The subject of today’s blog is Stories from a Migrant City by Ben Rogaly and I know I haven’t had such a scholarly book on my blog before and certainly not one written by an actual professor! Ben teaches in the Department of Geography at the University of Sussex and his special focus is on human geography—migration and the movement of people. Peterborough is a city of immigrants, and of internal migrants like myself, and is the sort of cultural melting pot that might be expected to fascinate anthropologists and other researchers in social science. But the city has received relatively little academic attention. It is a very cosmopolitan place but it is now overshadowed by Brexit and any divisions that existed between the local and migrant populations have deepened. Yet different nationalities can live and work together happily, as I know myself and as the subject of my book Being Krystyna – A Story of Survival in World War II also knew. I am honoured that Professor Rogaly used my book, along with those of three other local authors, while he was researching his own. Ben’s approach is unusual among social scientists because it involved recording biographical oral history interviews with long-standing residents as well as newcomers, and using people’s own words to communicate the book’s themes and stories. He collaborated with many artists during his time in the city, including film-makers, photographers and theatre-makers.
In a recent webinar where Ben read extracts from his book (available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVqSBXXd09A ), he also spoke about the long process of research that led to the book: “From the beginning of the 2010s, I spent over eight years during times when I wasn’t teaching at the University of Sussex in Brighton listening to – and thinking and writing about – the stories of over a hundred residents of another small English city, Peterborough – population around 200,000 people – a city that voted to leave the European Union in 2016 by a margin of about 60 to 40. The Peterborough residents’ stories are like a lens through which to better understand wider issues about places and how they change, and about the role of migration in that.”
Nationalists and nativists often blame the figure of the immigrant ‘other’ for society’s ills, contrasting this with the ‘local’ or ‘native’ whose livelihood and way of life are seen as under threat from immigration. Being at ease with difference is seen as the worldview of a cosmopolitan elite.
Published in March 2020 by Manchester University Press, Stories from a Migrant City argues for an urgent transformation of how such terms are understood and deployed. Drawing on eight years of research in an English provincial city and a biographical approach to oral history, this book challenges the ways in which people have come to be seen as ‘migrants’ or ‘locals’ and understood to have opposing interests. Non-elite cosmopolitanism is shown to be alive and well, in spite of racism, the legacies of empire and the devastating effects of four decades of neoliberalism.
“Rogaly should be applauded for not only producing an analytically sophisticated book but one which provides us with some of the resources of hope that might one day help to plot a path towards a more open and democratic future for all.” – Professor Satnam Virdee, author of Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider.
“A powerful, thoughtful and much needed contribution” – Fatima Manji, Correspondent, Channel 4 News
“In the face of the most ugly uses of ‘place’ as a code for racialised exclusivity, this poignant and necessary book encourages us to think more expansively – of varieties of inclusion and exclusion, of unexpected conviviality and cosmopolitanism from below, of tactics of racial capitalism that set us against each other and spaces of imagination that can bring us together. All in the form of a kind of love-song to … Peterborough.” – Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya, author of Rethinking Racial Capitalism: Questions of Reproduction and Survival.
“In this extraordinary book Ben Rogaly shows us that we need to rethink who is considered a ‘migrant’ and who is a ‘local.’ The urgent lesson contained in these pages is that any step towards challenging the racism that distorts and confines the immigration debate needs to listen out for what is emerging in the ordinary life of cosmopolitanism from the bottom-up.” –
Professor Les Back, co-author of Migrant City.
“A ‘must-read’ book in an age of Brexit uncertainty, changing global macro-economic processes and the rise of nationalist nostalgia.” – Professor Anoop Nayak, author of Race, Place and Globalization.
If anyone in the UK wants to buy it directly from the publisher, ordering from their webpage – https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/9781526131737/ – qualifies people for a 50% discount when using the code ‘Stories50’ (so £10 plus £2.50 P+P)