Moral urbanism, asylum, and the politics of critique

Jonathan Darling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The city of Sheffield was the UK's first 'City of Sanctuary', an identification which suggested that the city would act to welcome asylum seekers and refugees through promoting a 'culture of hospitality'. In this paper I seek to interrogate such claims and explore how the promotion of a language of hospitality marks a form of 'moral urbanism' through which the city is linked to specific values and obligations that enable the governmental ordering of responses to asylum. In exploring public statements, media discussions, and interview accounts of asylum in the city, I argue that a normative account of how to live with asylum is articulated, one which establishes expectations of both citizens and noncitizens alike. The paper opens by tracing this narrative construction of Sheffield as a place with a 'welcoming tradition' through a series of high-profile events of refuge and their reiterative embedding in the public imaginary. I then question this account through demonstrating how such moments of welcome are conditioned by logics of acceptability and control, before considering how the governmental entanglements of moral urbanism might be contested through a politics of critique.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1785-1801
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Asylum
  • Hospitality
  • Morality
  • Sheffield
  • Urban


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