Mutating faces of the state? Austerity, migration and faith-based volunteers in a UK downscaled urban context

Rachel Humphris

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7 Citations (Scopus)
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This article explores how austerity combined with the UK Government’s expressed aim of creating a hostile environment, reshaped policy and practice towards new migrants in a downscaled urban area. There is an assumption that volunteers come to govern in zones the state has ceded or abandoned. However, how volunteers come to undertake these roles, their discretionary power and the consequences for state theory have not been fully explored. Drawing on 73 interviews with local state actors and volunteers and in-depth participant observation over 14 months with more than 200 new migrants, this article argues volunteers become the ‘face of the state’ for new migrants with direct effects. Volunteers have wide discretionary power and negotiate uncertainty by falling back on religious values and local narratives of migration forging new practices of governance. This article makes two contributions to theorising the state. First, the economic position of a city and narratives of place shapes who gains legal status and state membership, adding to literature on the relationship between civil society and the state in neoliberal contexts. Second, seemingly mundane actions and intimate relations have immediate implications for political membership. This represents a system of governance that relies on assessments of behaviours in new migrants’ everyday lives rather than rights or entitlements. This article unpacks these assessments and explores the consequences for volunteers and new migrants alike.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Sociological Review
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2018


  • austerity
  • faith-based organisations
  • migration
  • urban governance
  • welfare


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