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Migration, Urban Space and Diversity: A Case from Istanbul

The growing flow of international migration to Turkey has serious implications for the social, economic and spatial transformation of recipient cities across the country. This paper highlights some of these implications by discussing findings from an ethnographic case study carried out in an inner-city locality of Istanbul. It raises four main points: 1) urban localities of migrant settlement are not accidental; 2) they are often highly diverse in new and complex ways; 3) space and difference are intricately intertwined in such urban localities; and 4) migration and diversification at the local scale can produce conflicted space narratives and governance systems. This paper aims to emphasize the importance of acknowledging the position and impact of migration to Turkey in the framework of larger processes of urban and societal transformation.

Migration Urban Space and Diversity A Case from Istanbul
A photo of a Somalian man taken in the streets of İstanbul. Somalian refugees are living together with Turkish people in a multicultural enviroment. (Fatih, İstanbul) AA / Murat Paksoy
 

As the publication of this special issue indicates, international migration to Turkey is a field attracting growing academic interest by researchers across disciplines. While the field expands, numerous dimensions informing migrants’ experiences in Turkey are becoming more visible, such as ethnicity,1 religion,2 gender,3 race4 and their intersections with differences in the employment sector,5 migration motive6 and legal status.7 However, while most migration to Turkey is predominantly urban in nature, the city and/or spaces migrants inhabit often appear only as context and are rarely considered as factors that shape and are shaped by migration.8 Similarly, the unit of analysis is often determined through an “ethnic lens”,9 focusing on particular ethnic and/or national groups with minimal analysis on the relationship between the diversity of migrants and non-migrant groups inhabiting shared spaces.10 Given these limitations, in this brief commentary, I will present some key points on the intersections between migration, urban space and diversity in the Turkish context, based on ethnographic research I have conducted as part of a doctoral project since October 2010 in a migrant hub in Istanbul.11 

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