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Liette Gilbert

Liette Gilbert


Graduate Program Director (Environmental Studies)


PhD Urban Planning, University of California, Los Angeles
MA (Urban Planning), University of California, Los Angeles
BSc Landscape Architecture, Université de Montréal

Research Keywords

Cities, Urban Planning, Migration, Citizenship, Social and Environmental Justice.

Graduate Supervision

I supervise students in the graduate programs in Environmental Studies and Geography.

Liette Gilbert

Contact Information

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ON M3J 1P3

416 736 2100

Research Interests

Born and raised in rural Quebec along the US border, my research interest extends to large cities and borders politics. My scholarship has developed around three poles: i) migration and border politics; ii) urban planning and the political economy and ecology of sub/urbanization; and iii) politics of risk and post-disaster reconstruction (as a tragic train derailment took my research back to my home region of Lac-Mégantic). These research areas are framed by a politics of inclusion/exclusion. I am particularly interested in how the logic of exclusion reproduces itself through control, precarity, risk and crisis discourses.At the core of these regimes and discourses are issues of incapacitation of everyday life, citizenship and ‘right to the city.’

More specifically, my research examines how migration control has increasingly expanded away from the border through neoliberal strategies of incapacitation, deterrence and detention, as a way not only to penalize border crossing but also to criminalize everyday practices of many migrants. My work related to cities (from Mexico City to Lac-Mégantic) looks at the entanglement of capitalist urban development, governance and resistance/activism in both normalized and ‘exceptional’ (post-disaster) agendas. My research and teaching are motivated for needed change towards environmental and social justice.

Research Projects

Non-Status Citizenship and the Promises of the Inclusive City

Proud of its diversity and progressive politics, the City of Toronto adopted a ‘sanctuary policy’ in 2013. However, municipal governments and urban planners have yet to fully address the ‘local turn’ of migration politics at a time when they are increasingly confronted with anti-austerity, anti-racism, and anti-colonial movements. Urban planners have been complicit in neglecting particular populations through the production of uneven urban environments.

In this research project, Luisa Sotomayor and I examine how non-status citizenship is negotiated in municipal governance and planning politics in Toronto. Given their precarious presence in the city, non-status citizens are subjected to everyday socio-legal violence invested in historical and current state/planning practices of dispossession and racial capitalism. Our inquiry aims to recenter the limits and possibilities of creating an urban fabric where different sectors and service providers within and beyond the state may resist “irregularity” to “circumvent non-juridical status” and where illegalized migrants are increasingly included and afforded housing, labor, and mobility justice (beyond limited sanctuary policy). Using content analysis of official documents and undocumented testimonies, our research seeks to put forward a collective project of planning for migrant solidarity that activate new openings to disrupt exclusionary discontinuities in access to substantive citizenship, services and infrastructure.

Politics of migration and immigration control

This research examines the expanded criminalization and policing logic to undocumented immigration as a complement to deterrence technology at the increasingly militarized border infrastructure (where apprehensions have been at their lowest points in decades). I focus particularly on how incapacitation (and the performativity of arrest) becomes a discursive, political and economic justification for detention (as a booming economy) and removal/deportation for immigrants living already in the United States.  Because incapacitation blames the individual rather than the (infra)structural, solidarity across anti-immigrant, anti-racist, anti-precarity and post-colonial social movements is even more urgent. 

Post-disaster redevelopment of Lac-Mégantic

This research examines the particular conditions of disaster capitalism in the post-disaster recovery process of this small town in Quebec destroyed by a tragic train derailment in 2013. It specifically studies the social, political and economic processes enacting post-disaster redevelopment through the analysis of local contingencies, aspirations and capacities. In examining the political economy of post-disaster recovery, my research focuses particularly on the genealogy of ‘exceptional’ decisions and actions taken by various actors (state, market, civil society) during various phases of the recovery process.

SSHRC Major Research Collaborative Initiative (2010-2017) Global Suburbanism: Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. Roger Keil (PI) ($2.5 m).

This international and interdisciplinary research project, involving 43 researchers in 20 countries and 16 community partners in 12 countries, examines suburbanization as the key element of the 21st century urban development.  My contribution to the project as a member of the North American cluster was to examine sub/urbanization processes in the challenging Metropolitan Mexico City area.

Research Output

Sandberg, L. Anders, Gerda Wekerle and Liette Gilbert (2013) The Oak Ridges Moraine Battles:  Development, Sprawl, and Nature Conservation in the Toronto Region. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Gilbert, Liette (2019) Enquête sur la catastrophe de Lac-MéganticQuand les pouvoirs publics déraillent. Translation of The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster: Public Betrayal, Justice Denied by Bruce Campbell Montreal: Editions Fides.

Sotomayor, Luisa and Liette Gilbert (2022). Sanctuary City, Solidarity City, Inclusive City (Yet to Come): Living Invisibly in Toronto in Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic. In Theorizing Local Migration Law and Governance edited by Moritz Baumgärtel and Sara Miellet. Cambridge University Press. 1997-222.

Gilbert, Liette (2020). Mexico City: Elusive suburbs, ubiquitous peripheries. In The Life of North American Suburbanism, edited by Jan Nijman. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 45-64.

Gilbert, Liette and Anna Zalik (2019) The Limits of Audit Culture Extractivism: Risk and Reinsurance in Canadian Oil Transport by Rail and Pipeline. The Extractive Industries and Society. 6: 654-664.

Gilbert, Liette (2018) The Crisis After the Crisis: Neoliberalized Discourses of Urgency, Risk and Resilience in the Reconstruction of Lac-Mégantic. Revue générale de droit 48: 155-175.

Gilbert, Liette (2016) Uneven state formalization on peri-urban housing production in Hanoi and Mexico City: Comparative reflections from the global South. With Julie-Anne Boudreau and Danielle Labbé. Environment and Planning A. 48(12): 2382-2401.

Gilbert, Liette, Punam Khosla and Feike de Jong (2016) Precarization and Urban Growth in Metropolitan Mexico City. Especialidades: Revista de temas contemporaneous sobre lugares, politica y cultural. 6(6): 5-32.

Gilbert, Liette and Feike de Jong (2015) Entanglements of Periphery and Informality in Mexico City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 39(3): 518-532.

Gilbert, Liette (2014) Social Justice and the “Green” City. Urbe Brazilian Journal of Urban Management, Special Issue: Urban Transitions. 6(2): 158-169.

Sotomayor, Luisa and Liette Gilbert (forthcoming) Sanctuary City, Solidarity City, Inclusive City : Living Invisibly in Toronto in Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Theorizing Local Migration Law and Governance edited by Moritz Baumgärtel and Sara Miellet. Utrecht University. 

Gilbert, Liette (2020) Mexico City: Elusive suburbs, ubiquitous peripheries, in The Life of North American Suburbanism, edited by Jan Nijman. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 45-64.

Gilbert, Liette (2017) La identitad cultural canadiense: teoría y práctica [Theory and Practice of Canadianess]. Canadá Hoy: Política, Sociedad y Cultura, edited by Elizabeth Gutiérrez, Romero Santiín Peña and Camelia Tigau. Mexico City: CISAN-UNAM. 87-97.

Gilbert, Liette (2016) Visa Requirement as Technology for the Externalization of Asylum Management. Externalizing Migration Management: Europe, North America and the Spread of 'Remote Control' Practices, edited by Ruben Zaiotti. New York: Routledge.

Recognition & Awards

  • FES Dean's Service Award (shared with Tarmo Remmel)


Not currently teaching, but recent courses included:

Course CodeTitle
ENVS 4750Political Ecology of Landscapes
ENVS 6133Social Justice and Planning
ENVS 8102PhD Research Seminar
ENVS 8102PhD Research Seminar (Dissertation Proposal)
GEOG 5010Seminar in Geographical Practice.