Image © Natalie Soysa
The Society’s field research programme, Migrants on the margins, is investigating the movement of migrants into and around four of the world’s most pressured cities: Colombo, Dhaka, Harare and Hargeisa. Alikhan Mohideen and Selina Chipo Pasirayi are two PhD students based at the University of Sussex who have been part-funded by the Society as part of the Migrants on the margins project. We caught up with them to discuss their research, findings and the opportunities the project has given them.
“I’m looking at low income neighbourhoods in Colombo, focusing on the places where people of various ethnicities and religions live together. The majority of society in Colombo struggles to do this, so my research looks at how this is possible, what kind of factors influence it, how different governance policies affect people living together and the influence this has on their everyday lives.
“The major finding of my project so far is that, because of the cosmopolitan nature of these communities and the high density of people, people do live together, although they have religious, ethnic and cultural differences. However, because of the influence of various external factors such as politics and religious organisations, their everyday life is affected. Those who are struggling with poverty depend on other people in their community and this unity, and ethnic patronage, has become one of the threads for the co-existence of people in these neighbourhoods.
“I’m already a lecturer in Sri Lanka and I think this PhD will help me bring some knowledge to my own country, particularly in terms of human geography, and bridge the knowledge I have gained throughout this project with my existing local knowledge in Sri Lanka.”
Selina Chipo Pasirayi
“I’m studying urban activism in Harare’s local governance over a 20 year period between 1997 and 2017, specifically the resident associations, focusing on their historical evolution and relationships to institutionalised party politics. The other aspect of my research looks at how the government reacted to the mobilisations of citizens in their demands for local services and political self-management.
“My research has been anchored on semi-structured interviews, as well a range of archival evidence from newspaper articles, websites, and press statements. Through the interviews I gained a lot of information from urban activists who discussed their motivations for getting into activism, some of the issues they were pushing for and their evaluations of whether they managed to transform the urban space due to their engagement with the resident associations.
“I think the most interesting part of my studies has been looking at the origins of the resident associations in Zimbabwe. Mostly, resident associations and urban social movements emerge from the urban poor, but in Harare they grew from the richest suburb in the city and expanded to reach other areas.
“My PhD has enabled me to be more analytical, has sharpened my research skills, and increased my understanding of urban resilience, activism and demands for active citizenship and rights to the city. Before this I was working in the NGO sector and I think this PhD has exposed me to think more deeply about how I can contribute to academia combining my previous practical experience with my knowledge and skills.”
Alikhan and Selina’s PhD projects are supported by the Society and University of Sussex.