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Abstract

Scholarship has shown that immigrants form mutual support networks based on the foundations of a shared cultural background, trust, and obligation. Though these immigrant networks can help circulate important resources, they can also be extremely insular, preventing its actors from accessing new forms of social capital. Research also shows that how immigrants are spatially embedded, namely, the way they engage with urban infrastructure, can create avenues of social and economic integration into the receiving country. However, less is known about how these two processes interact. How do the features of an immigrant kinship network shape how immigrants experience urban spaces? In this paper, I examine this question using interviews and fieldwork with West African immigrants who currently or formerly lived in affordable housing cooperatives on Chicago’s north side. Beyond engaging in a socio-spatial dialectic, I argue that West African immigrants engage in a kinship-spatial dialectic with their built environment. Just as the physical features of the building impact tenants’ spatial patterns and social interactions, the features of an immigrant kinship network impact the buildings’ symbolic and systemic characteristics. As a result, immigrants transform buildings in Chicago’s skyline into representations of family, solidarity, and at times, social and spatial immobility.

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