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Tracing sanctuary cities: Legacies of empire and urban sovereignty

When: Tuesday, March 15, 2022, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Where: Online, Ms Teams

Speaker: Dr Rachel Humphris (Queen Mary University of London)

Mobile People Events Series

Join Dr Rachel Humphris (Queen Mary University of London) who will illustrate how the histories of ‘the city’ in (settler-) colonial states is relevant to struggles over sanctuary cities by drawing on her research on San Francisco, Sheffield, Toronto. She reframes a recurring question about sanctuary cities and asks questions about governing rights and obligations of cities and the power struggles over them. 

Sanctuary cities literature typically starts with an abstract notion of city sovereignty or autonomy protecting migrants from hostile nation-states. This literature has yet to explore the historical ramifications of ‘the city’ and its (settler-) colonial legacies. British legislation first in colonial America (USA) and then British North America (Canada) constituted the city in modern political and legal terms as an apparatus of governance. It also set the foundations for the responsibilities of modern city government, which became the key instrument for disciplining the racialized urban poor, accompanied by moral justifications. This helps to pinpoint the unbalance or the ‘cracking open’ that sanctuary cities represent. It relates directly to the core purpose of cities within nation-states to contain the tension between central authority and local autonomy. I trace the shared colonial history of three countries with pioneering ‘sanctuary cities’ as an Anglophone shared space of law and governance (San Francisco (USA), Sheffield (UK) and Toronto (Canada)). This genealogy helps to reformulate a recurring question about sanctuary cities. We should not ask whether cities can act autonomously but rather what specific kinds of governing rights and obligations cities possess, for what purposes, and who is invested with these powers. Only then can we grasp the potential contemporary sanctuary cities hold for fostering transformative relations of belonging in the city.

About the speaker

Dr Rachel Humphris  is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Politics at the School of Politics and International Relations Queen Mary University of London. She is a political ethnographer whose research and teaching focuses on the governance of marginality. Her work is grounded in contexts of rapid urban change in North America and Europe. Prior to joining QMUL in September 2019, Rachel was a Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Birmingham (2017 – 2019) and Research Fellow at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, University of Oxford (2014-2017). Rachel has held visiting positions at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, University of California - Berkeley, York University Toronto and the Urban Institute at the University of Sheffield. She is the author of ‘Home-land’ (2019).

The chair

Prof Engin Isin (Queen Mary University of London) will chair the event. 

About Mobile People

This event forms part of the Mobile People programme of work. It is a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarship programme at Queen Mary University of London, Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences and School of Politics and International Relations. For more information please visit IHSS Ongoing projects page. 


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