Decolonising the City (DtC): co-designing a participatory arts-based research toolkit with migrant communities in Athens, Greece

  • Travlou, Penny (Co-investigator)
  • Vradis, Antonis (Principal Investigator)
  • Papoutsis, Anna (Co-investigator)

Project Details


In this moment of dual transition, migrants settle in European cities (often not their preferred destination) while receiving societies are faced with the
legacies of their colonial past. With these two findings in mind we now propose a series ofsmall-scale, concise (and therefore feasible) field-based interventions aiming to reimagine, together with migrant communities, what “decolonising” urban citizenship means in practice. Our key aim is to generate a participatory arts-based methodological toolkit, co-designed with migrant communities, that will help explore how migrants practice urban citizenship. This KMA grant is focused on migrant communities of African descent in Athens, Greece. We believe this is a vitally important exercise vastly exceeding the city itself, potentially contributing to rapidly growing calls to decolonise the academy, this time from an urban and migrant-focused perspective. Following the theoretical trajectories of the “epistemologies of the South”, introduced by de Sousa Santos (2014), we will develop a methodological toolkit to decolonise urban knowledge. For de Santos,
we need to consider the knowledge of what he calls “oppressed social groups - those who do not count as human” (de Sousa Santos and Meneses 2020: xviii).
For this short study, we will collaborate with UWAO, Ubuntu and Anasa: three cultural organisations representing the Afro-Greek communities active in central Athenian neighbourhoods (see Figure 1 and Section 4, Outputs and Feasibility). Our methodological toolkit will be constructed around this very knowledge, via an interdisciplinary, decolonial, intersectional feminist and participatory approach, together with the communities on the ground.

DtC focuses on Athens for two reasons. First, the city is both at Europe’s periphery and centre: the “birthplace of civilisation” in European imaginaries (Gourgouris 1996; Stenou 2019) is nevertheless at the continent’s edge - geographically, culturally and politically. Athens is therefore both an epicentre of the imagined geography (Said 1979) that gave birth to orientalism, and itself at the receiving end of ensuing colonial and post-colonial transformations. Second, Athens has accommodated thousands of migrants who are unable to move further across the continent, settling in a city itself rattled by more than a decade of consecutive crises (from debt to migrant reception and now Covid-19). In these two ways, Athens exemplifies how colonial imaginaries and legacies intertwine with urban exclusion today.

We have heeded this call by focusing on intersectional urban migrant inclusions (Vradis and Papoutsi forthcoming); urban commoning, cultural and arts-based practices of migrants in the city (Travlou 2020); and the temporalities of migrant autonomy in urban camps in Athens (Papoutsi 2021). Vradis researched grassroots urban transformations in the ESRC crisis-scape award (2012-14, see Brekke et al. 2018). He also led as PI a major British Academy Cities and Infrastructure award studying grassroots food infrastructures in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Both research teams employed a community-driven research approach. Since 2015, Papoutsi has
researched Athens’ social and political movements, migrant communities, and the impact of geographies of containment on the city. Focusing on everyday intimate urban spaces, she explores migrants’ home-making practices as a tactic of coping with and resisting the border. Travlou (2018; 2019; 2021) has a longstanding research experience working with the epistemologies of the South through her ethnographic fieldwork in Colombia with local grassroots art communities and cultural producers. Vradis’ focus on grassroots urban transformations, Papoutsi’s expertise on urban bordering practices and Travlou’s experience with PABR and decolonial research methods (cultural mapping; digital oral history/podcasts; unlearning community workshops; collectively-written reflective reports) and feminist methodologies (through her involvement in the Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research in Athens will enable us to collectively develop our decolonial methodological toolkit. Specifically, in DtC we will design and test out a participatory arts-based research methodology (PABR, see Nunn 2020) pointing to the contribution and transformative power of creative arts for advocacy and research on citizenship. The growing emphasis on participatory and interdisciplinary arts-based methods is nevertheless largely limited to the Global North. By contrast, DtC adapts this methodological approach to the context of the epistemologies of the South to decolonise academic research with migrants and to provide an inclusive and intersectional research tool for the study of urban citizenship. The criticism against the Global North academic research canon of extractivist knowledge production is at the core of DtC. Through our research framework, we will problematise
fundamental questions on inclusive and decolonial urban and migrant-focused research. While decolonial research methods have mostly been used with indigenous communities in the Global South, we propose that urban research with migrant communities could also benefit from using decolonial research methods as well. Active participation in co-designing the project activities would empower participants by offering visibility and voice and allowing recognition of their agency. Likewise, we will closely reflect upon our positionalities as UK academics and Greek citizens working with migrants in the city.
Short titleDecolonising the City
Effective start/end date1/03/2230/09/22


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Penny Travlou (Organiser), Antonis Vradis (Organiser) & Anna Papoutsis (Organiser)

    5 May 20237 May 2023

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesPublic Engagement – Festival/Exhibition

  • Learning from the Squares

    Penny Travlou (Host), Hamish Kallin (Host), Antonis Vradis (Invited speaker) & Begum Ozden Firat (Invited speaker)

    16 Nov 2022

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

  • Decolonising Urban Knowledges (RC21 Conference)

    Penny Travlou (Organiser), Catalina Ortiz (Organiser), Giulia Testori (Organiser) & Marina Toneli (Organiser)

    25 Aug 2022

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference