Cultivated invisibility and migrants’ experiences of homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic

Simon Stewart, Charlotte Sanders

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The UK government’s Everyone In scheme, announced in March 2020, required local authorities to temporarily house all homeless individuals in their area regardless of immigration status. In providing support through safe and secure accommodation, Everyone In also provided a crucial moment of visibility for migrants experiencing homelessness. Yet, just as it provided life-changing opportunities for some, the scheme was not straightforwardly a celebratory moment for migrants. It remained embedded within a wider context of immigration governance and social inequality in the UK, which has both invisibilised migrant homelessness as a crisis and hypervisibilised migrants as undeserving, suspicious or ‘illegal’ subjects. In this article, we explore life-story narratives co-produced with migrants across three urban contexts that capture their experiences of homelessness before and during the pandemic. In doing so, we introduce the notion of cultivated invisibility, referring to a habitual, deeply-ingrained mode of practice through which migrants respond to and navigate their experiences of being read as ‘Other’, in racialised or class terms. It is developed through conditions of material scarcity and in the course of multiple engagements with racial capitalism’s various ‘faces of the state’ in an increasingly hostile environment for migrants. Cultivated invisibility involves staying on the move and blending into the crowd or avoiding it altogether but it also includes the experience of being unseen despite having come forward for help. Importantly, we demonstrate that cultivated invisibility becomes a cause of illegalisation, just as much as a response to it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126–147
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023


  • COVID-19
  • cultivated invisibility
  • homelessness
  • migrant
  • pandemic
  • UKRI
  • ESRC
  • ES/V011081/1


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