Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

(Un)equal lives of migrants

Comparing, reflecting and embodying processes of social stratification and cultural diversification in a Latin American city

Tilmann Heil, D.Phil.


This project explores how new migrants into an emergent city of the south, Rio de Janeiro, compare, reflect and embody distinct social mobilities in(to) a locality which is characterised by multiple contradicting and interdependent systems of stratification. The aim is to understand highly stratified urban spaces from multiple perspectives to contribute to a fuller picture of the overall dynamics of current urbanities and the processes of socio-cultural diversification. I argue that we can only understand the social life of a city if we view it from different, but concurrent perspectives. I start by exploring how different city dwellers are situated distinctly within specific urban localities, and which (trans)local reference and value systems they develop to judge and manage their everyday situations.

Two sets of new migrants are the starting point of the project: on the one hand, there are migrants who have come from developing and emerging countries (Senegal and neighbouring countries) and on the other from the countries of former colonial powers in crisis (mainly Spain). They differ according to their places of origin, their human, social, cultural and economic capital, and their legal status. Some of the migrants occupy extreme ends of the social spectrum, yet others mark various and contradictory in-between experiences.

Some of the social mobilities of both European and African city dwellers follow neither common sense conceptions nor popular prejudices. Therefore: How do the learning processes about the local practices of social distinction differ and why? How do migrants compare their lives to others in the locality as well as transnationally? How do migrants engage with, narrate and interpret the sequence of statuses they have experienced transnationally and within the same locality? How are situations evaluated and values attached to them?

Due to multiple interferences of unanticipated social configurations, migrants experience and live their local incorporation in distinct spaces, variously configured networks, and their respective temporalities. The project hereby contributes to an understanding of both the diversifying and stratifying ‘southern’ urbanity in the 21st century of changing global relations, and the potentially conflicting or converging social imaginaries of its newly arriving city dwellers.