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Research

Learn more about the LSE research project Resilient Communities, Resilient Cities? Digital makings of the city of refuge undertaken in Athens, Berlin and London during 2018 and 2019.


Resilient communities, resilient cities? Digital makings of the city of refuge is a research project conducted at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) between 2018-19. The project was led by the Department of Media and Communications (Myria Georgiou and Deena Dajani) in collaboration with the Department of Sociology (Suzanne Hall), and produced in partnership with Counterpoints Arts and creative studio Proboscis. The project was funded through the LSE's Institute of Global Affairs (IGA) as part of the Rockefeller Resilience Programme.

OBJECTIVE

The research project examined how urban communities – established and new – mobilise digitally to respond and manage change in three European cities (London, Berlin, Athens). From the development of networks of support and collaboration between citizens and newcomers, to local training into digital skills and resistance to digital surveillance, cities’ resilience is tested in the capacity to sustain inclusive, integrated and democratic communities.

METHODOLOGY

The project adopted a multi-method qualitative approach, engaging three main stakeholders: new migrant communities, civil society actors, and institutional actors, including policymakers. The methodology included:

Knowledge exchange workshops. Participatory, interactive workshops invited participants to map out experiences in their cities, with a focus on identifying resources, opportunities, needs, and obstacles.

Urban storytelling walks. Open-ended life-history interviews conducted with migrants in their new local neighbourhoods, exploring relationships, memory, space and politics.

Expert interviews. Semi-structured interviews with policymakers, local and national government officials, and other institutional actors responsible for resettlement and migration politics.

RESULTS

Findings from across the three cities reveal how urban communities build resilience digitally but also face significant challenges in the context of migration, especially as the state becomes more hostile towards migrants. We identify the strengths of cities – cultural and infrastructural – to enable connected communities but also identify the obstacles that need to be addressed for advancing equitable and democratic digital cities. Our study shows that urban digital communication is a complex and contradictory domain that involves uses of communication technologies for the development of networks of solidarity and voice, especially for migrants often silenced in mass media and policy-making. The study also revealed that the same communication technologies are used for surveillance and control of urban lives, especially of the lives of migrants whose precarity is further prolonged through policies that delimit their freedom in the city.

The study identified four digital challenges that obstruct democratic cities in the context of migration: support; trust; hostility; risks.

— Digital Support

Digital technologies enable and enhance crucial network connections that support settlement and access to urban resources for new migrants. These networks range from migrants’ own peer-to-peer networks to neighbourhood networks and networks generated by non-governmental actors. Digital structures of support are of paramount importance, especially for those seeking refuge in the city. Restricted access to these networks can be detrimental to well-being and to opportunities for work and education. Safe and reliable access and participation in these networks can support skill-development and community support to manage major obstacles – such as precarious legal status – though they cannot compensate for those fundamental forms of exclusion.

— Digital Trust

The digital challenges that migrants face in cities – reliable, affordable and safe connectivity – are not unique to them but shared with other urban populations, especially those at the urban margins. Thus, through the study of migrant experience in the city, we reveal some of the major challenges and concerns of urban communities that need to be addressed through universal, affordable, safe internet, as well as media literacy. These challenges – often accentuated but not unique to migrants – include: access to the internet (and its high cost), the risk of fraud scam, and parental concerns over children’s internet access and use.

Digital Hostility

Online hostility enhances insecurity and the sense of isolation in the city among many urban migrant populations. Two kinds of online hostility is experienced by migrants: widespread and targeted. Widespread hostility includes negative or criminalizing media representations about migrants, including those circulated on social media and which include hostile user generated content. Targeted hostility includes experiences of direct exclusion on apps, including dating apps, where migrants report being blocked once they share their migration background. These forms of hostility raise urgent questions about the need to develop safe online and offline spaces in the city.

Digital Risks

State surveillance of migrant digital lives is a major source of anxiety and an obstacle to migrant active participation in urban public life. The report shows that digital technologies have not made migration processes more efficient but instead have made processes of legalisation and recognition more opaque. Migrants often feel they have no control over their data that the state and platforms hold, data that can influence their chances for employment, education and citizenship. Participants in our study feel there are no transparency and no institutional support that protects their data privacy and digital rights.

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