The Migrant’s Paradox

Street Livelihoods and Marginal Citizenship in Britain

2021
Author:

Suzanne M. Hall

Connects global migration with urban marginalization, exploring how “race” maps onto place across the globe, state, and street

In this richly observed account of migrant shopkeepers in five cities in the United Kingdom, Suzanne Hall examines the brutal contradictions of sovereignty and capitalism in the formation of street livelihoods in the urban margins. Her six-year project spans the combined impacts of the 2008 financial crisis, austerity governance, punitive immigration laws and the Brexit Referendum, and processes of state-sanctioned regeneration.

Suzanne M. Hall is our Alvin Ailey of urbanism, and this book is an intricate and fiery choreography of the street as an intersection of edge economies, paradoxical injunctions, moving borders, collective ingenuity, and apparatuses of racial control. Street becomes world becomes street, and these inversions bear down hard on those that embody them but who nonetheless materialize fundamental openings in narrowing nationalisms, making their way toward more judicious and generative forms of belonging.

AbdouMaliq Simone, The Urban Institute, University of Sheffield

In this richly observed account of migrant shopkeepers in five cities in the United Kingdom, Suzanne Hall examines the brutal contradictions of sovereignty and capitalism in the formation of street livelihoods in the urban margins. Hall locates The Migrant’s Paradox on streets in the far-flung parts of de-industrialized peripheries, where jobs are hard to come by and the impacts of historic state underinvestment are deeply felt.

Drawing on hundreds of in-person interviews on streets in Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester, London, and Manchester, Hall brings together histories of colonization with current forms of coloniality. Her six-year project spans the combined impacts of the 2008 financial crisis, austerity governance, punitive immigration laws and the Brexit Referendum, and processes of state-sanctioned regeneration. She incorporates the spaces of shops, conference halls, and planning offices to capture how official border talk overlaps with everyday formations of work and belonging on the street.

Original and ambitious, Hall’s work complicates understandings of migrants, demonstrating how migrant journeys and claims to space illuminate the relations between global displacement and urban emplacement. In articulating “a citizenship of the edge” as an adaptive and audacious mode of belonging, she shows how sovereignty and inequality are maintained and refuted.

Suzanne M. Hall is associate professor of sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she codirects the Cities Programme. She is author of City, Street and Citizen: The Measure of the Ordinary and coeditor of The Sage Handbook of the 21st Century City.

Suzanne M. Hall is our Alvin Ailey of urbanism, and this book is an intricate and fiery choreography of the street as an intersection of edge economies, paradoxical injunctions, moving borders, collective ingenuity, and apparatuses of racial control. Street becomes world becomes street, and these inversions bear down hard on those that embody them but who nonetheless materialize fundamental openings in narrowing nationalisms, making their way toward more judicious and generative forms of belonging.

AbdouMaliq Simone, The Urban Institute, University of Sheffield

Suzanne M. Hall's much-anticipated book adopts a wholly original and refreshing perspective on otherwise well-worn topics such as migrant entrepreneurship and ‘ethnic enclave’ economies, repurposing these areas of study into fascinating sites through which to understand momentous global/postcolonial concerns around migration, borders, citizenship, racial capitalism, and the reconfiguration of labor under conditions of postindustrial neoliberal austerity. The Migrant's Paradox radically unsettles the assimilationist complacencies and parochializing conventions that ordinarily surround the customary ways in which migrant entrepreneurs have been studied or conceptualized, and Hall delivers a sensitive ethnographic portrayal in a remarkably eloquent and intelligent voice that makes it a delight to read.

Nicholas De Genova, editor of The Borders of “Europe”: Autonomy of Migration, Tactics of Bordering

Combining thick ethnographic description and striking visual images, Suzanne M. Hall animates differential public infrastructural investments in local thoroughfares and the rich multicultures and transnational associations that spill out of them.

Yasmin Gunaratnam, Goldsmiths University, and Hannah Jones, University of Warwick

Through a multi-scalar ethnography, The Migrant’s Paradox explores streets as relational edge territories defined by their creativity and ongoing “durable precarity.” Hall reminds us that entrepreneurs working in these urban margins must absorb ongoing and sustained economic and political violence.

Huda Tayob, University of Cape Town

As opposed to the endless extolling of the business ethos of (certain) migrant diasporas—an extolling that helps stage newer iterations of the always tired, but always effective, good/bad migrant dichotomy—Hall captures the more solemn reality that scores the migrant, race and small-business interface. 

Sivamohan Valluvan, University of Warwick

The Migrant’s Paradox is an exploration of the interweaving of citizenship, neoliberal capitalism and the day-to-day lives and livelihoods of migration. It examines how the street itself may become a site of subversion and resistance to wider systems of power... Definitions of who a migrant is, particularly the “migrant entrepreneur” are challenged and complicated by this book. It works well at layering the day-to-day with UK policy, and global levels of social change. Importantly, the stories of the streets and those who work there themselves are the heart of this book. This book would be very useful for those interested in areas such as the politics, geography and sociologies of global migration within cities as well as the possibilities of grassroots everyday resistance, migrant solidarities and social change. From a methodological perspective, it is a useful example of creative ethnographies within streets, and presenting multi-layered research.

Ethnic and Racial Studies

The author effectively unpacks how the city excludes, pushing edges further outward, creating an insecure life for migrants and producing their own ‘contested urban economy’. This perspective allows us to understand the UK’s colonial history as it intersects with global displacement and creates urban marginalization... Throughout The Migrant’s Paradox, the author ‘writes the street as world’ through walking, looking, listening and talking in the streets of Birmingham, Manchester, London, Bristol and Leicester. Hall invites the reader to enter into the world of migrants and residents of edge territories.

London School of Economics Review of Books

Hall develops a compelling and original methodological framework for exploring life and space available to migrants by writing the street as world. She does this through extensive ethnographic research accompanied by beautiful architectural drawings of five different streets in deindustrialized cities in England (Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester, London and Manchester)... Hall’s is an eloquently written book that powerfully channels anger at Britain’s hostile environment and its degradation of humanity. Given a tumultuous period over the past six years, it offers a useful, if dismaying, reminder of the political context in Britain – three general elections, the 2008 financial crash and austerity, Brexit, COVID-19... A particular skill in the book is the clear-sighted way in which Hall draws the postcolonial urban politics of the treatment of migrants, such as where the state systematically destroyed documentation that confirmed arrival status of those from former colonies. As Hall argues convincingly, and extending the field in Sociology and Geography, these are racialised politics that mean for some citizenship is always marginal and called into question.

Sociology

Contents

Introduction: The Migrant’s Paradox

1. The Scale of the Migrant

2. Edge Territories

3. Edge Economies

4. Unheroic Resistance

5. A Citizenship of the Edge

Appendix

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index