Agency and the Making of Transient Urban Spaces: Examples of Migrants in the City in the Pearl River Delta, China, and Dhaka, Bangladesh

Bork-Hüffer, T., Etzold, B., Gransow, B., Tomba, L., Sterly, H., Suda, K., Kraas, F., & Flock, R.

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Bork-Hüffer, T., Etzold, B., Gransow, B., Tomba, L., Sterly, H., Suda, K., Kraas, F., & Flock, R. (2016). Agency and the making of transient urban spaces: Examples of migrants in the city in the Pearl River Delta, China, and Dhaka, Bangladesh. Population, Space and Place, 22(2), 128–145.

Agency , internal migration , international migration , politics of space , socio-spatial dialectic

Internal migration within Asian countries and international migration to, within, and out of Asia have been on the rise throughout the past decades. As types and pathways of migration, migrants’ sociocultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and their transnational and translocal trajectories become increasingly diverse, a majority of them move to cities. Diverging power geometries and relations are constantly negotiated and (re)produced in the sociospatial dialectic of the city. Through their individual and collective agency, assets, and knowledge, mobile subjects have become important agents in the (re)production of spaces in cities, whereas the socio-political and physical conditions of spaces frame their livelihoods, opportunities, and agency. Research on migrants’ agency has intensified recently, but the specific modes through which agency operates in the socio-spatial dialectic still need to be conceptualised. We develop a framework that outlines different modes through which agents and space interact. The framework is exemplified through papers on case studies from Dhaka and the Pearl River Delta (PRD) that are part of this special issue. Dhaka and the PRD have been characterised by accelerated growth throughout the past decades, particularly due to the influx of rural-to-urban migrants, but they also receive an increasing number of international migrants. We conclude that through their diverse, multi-sited, and translocal relations and activities stretching beyond the receiving cities in a context of constant transformation, migrants’ practices contribute to the emergence of a specific type of urban spaces that we delineate as transient urban spaces.

Main finding
An introduction to a special issue on migrants' ability to shape and produce urban space, this article develops a framework for understanding how migrants' agency operates spatially in the city. This framework is then conceptualized by analyzing the special issue's five case studies on Dhaka and the Pearl River Delta. It is argued that migrants' everyday behavior helps create transient urban spaces, wherein social and material spaces are continually (re)produced, transformed, and contested by migrants' translocal practices. The authors' framework differentiates between three types of interaction in the socio-spatial dialectic between agents, agency, and space. First, the (re)production of space, or agents' effects on the making of space, second, the (re)production of agency, or the effects of space on agents' agency, and third, the (re)production of power geometries, or agents' effects on existing power relations.

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