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Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity

Social media and the crisis of urban inequality: transnational analyses of humanitarian responses across the Middle East, South Asia and Africa

Spanning three sites in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, this project will examine how social media is used to navigate the terrain between humanitarianism and inequality in the Global South. Inequality should not only be studied in humanitarian crisis settings, but should itself be seen as a humanitarian crisis, especially in cities. The inequality of the social and legal conditions of the urban poor, migrants and refugees, which limit their access to jobs and housing, are multidimensional, produced vertically through income/wealth, horizontally through ethnic identity, migration status, gender and age, and through space and institutional practices.

The project will consider how social and communications media play a key role in alleviating and exacerbating inequalities. Social and communications media are tools of self-organisation that help displaced people and migrants arrive in cities, and access housing, jobs and transportation. But they also entrench inequalities, with a disconnect between the kinds of information that migrants, displaced and other community members receive and that are available to civil society, state and humanitarian actors. Thus information and communication can shape support and livelihoods, and also continue the exclusion of people as surplus populations. This role of social media as both enabler and excluder in conditions of crises remains underresearched, and is an area requiring policy development to improve rapid responses to urban shocks.

The project seeks to not only engage in rigorous academic research but also use that to bring about change in policy and practice, alleviating the experiences of inequalities faced by migrants and displaced populations coming into cities in the Global South who are generally rendered invisible.

The project is led by Dr Romola Sanyal (LSE Department of Geography & Environment), Synne Bergby (Urban-A), and Ida Lien (Urban-A). 


We locate these arguments in sites and times of humanitarian crises and amongst migrants and displaced people in the Global South, who are often not considered in mainstream urban inequalities work. We study how asymmetries in accessing information during humanitarian crises lead to differential access to housing, livelihoods and other necessities for migrants and displaced populations, thus exacerbating inequalities. We examine how different actors use information technology to combat the effects of inequalities, by extending support to vulnerable populations.

This is a transnational project that moves beyond reductive and unsustainable comparisons. We are attentive to local specificities but use them to build dialogue and conversations across regions and sites. Using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods adjusted for our country contexts, we strive towards being contextually sensitive while thinking about broader questions of power, oppression and global social justice. Our long working and personal relationships with our research sites inspire us to understand the causes and consequences of inequalities, and the geographies through which they occur, and to actively find ways to reduce them. This is the foundation for our global and collaborative project that spans three sites in Africa (Uganda), the Middle East (Lebanon) and South Asia (India).

Banner Image: Photo by Synne Bergby/Urban-A


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