Current research project

Sanctuary Policies for Irregular Migrants in European Cities (SPIMEC)

In times of closed borders and restrictive immigration laws, many European cities have enacted “sanctuary policies” (SPs) to support the growing number of residents with irregular migration status. Through SPs, local governments disrupt the monopoly of nation-states over immigration and citizenship, challenging conventional understandings of governance in liberal democracies. The core question of Sanctuary Policies for Irregular Migrants in European Cities (SPIMEC) is to explain the varieties, drivers, and impacts of SPs in Europe. Bridging insights from multiple disciplines, SPIMEC theorises that local governments are situated at the crossroad of political mobilisation from the bottom up and institutional restrictions from the top down. These different, often contradictory forces shape the opportunities and constraints for SPs. SPIMEC relies on a threefold comparative research design, analysing SPs across (1) national contexts (in North-West, South, and Central-East Europe); (2) local contexts (in terms of city politics and society), and (3) over time (looking at the “refugee crisis”, Brexit, and COVID-19 as potential turning points for policy change). A quantitative Large-N study compares Europe’s 95 largest cities, drawing on existing datasets and secondary literature. Next, a quali-quantitative Small-N study zooms in on four city-cases based on original fieldwork data. SPIMEC aims to make a timely, urgent, and path-breaking contribution to migration studies. It will produce unique empirical data on European SPs to provide the information cities need to promote migrant integration, as well as new theoretical insights on urban politics and multi-level governance more broadly. Addressing this gap is of utmost importance from a substantive point of view. SPIMEC shall provide policy recommendations to stakeholders supporting irregular migrants, whose condition of exclusion and invisibility is more relevant than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For this project I was awarded the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship, funded by UK Research and Innovation. I am carrying it out at the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London.

Picture by Barbara Raimondi

Past research projects

Uneven Urban Democracy: Inequality and Political Participation in Buenos Aires

How do socio-economic inequalities within cities impact on capacities to participate in urban policy, governance and political mobilisation? This project forges a new research agenda on urban political participation, contributing to democratisation, urbanisation and development studies, focusing on Latin America which has both the highest levels of inequality and urbanisation in the world. The project will examine three strands of urban inequality in order to provide up-to-date analyses of key challenges facing the consolidation of democracy in Buenos Aires, indicating broader implications for cities elsewhere: Strand one: participatory urban governance; Strand two: political parties and unequal participation; Strand three: protest. As a postdoctoral research associate at the School of Geography of Queen Mary University of London, I have conducted fieldwork research under the supervision of Dr. Sam Halvorsen.

(Period: 2020-2022; PI: Dr. Sam Halvorsen; funder: The British Academy)

De-bordering Activities and Citizenship from Below of Asylum Seekers in Italy: Policies, Practices, People (PRIN-ASIT)

PRIN-ASIT analyses Italy’s asylum governance as a “battleground” entailing vast constellations of actors inside and outside the state, located at various spatial scales, and bearing contrasting interests, values, and frames. The project involves four partner universities in Italy, each focusing on different policy arenas and geographical regions. As a postdoctoral researcher at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, I am conducting fieldwork research on urban asylum governance and exclusionary policies in Northern Italy under the supervision of Prof. Francesca Campomori.

(Period: 2019-2022; PI: Prof. Maurizio Ambrosini; funder: Government of Italy)

Mobilization Against Migration (MAM)

MAM analyses anti-immigration movements in contemporary Europe, with a focus on their ideologies, strategies, and outcomes. The project entails a comparison across six European country (Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, and the UK), also with the aim of tracing the transnational ties among the assorted groups driving mobilisation. As a research associate at the Centre for Research on Extremism (C-REX), I have carried out fieldwork research on the Italian case under the supervision of Prof. Pietro Castelli Gattinara.

(Period: 2020-2023; PI: Prof. Kristian Berg Harpviken; funder: Research Council of Norway)

Integrating Refugees in Society and the Labour Market Through Social Innovation (SIforREF)

SIforREF aims to foster social innovation in the domain of forced migrants’ integration. The project is a research-policy partnership involving academic researchers, local officials, and NGOs in Austria, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia. I have worked at this project as an external consultant (migration specialist) for Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

(Period: 2019-2022; PI: Prof. Francesca Campomori; funder: Interreg Central Europe)

Contentious Migration Policies: Dynamics of Urban Governance and Social Movement Outcomes in Milan and Barcelona

My PhD thesis is aimed to theorise how and under what conditions pro-immigrant activists can affect policy-making at the city-level and beyond. By adopting a strategic-interaction and mechanisms-based approach to the study of contentious politics, the research contends and demonstrates that movements can rely on strategic leverages within three arenas of interaction. First, brokerage mechanisms are essential to the emergence of a social movement in the civil society arena. The peculiar qualities of urban spaces—notably, the availability of dense relational networks extended over an array of geographical scales—allow immigrants to create bonds of solidarity, craft alliances, and ultimately turn into vocal political subjects. Second, alliance-building mechanisms in the city politics arena have to be activated. Within a propitious political environment (e.g., ideologically sympathetic political elites) activists are able to build potent pro-immigrant coalitions. Once crafted, these alliances can activate upscaling mechanisms to shape policy-making in the multi-level governance arena. Such mechanisms reinforce and concatenate with one another in recurrent fashions, producing policy outcomes far beyond the immediate local contexts in which mobilisation occurs. Yet, a plethora of dilemmas and contradictions are likely to arise, too. The study compares three contentious policy realms—exclusionary policies, policies in support of undocumented immigrants, and asylum policies—so as to assess similarities and dissimilarities across social movement outcomes. Empirically, it focuses on policies enacted in two large South European cities, Milan and Barcelona. Results are drawn from fieldwork carried out in 2017-19 and entailing 57 interviews. In addition, policy documents, media outlets, and the secondary literature have been extensively analysed.

(Period: 2015-2020; Supervisor: Prof. Donatella della Porta)

Learning from Innovation in Public Sector Environments (LIPSE)

LIPSE identifies drivers and barriers to successful social innovation in the public sector. Through studying social innovation and co-creation practices and processes in 11 European countries and 7 policy sectors, LIPSE aimed to create and disseminate essential knowledge about public innovation. The LIPSE consortium consisted of leading institutions in 11 European countries. As a research fellow at Bocconi University, I was in charge of data collection and analysis under the supervision of Prof. Greta Nasi. I drew evidence from databases, policy documents, in-depth interviews, and an original large-N survey. Bocconi University coordinated the Working-package 5, thus project management was also at core of my job, too. My duties included planning and monitoring the whole research process, from inception to dissemination.

(Period: 2013-2016; PI: Prof. Victor Bekkers; funder: European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme)