I am a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. My research interests include:
- Migration, diaspora and transnationalism
- Religion among minorities and diasporas
- Religion and the city
- Globalisation, urbanisation and development
- South Asian diasporas and new African diasporas in Europe and North America
- Politics of identity and ethnicity
- Space, exclusion and urban processes
- Youth and popular culture in urban settings
I am currently the Principal Investigator of a GCRF/British Academy-funded project on Religious Urbanisation in Africa (see: rua-project.ac.uk), with anthropologist Professor Simon Coleman (Toronto) and sociologist Dr Gareth Millington (York) as co-Investigators.
Prior to my appointment at the University of Kent in 2012, I taught Sociology and Anthropology at Brunel and Roehampton universities and I was a research fellow at CRONEM (Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism, University of Surrey) working on several international research projects. One of them consisted of a study of African Christians, South Asian Muslims and Hindus in London as part of a wider comparative research project on religion and diaspora in the UK, South Africa and Malaysia (funded by the Ford Foundation/SSRC, New York). I also managed a comparative research project on minorities, civic engagement and citizenship in 9 European countries (with funding form the EU-Framework Programme 7). In collaboration with Dr Gareth Millington (University of York) I have also explored issues of postcolonialism, youth identities and urban/spatial marginalisation in post-riot France.
My doctoral work focused on the Bengali Muslim diaspora, exploring the relationship between place, identities and transnational politics, with ethnographic fieldwork in London (Tower Hamlets) and Bangladesh (Sylhet).
University of Kent
Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF
Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository
I have conducted qualitative and ethnographic research on migrants and diasporic communities in many different spatial and cultural environments, in both sending and receiving contexts. As part of my doctoral work on the politics of the Bangladeshi diaspora I conducted fieldwork in the UK and Bangladesh. More recently, as part of my work on the role of religion among new African diasporas, I have undertaken fieldwork among Nigerian and Francophone African communities in London, Atlanta, Montreal, Paris, as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in Kinshasa and Nkamba, the holy city of one of the largest African Independent Churches (the Kimbanguist church) located near the border with Angola.
In one of my current projects I explore religious socio-spatial dynamics, development and mega-urbanisation in Nigeria and the DRC, with fieldwork in Lagos and Kinshasa (see below).
Religious urbanisation and infrastructural lives in African mega-cities
Religious Urbanisation in Africa (RUA) is a large, international multidisciplinary project led by the university of Kent (UK), in partnership with the universities of Toronto, York, Kinshasa and Lagos. Its principal objective is to explore the links between religion, development and urbanisation in sub-Saharan African context.
Urbanization and development are usually conceptualized through secular frameworks. However, in recent years, the economic and development impact of urban religious actors and faith-based groups have been significant. For instance many sub-Saharan African cities have being transformed by revivalist forms of Christian religiosity that promote - often spectacular - visions of (urban) development. These visions often involve creation of self-contained spaces built on the urban periphery, in addition to providing basic infrastructure, health and education facilities. At a more personal level these developments link moral subjectivities with middle-class aspirations such as the quest for individual autonomy and social well-being. Taking as case studies Lagos and Kinshasa—the most populated and fastest growing cities in Sub Saharan Africa— this project explores how religious urban models engage with challenges of infrastructural development, urban social cohesion and inclusion, safety and sustainability.
How are religious and spiritual visions of the ‘ideal city’ materially articulated in actual religious urban developments and how do these cohere with or challenge existing modes of planning and development? Do religious urban spaces and infrastructures ameliorate or exacerbate everyday challenges faced by residents?
One the project’s key objectives is to provide recommendations aimed at promoting civic urban culture in context of growing inequalities and widespread informalization of urban life in cities where religious actors play significant infrastructural roles.
More information: rua-project.ac.uk
‘Right to the city’, the quest for centrality and the politics of urban change
Drawing upon ethnography of diasporic protests in central London and my long-standing research among Congolese communities in Europe, I am working with G. Millington (York) on the politics of urban visibility and centrality, critically engaging with Henri Lefebvre’s ‘right to the city’ as a way of explaining how the urban is not only the site but also, increasingly, a stake in urban protests. This idea here is to unpack the complex performative dimensions of urban protest as they intersect with diasporic practices and global cultures, ‘race’/ethnicity and postcolonialism.
Connected to this, and also in collaboration with Dr Millington from York and colleagues at CNRS, in Paris, I am examining the impact of social change on urban stigma, right to the city claims and territorial marginalization in France. This work, supported by a York Morrell Grant, builds upon a previous research (2009-10), in La Courneuve, a Parisian banlieue, which resulted in an article published in Urban Studies.
