Studying citizenship has policy value. How? Read this to find out!

28 loka 2016

The key to inclusive societies and cities is political communication among groups. [1] Effective communication works at many levels and in multiple directions, with city dwellers, civil society and cities working together for it.

If we talk about urbanisation and immigration, we can’t but talk about integration. I see integration as newcomers’ efforts to contribute to society culturally, economically, politically. Here I spotlight the micro-level of integration processes, that of individuals’ everyday life: I explore their citizenship practices, use of the city space and perceptions’ meaning to urban planning.

What is the place of citizenship in integration processes? Despite becoming citizens, sometimes people “remain strangers for significant aspects of their social life”. [2] Here I invite you to see citizenship not as status, but as something people do in their everyday life: carving their place in a country’s society, be they officially citizens of such country or not.

For geographers Painter & Philo, citizenship in an everyday sense can mean the ability of feeling at ease in the urban space. [3] Through my ongoing work with Somali-background turkulaiset, I have learned that formal citizenship may be just a key to conveniences like using Internet banking or travelling abroad. Experience often weighs more than a person’s official status. Getting a Finnish passport may not be a turning point in a person’s life, nor do people need it to define themselves, respond to racism or work for change: they do it all through everyday interaction.

Quality encounters are a crucial ingredient to the alchemy of urban life. Inter-subjective perceptions can help design more inclusive cities. People with different or mixed backgrounds bring fresh views of spaces which inspire urban planning: for example, market squares can offer cheaper goods and meeting points, but also the chance to blend cosily into a colourful crowd. Intriguing places are those where people can play out several roles, where private and public, formal and informal meet: venues where stay-at-home mothers learn Finnish language next to their kids playing, or shops where people buy stuff, meet and socialise after the day is done.

To project inclusive cities, we have to know people’s priorities: these could be to find a safe or welcoming place, get a job or training, combine tasks in and out of home, and many more. These manifold goals require receptive urban planning. Ethnic spatial concentration may give people vital self-esteem and support to fulfil their aims – which integration processes may lack. At times, instead, more ethnically-mixed spaces may feel safer to be, live in, move through. There is hardly one straightforward solution. [4]

Projects like URMI and my study of citizenship provide first-hand data on the priorities of city dwellers and newcomers. We produce knowledge that helps enhance multi-level communication and imagine new connections among groups.

Camilla Marucco is a PhD candidate and project researcher at the University of Turku, Dept. of Geography and Geology. In URMI she works on asylum seekers and refugees’ spatio-temporal practices, focusing on their free time and everyday interaction in Turku and Helsinki. Her PhD research explores how racialized people with a more or less recent migration background negotiate their place in Finnish society.


[1] Young IM 1999. Residential segregation and differentiated citizenship. Citizenship Studies 3:2, 237–252.

[2] Ambrosini M 2012. Between national States and cosmopolitan societies: the institution of citizenship takes the migration test. Migraciones 31, 14.

[3] Painter J & Philo C 1995. Spaces of citizenship: an introduction. Political Geography 14:2, 115.

[4] Dhalmann H 2013. Explaining ethnic residential preferences – The case of Somalis and Russians in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. Housing Studies 28:3, 389–408.