The Welcoming City

Dr Antonis Vradis

Funding period: 1 April 2019 – 1 November 2019
Type of funding: Seminar Series

Host institutions: Loughborough University (UK), Copenhagen IT University (Denmark), Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (Spain)
Date: April 2019 (Barcelona), June 2019 (Copenhagen), October 2019 (London)
Lead organiser: Dr Antonis Vradis (School of Social Sciences, Loughborough University)
Team members: Dr Blanca Garcés-Mascareñas (Barcelona Centre for International Affairs), Dr Vasilis Galis (IT University of Copenhagen), Anna Papoutsi (School of Social Policy, University of Birmingham)
Contact: Dr Antonis Vradis

The Welcoming City is a series of seminars in Barcelona (April), Copenhagen (June) and London (October) on migrant reception and integration at the city level. The seminars feature one 2-day workshop in these three cities, chosen for their significant variation in municipal and national-level migrant integration practices: from the UK government’s pledge to create a “hostile environment” for undocumented migrants, or the mayor of London’s counter-pledge to protect migration; from Danish national-level policy over officially-designated inner city “Ghettos”, all the way to Barcelona’s unique experiment in providing safe haven for migrants. Never before has the gulf between national-level policy and urban practice within the same country been as wide, and never have similarities in both such policies and practices across cities and countries been as similar in return. The Welcoming City starts from the premise that this is an exciting moment in history when policy and practice can be redrawn and reimagined at the urban level. For this important task, we need not only an interdisciplinary perspective, but a research approach grounded in practice as well. Our series will therefore feature the equal participation of academics and practitioners, including activists, civil society representatives and other stakeholders; and migrants themselves.

This project also received a USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award in November 2021 (see below).

USF Knowledge Mobilisation Award: Decolonising the City (DtC): co-designing a participatory arts-based research toolkit with migrant communities in Athens, Greece

Awardees: Anna Papoutsi (University of Birmingham), Penny Travlou, University of Edinburgh, Antonis Vradis, University of St Andrews.

Project website

Decolonising the City (DtC) is a Knowledge Mobilisation Award funded by the Urban Studies Foundation. DtC follows on from our 2019 USF seminar series (Copenhagen, Barcelona, Athens), which brought together academics and practitioners to examine existing migrant welcoming practices and reached two findings. First: academic knowledge needs to be co-produced with the communities it addresses, in ways that are inclusive, relevant and useful to them. Second: this very idea of “urban belonging” is rapidly changing. In this moment of dual transition, migrants settle in European cities (often not their preferred destination) while receiving societies are faced with the legacies of their colonial past.

Project purpose

With these two findings in mind DtC constitutes a series of small-scale field-based interventions aiming to reimagine, together with migrant communities, what “decolonising” urban citizenship means in practice. Our key aim is to generate a participatory arts-based methodological toolkit, co-designed with migrant communities, that will help explore how migrants practice urban citizenship. This KMA grant is focused on migrant communities of African descent in Athens, Greece. We believe this is a vitally important exercise vastly exceeding the city itself, potentially contributing to rapidly growing calls to decolonise the academy, this time from an urban and migrant-focused perspective.

For this short study, we will collaborate with UWAO, Ubuntu and Anasa: three cultural organisations representing the Afro-Greek communities active in central Athenian neighbourhoods. DtC focuses on Athens for two reasons. First, the city is both at Europe’s periphery and centre: the “birthplace of civilisation” in European imaginaries (Gourgouris 1996; Stenou 2019) is nevertheless at the continent’s edge – geographically, culturally and politically. Athens is therefore both an epicentre of the imagined geography (Said 1979) that gave birth to orientalism, and itself at the receiving end of ensuing colonial and post-colonial transformations. Second, Athens has accommodated thousands of migrants who are unable to move further across the continent, settling in a city itself rattled by more than a decade of consecutive crises (from debt to migrant reception and now Covid-19). In these two ways, Athens exemplifies how colonial imaginaries and legacies intertwine with urban exclusion today.

Map of DtC project
Map of DtC project neighbourhoods, organisations and key sites in Athens (Google Maps)

Research design

Following the theoretical trajectories of the “epistemologies of the South”, introduced by de Sousa Santos (2014), we will develop a methodological toolkit to decolonise urban knowledge. Our methodological toolkit will be constructed via an interdisciplinary, decolonial, intersectional feminist and participatory approach, together with the communities on the ground.

In DtC we will design and test out a participatory arts-based research methodology (PABR, see Nunn 2020) pointing to the contribution and transformative power of creative arts for advocacy and research on citizenship. The growing emphasis on participatory and interdisciplinary arts-based methods is nevertheless largely limited to the Global North. By contrast, DtC adapts this methodological approach to the context of the epistemologies of the South to decolonise academic research with migrants and to provide an inclusive and intersectional research tool for the study of urban citizenship.