Recently completed projects
Religion and development in African context
I was the Principal Investigator of a British Academy/Leverhulme-funded research project exploring the politics of religion, space and transnational development. As part of this project I conducted fieldwork in the Congo (DRC) and in the UK, among the Congolese diaspora. I explored various ‘development visions’ associated with religious expansion and territoriality, building upon my longstanding ethnographic involvement with the Congolese diaspora and the Kimbanguist community in particular - in both Western and African settings. I was particularly interested in the connections between tropes of development and social change, quests for spiritual renewal and the wider ‘project’ for the city and the nation in a context of social and political crisis. I also researched the role played by migrants and diasporic communities in the remaking and transformation of homeland religious spaces, in material and immaterial terms. As Christianity’s centre of gravity is shifting from North to South, it is important to document how this shift is shaping the 'development landscape' of African mega-cities (eg Lagos, Kinshasa or Accra), important nodes in the emerging transnational sphere of the Global South.
I was the coordinator of the Memory Matters project (funded by the HLF) and which explores notions of ‘home’, identities and belongings in the African diaspora, with a particular focus on the Congolese postcolonial memory and heritage. The project involved young British Congolese residing in London as well as researchers, academics (such as Dr Marie Godin, Oxford or Dr Sophia Labadi, Kent), visual artists, writers (such as Congolese novelist JJ Bola, as well as heritage and museum experts. The ‘Memory Matters’ project was composed of several interconnected strands. Each strand combined research, engagement and participation activities and drawing upon a diversity of methods (use of audio-visual tools, discussions, workshops, interviews, postcolonial urban walks etc). The project was managed and coordinated through a partnership between CORECOG (Congolese refugee organisation in London) and the University of Kent. Other partners include: Congolese Action Youth Platform (CAYP), The Royal Museum for Central Africa, Collectif Mémoire Coloniale et Lutte contre les Discriminations, Observatoire Ba ya ya, the Centre for Heritage at Kent (CH@K) and the Centre for Research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging (CMRB, University of East London).
The project has produced a wide range of outputs including a short film about the Tervuren museum in postcolonial Brussels, an exhibition, various photographic and written materials. See more on www.memory-matters.net.
- The religious lives of migrants and minorities: a transnational perspective. An international research project on migration, minorities and religion in the UK, South Africa and Malaysia (funded by the Ford Foundation through the SSRC, New York) and coordinated by Professor Peggy Levitt (Harvard University), Professor Jose Casanova (Georgetown University), Professor Manuel Vasquez (University of Florida), Professor Josh DeWind (SSRC) and Professor Thomas Hansen (Stanford University). As part of this project, I conducted qualitative research among African and British Asian communities in the UK as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In London I worked with Professor John Eade and Dr Ann David.
- I researched the role of religion among African migrants in London and Atlanta as well as in the sending context in Africa (DRC) as part of my involvement in the ‘Global Prayers’ network, a large research programme, led by the European University of Viadrina in Frankfurt, and looking at the poetics and politics of urban religions in cities of the Global North and the Global South, in particular in Rio de Janeiro, Lagos, Kinshasa, Mumbai, Berlin, Istanbul, London and Beirut (see http://globalprayers.info/). I was also an International Adviser of the project.
- I was the project manager of the FP7 EU-funded Project PIDOP investigating citizenship and civic engagement among youth, migrants and minorities in 9 different European countries.
- Using a range of visual methodologies, including video and photography, and in collaboration with film-maker and artist Enrico Masi from the University of Bologna (Italy) and Studio Caucaso, I have worked on the dialectics of visibility and invisibility of migrant religion in London - in urban, suburban and post-industrial contexts.
- In collaboration with Dr Gareth Millington (University of York) I have examined issues of postcolonialism, youth identities and urban marginalisation in France, taking as a case study a Parisian banlieue (funded by the British Academy).
- I led a project on cultural identities and collective memory among Congolese in the UK in partnership with a refugee organisation (funded by the Heritage Lottery).
- I co-led a pilot project on identities and religion among Brazilian and Congolese migrants in London and Atlanta funded by the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and in collaboration with Professor Manuel Vasquez (University of Florida).
- I was a research fellow (University of Sussex) in a large FP7 EU-Funded project (MAFE) studying migration flows from Africa (DRC, Ghana, Senegal) to Europe (UK, Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy).
- I worked on a Leverhulme Trust-funded research project exploring acculturation and new identity dynamics among British Bangladeshi and mixed-heritage youth in London in collaboration with Professor John Eade and Professor Martyn Barrett.
I am interested in supervising students working on themes related to migration, religion, globalisation, development, race and ethnicity, identities, exclusion or multiculturalism.
I currently convene the postgraduate module ‘Race, Difference and Belonging’, the UG module ‘Migration and Belongings’ as well as ‘Globalisation and Development’, which critically explores the interplay between globalisation and development and how particular representations and ideologies of ‘progress’ have shaped the common understanding of inequalities between ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’.
I also teach several other undergraduate and postgraduate modules within the school, in particular during our annual SSPSSR UG Summer School in Urban Ethnography in Paris. Our Summer School exposes students to the principles and practices of ethnography in the study of people, place, practices and things in the urban setting of Paris and involves doing ethnography in the city and of the city.