Studying irregular migrants’ acts of citizenship in the city of Zurich
Irregular - also referred to as undocumented, irregularised or ‘illegal’ - migration has become an subject of debate in academia. Being irregularly present in the country is unlawful under Swiss law and therefore limits the possibilities for political, social, and economic participation in society.
Nevertheless, irregular migrants engage in practices of contestation that challenge their exclusion from society. These practices involve everyday visible strategies such as sit-ins, demonstrations and occupations, as well as hidden tactics of navigating the city to avoid imprisonment and deportation. Defining these practices as ‘acts of citizenship’ opens up possibilities of a more dynamic and inclusive approach to the idea of citizenship that is not limited to national membership, but can be deployed at various sites and scales.
Understanding the urban space as a site where struggles and processes of allocation and appropriation of rights and citizenship take place, this research analyses how ’acts of citizenship‘ challenge irregular migrants‘ legal statuses and how these acts can be seen as their claim to a ‘right to have rights’ all while constituting themselves as political subjects.
This empirical research is based go-alongs, cartography, interviews and participant observation in the city of Zurich. The objective of is to; firstly, gain more insight into the everyday lives and acts of citizenship of irregular migrants, secondly, to gain better understanding of theoretical approaches that connect urban space and migration, and thirdly, to show how irregular migrants practices of contestation allow for a new conceptualisation of urban citizenship. It seeks to develop an interdisciplinary ethnographic approach to studying their acts of citizenship, and to contribute to ongoing debates in the field of cultural anthropology, urban geography, sociology, and critical citizenship studies that challenge the ideas of the traditional notion of the nation-state, citizenship, citizenship rights, and irregular migrants as politically powerless.
Keywords: irregular migrants, urban space, practices of contestation, acts of citizenship, urban citizenship
Supervisor: Prof. Walter Leimgruber