Toronto, London’s and Chiang Mai’s construction industries rely on migrants. Migrants include persons without national citizenship in the jurisdictions in which they work, who are very diverse in terms of their origins and migration trajectories. Reliance on migrants in construction industries is high in these cities specifically. Using a comparative framework which hones in on these three cities, we are interested in the parallel processes which have fashioned this reliance and the uneven character of social and economic risk borne by migrants embedded in urban growth, city-building and construction labour markets. Put succinctly, our research objectives are to examine the (1) factors that have shaped the reliance of construction industries on migrant workers, (2) the experiences of migrants in construction, and (3) the role that migrant construction workers play in processes of contemporary urbanization.

In-depth descriptions of the three research objectives are as follows:

  1. To document and compare the key transitions governing the incorporation of migrant construction workers into these cities’ construction trades within the past decade. The transitions that will be examined closely can be sub-categorized as follows:
    1. Employment and construction trades regulation and law (statutory employment law and standards; construction trades regulation, training and accreditation; collective agreements and unionization rates; occupational health and safety policy; employment-based social security entitlements; etc.)
    2. International migration and recruitment patterns as well as immigration and migration policies (transnational labour recruitment practices; federal and provincial immigration policies; labour migration programs; etc.)
    3. Construction industry-driven demand and patterns (urban construction market volatility; residential and non-residential regulatory frameworks; taxation; subcontracting; sub/urban housing demand and population growth; fiscal and mortgage policy; etc.)
  2. To identify how these transitions have shaped new divisions of labour and broader social conditions in which migrant construction workers migrate, live and work. Conditions we will pin-point include wages, migration debt, employment and recruiter contracts, immigration experiences; ethnicity, employer relations, job security and safety, social security, access to housing and services, identity, household provisioning, and so forth.
  3. To theoretically foreground the role that migrant construction labour plays in processes of capitalist urbanization, and to conceptualize how economic precariousness and labour market inequality in urban construction characterize contemporary city-building.

We plan to add additional cities as the project progresses.

Why Urbanization from Below?

We did not coin this phrase. Scholars have used it to illuminate a wide array of dynamics relating to city growth and development, such as the non-centralized urbanization of rural townships and villages in China, how migration shaped the development of Nairobi, the politics and evolution of land squatting in Montevideo, and policies to support residents improve informal urban settlements. What this scholarship shares is a commitment to foregrounding the role that ordinary people and places – often those considered ‘outside’ the elite political and financial circuits of power often associated with city-building – play in shaping the growth of cities.  We hope to learn from and build on these rich perspectives by exploring how precarious (and often low-waged and low-status) forms of construction work fit within the political economies of urbanization.