Becoming Urban: Understanding the Urban Transformation of Migrants to Phnom Penh

Project Description: Our project undertakes to study the process of “late late urbanization” in Phnom Penh and, specifically, to revisit the question of becoming urban in the twenty-first century. We will focus not just on urban change but on the rural changes driving urbanization. We will focus particularly on the environmental factors driving people to migrate, including climate change, agro-industrial development, deforestation, and dam construction. We will study how rural migrants make their place in the city by investigating how they use and navigate urban space and the distinctly urban relations they form. Ultimately, we aim to produce a deeper understanding of the lived experience of migrants and a better account of their transformation from villagers to urbanites. To achieve these ends, we plan to employ two kinds of ethnographic research, traditional ethnography to observe migrants as they avail of services, organize and form community, deal with local leaders, and engage in urban politics; and distributed ethnography, through the collection of many micro-narratives from migrants in an effort to develop what may be described as narrative-based landscapes. 

Bio: Dr. Sabina Shaikh is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Studies and Urban Studies in the College, Committee on Geographical Sciences in the Social Sciences Division, and the Harris School of Public Policy; Director of the Program on the Global Environment; and Faculty Director of the Chicago Studies Program  at the University of Chicago.  As an environmental economist, her research and teaching focuses on the economics of environmental policy and natural resource management, the valuation of ecosystem services and global sustainable development. Her collaborative research on water sustainability, migration and urbanization in the Mekong Basin of Cambodia has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Center for International Social Science Research, the Social Science Research Center, and the Neubauer Collegium at the University of Chicago. She also serves at the co-lead of the Environmental Frontiers Initiative in the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Wisconsin and a PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of California, Davis.

Marco Garrido, Sabina Shaikh and Anni Beukes