israel live in a state, although relating to it in the weak sense, meaning that they belong to it, while the state does not belong to them. Equally, Arabs in Israel do not have their "own" cosmopolitan city, while Jewish-Arab tensions and cultural considerations prevent most Arabs to settle down in the only big urban space - the city of Tel Aviv, which is perceived to be a diverse, albeit Jewish city. There are no Arab schools or Arab theatres. English is spoken more often than Arabic.

However, a few thousand Arabs do migrate to Tel Aviv every year, either to study, to work, or to simply to explore a new kind of individualism far away from the communal constraints from their Arab home towns. Palestinian Israelis do not usually "arrive" in the city, as they usually leave back "home" after marrying. Instead, they "use" the urban space in a very mobile way. They escape cultural and political pressures in search of anonymity and individualism, or simply look for a career in the cities vibrant high-tech sector.

How does the involvement with Tel Aviv influence the ways Palestinian Israelis negotiate their conflicting identities? How can we conceptualize the recurring trans-local flows of a national minority into a city and out of it, if nothing in this process is ever fixed but temporary, if they never "arrive" in the city?