Development and Urbanization
Co-Authors: Gregory Randolph - Founding Partner, JustJobs Network
Urban research and policymaking in the Global South remains focused on the metropolis and small cities, somehow ‘less urban’, get much less attention. The influx of rural migrants into the metropolis remains the dominant imagination of urbanisation, but emerging scholarship points to their exclusionary nature. Using survey and qualitative data about the spatial mobility of youth into two small cities in India (Kishangarh, Rajasthan and Mangaluru, Karnataka) and two in Indonesia (Kabupaten Semarang, Central Java and Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara) this paper posits that the lived experiences of rural migrants in these spaces complicate the notion of ‘the urban’ as a space of modernity, plurality and opportunity. We find that small cities -- culturally and geographically proximate to rural origins -- can be less discriminatory to rural migrants, who are stigmatised in the metropolis for their non-urban sensibilities. On the other hand, small cities may not offer anonymity and escape from restrictive social norms associated with gender, caste and ethnicity, and language as compared to the village; instead, networks based on these identities are key to accessing labour markets, capital, housing and political agency in the city. While our field experiences suggest that small cities, like the metropolis, are sometimes imagined by migrants as spaces of cosmopolitanism, we also find that these conceptions are mediated by factors like gender and caste, and that some small cities are not perceived as 'destinations' at all. These variations allow us to construct a more nuanced understanding of the rural-urban migration experience.