This was published on the Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies blog. Huge thanks to Margot and Chris for the interview and transcript.
In November 2015 Birkbeck University’s Dr Ben Gidley gave a lecture at CIRIS on Christian, Muslim, and Jewish diaspora communities in London. Here CIRIS research associates Margot Dazey and Chris Moses ask Gidley about the state of diasporic research, his own research on diaspora groups within London’s famously diverse East End, and the policy implications of such research.
CIRIS: Can you tell us about the main aims of the Oxford Diasporas Programme, as well as those of your specific project? Continue reading
A new article in The Impact of Diasporas: Markers of Identity, a special issue of Ethnic and Racil Studies produced by the Leverhulme diaspora programmes at Oxford and Leicester universities. The issue is edited by Joanna Storey and Iain Walker.
This article discusses the historical and geographical contexts of diasporic religious buildings in East London, revealing – contrary both to conventional narratives of immigrant integration, mobility, and succession and to identitarian understandings of belonging – that in such spaces and in the concrete devotional practices enacted in them, markers and boundaries of identity (ritual, spatial, and political) are contested, renegotiated, erased, and rewritten. It draws on a series of case-studies: Fieldgate Street Synagogue in its interrelationship with the East London Mosque; St Antony’s Catholic Church in Forest Gate where Hindus and Christians worship together; and the intertwined histories of Methodism and Anglicanism in Bow Road. Exploration of the intersections between ethnicity, religiosity, and class illuminates the ambiguity and instability of identity-formation and expression within East London’s diasporic faith spaces.
A new chapter
In: Religion in Diaspora: Cultures of Citizenship, edited by Sondra Hausner and Jane Garnett
Part of the series Migration, Diasporas and Citizenship pp 55-79
Historicising Diaspora Spaces: Performing Faith, Race, and Place in London’s East End
Nazneen Ahmed with Jane Garnett, Ben Gidley, Alana Harris, Michael Keith
From the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, there has been a prevailing tendency to orientalise the East End of London. The idioms have changed, but underlying distortions of perspective have remained, from ‘darkest London’ through myths of the Blitz to ‘the new East End’ (Dench et al., 2006; Gidley, 2000; Walkowitz, 1992). This orientalised east London has been framed through (and served as an icon for) two conventional narrative tropes in the history and social science of migration in Britain, one temporal and one spatial. Both narratives are embedded in often-unspoken assumptions about the exercise and practice of citizenship. In particular, east London histories privilege the trajectories of migrant minorities that arrive in London’s lower echelons and are rescued from the abyss through self-improvement and civic engagement. The stories of Huguenot refugees, the Jews of the East End, the Maltese, the Indians, and the Irish are all in some ways redemptively showcased as plot lines of model minority integration. This familiar chronological script is mapped onto an equally familiar cartography as migrants move up, move out of the ghetto and into the suburbs, and leave space for the next wave of settlement. In spatialised Chicago School geography, stories of invasion, succession, and neighbourhood change, as, in chronologies of ladder-climbing minorities, we tend to find cast lists that are relatively unblemished by the presence of traces of difference. The ethnic mosaic is the key metaphor here: it implies social worlds that pass each other by relatively untouched.
I’m very honoured to be working with Eastside Community Heritage on the wonderful intergenerational and interfaith oral history project, “Jewish Migration Routes: From East End to Essex”, on Jewish international and internal migration, funded by the Rothschild Foundation. Yesterday, a fantastic day with King David High School students in Oxford:
I have a new article published, with the above title, in the Journal of Intercultural Studies, Volume 34, Issue 6.
Here’s the abstract:
This article explores the associational politics and diasporic memory of Jewish migrant workers in early twentieth century East London. It examines the ways in which associational activity, and specifically landsmanshaftn (hometown associations), tied migrants to sending contexts in both material and affective ways. This meant that diasporic memories were woven into the day-to-day political practices of these migrants, and were mobilised politically in response to the call to identification represented by traumatic events ‘back home’, as is illustrated in two examples, the protests at the 1903 Kishinev pogrom and solidarity with the civilian victims of the First World War. The article also shows that these mobilisations exemplify the ways in which such processes made a difference to the forms of identity and identification available to Jewish migrant workers in this period.
View full text; Download full text.
This appeared in a special issue, Refugee and Diaspora Memories, edited by Thomas Lacroix and Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh. Read the introduction here.
I just saw this at Hari Kunzru’s website:
Anyone interested in political history or theory should visit Christie Books, the publishing house and anarchist archive run by Stuart Christie, would-be assassin of General Franco and author of the entertaining memoir My Granny Made Me an Anarchist. The site contains a great deal of audio and video, including a documentary I made for BBC Radio 3 in 2008 called The First War on Terror. It’s about the anti-anarchist panic that gripped Europe in the late Victorian period, and the responses by writers (from pulp novelists to greats like Conrad and Chesterton) to the fears of a social order without gods or masters. Listen to the program here.
I feature (fairly briefly) in the programme, taking Hari on a walking tour of East London, including Freedom Books, which was firebombed this week, probably by fascists (and not for the first term), along with Clive Bettington of the Jewish East End Commemoration Society (far more radiogenic than me), talking about Joseph Conrad, Rudolf Rocker and more.
Here’s the BBC’s page on it:
Novelist Hari Kunzru explores how pulp fiction writers and great novelists got to grips with the UK’s first major ‘war on terror’ – against the Anarchists of Victorian and Edwardian times. These ‘scare novels’ responded to the Anarchists’ wish to abolish the State by depicting outlandish scenarios such as political assassinations and large-scale bombings.
He also explores the world of the real anarchists in London’s immigrant communities – most of whom were peaceful and cultured East End Jewish activists, trying to improve conditions in the garment trade – in contrast to these terrorists the novelists imagined and the popular press feared.
Bringing the programme up to date, Hari and literary scholars Laurence Davies and Deaglan O’Donghaile also briefly consider the modern response to 9/11, asking whether novels on terrorism ever get it right.
From the website of Donnacha DeLong’s The Circled A show on Resonance FM:
Commemorating the strikes of 1912 meeting On 23 May, the Jewish Socialists’ Group held a meeting in the library of the Bishopsgate Institute to discuss the history and continuing relevance of the 1912 tailor’s strike, inspired by Rudolf Rocker. The meeting covered the history of unionism in the East End, including the Docks, the history of the rag trade and sweatshops, the strike in 1912 and what it can teach the contemporary trade union movement. The meeting was chaired by David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists and included talks by Ben Gidley, senior researcher at Compas at Oxford University working on East End Jewish radical history, and Donnacha DeLong, President of the National Union of Journalists.
File 1: David Rosenberg opens the meeting
Part 01 rocker event intro
File 2: Ben Gidley talks about the history of the unions in East London and the history of the rag trade
Part 02 rocker event ben gidley
File 3: Donnacha DeLong talks about the broader context of the strike and its relevance for contemporary trade unionism
03 rocker event donnacha delong
File 4: Audience Q&A
Part 04 rocker event Q and A
UPDATE: Versions of mine and Donnacha’s talks have since been published in Jewish Socialist magazine.
My video for the Oxford Diasporas Programme. Not my finest moment:
Ben Gidley on the Diasporas of East London from Ann Cowie on Vimeo.
Read about the project here.