Urban Citizenship Struggles As Transformative Politics

Friday, 20 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Sarah SCHILLIGER, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Basel, Switzerland
In liberal democracies, access to fundamental social and political rights is strongly linked to national belonging. This results in a stratification of rights according to legal status as well in (partial) exclusion of certain populations from political and social participation. As a result, ‘sans-papiers’ (illegalized migrants) are particularly deprived of the fundamental ‘right to have rights’ (Arendt). In recent years, non-citizen migrants and refugees got involved in practices of claim-making, even when lacking formal citizenship status. Various examples of ‘urban citizenship’ such as the ‘sanctuary cities’ movements in Canada and the US show possibilities of cities to challenge not only the nation-states’ ability to draw and uphold national boundaries, but also the fundamental meanings of citizenship. A multitude of European movements and initiatives have been inspired by such engagements in citizenship movements. Due to the rising presence of refugees in European cities, the concept of urban citizenship has become more relevant.

In Germany and Switzerland, the ‘Solidarity City’ network is imagining cities as spaces where no one can be deported and where everyone has access to education, health care and possibilities to participate actively in the cities’ cultural and political life. In my presentation, I will discuss the possibilities and potential pitfalls of the concept of urban citizenship by examining how urban protests and activist practices can transform the city’s material structure and redefine boundaries, membership and rights at the municipal level. Empirical examples of initiatives within the ‘Solidarity City’ network in Berne (Switzerland) will be illustrated to show the strengths and limitations of urban citizenship struggles, in particular regarding illegalized migrants. While the possibilities to bypass restrictive immigration law are limited so far, new political spaces have been created in which variously excluded groups of urban inhabitants empower themselves and create new understandings of belonging and citizenship.