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SE On Migration: Entangled Histories, States of Exception, and the Formation of the Urban Everyday

Avi Sharma

Modul 3: Öffentlicher Raum und Stadtkultur

Do 10-12 Uhr • HBS 103 • Beginn 20.10.2016


For more than three decades, historians, sociologists and social theorists have argued that “acceleration” is one of the key logics of urban modernity.  Movement – and accelerating movement – has become a central part in narratives about globalization (and its discontents). 

Examining migration both as part as a state of exception and as part of the urban everyday, this seminar tries to place narratives about movement, speed, and urban modernity into their global historical contexts.  Beginning with the entangled urban histories of imperial and colonial cities, the seminar argues that plural identifies have long been central to the creation of urban space and place; it analyzes the politics of place and belonging in different cities; and it analyzes the way that migration sometimes generates political energies while in other cases it does not.

The seminar is also an attempt to problematize the category of “migrant.”  Migration studies often focus on the asymmetrical relationship between “migrant” and “metropolitan” persons.  But what happens when these asymmetries are reversed, with global elites colonizing national urbanities (for example, Berlin!)  The course is an effort to rethink a social and legal category that is often – implicitly – racialized to code migrants as colonial or post-colonial subjects.

The course also attempts to problematize the category of migration itself.  How does a broader definition of migration – the movement not just of persons, but of finance, industry, and ideas – fit with accepted popular and academic representations?  Are there advantages to expanding the definition so that it focuses on movement rather than who or what is moving?  This seminar suggests that we can better understand the logics of urban modernities by focusing on process rather than persons.  Students are warmly invited to disagree!   

Finally, the course explores futures of migration in terms of its history, focusing in particular on the challenges posed by transformative climate change.


The first seven weeks of the seminar will be a mixed lecture and discussion format exploring aspects of migration from a chronological and a thematic perspective.  The final six weeks will be dedicated primarily to in-class supervised research in preparation for the Hausarbeit.


The seminar includes one small assignment, to be completed during the first part of the semester, and a Hausarbeit to be concluded by the beginning of the following semester.

For the first assignment, students may choose between a Referat, a short essay (2-3 pages), or a 4-5 page Protokoll of one of the session.

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