Tag Archives: super-diversity

On diversity

The Max Planck Institute have published an interview they did with me in 2014:

Interview with Ben Gidley (COMPAS, University of Oxford)

conducted by Paul Becker

Ben Gidley is an Associate Professor and Senior Researcher at COMPAS.

B: What does ‘diversity’ mean to you by way of your work and field of expertise?

G: I’m primarily an urban researcher. I research cities and city neighborhoods and social life in cities. So it’s both an inescapable fact of city life in Britain and everywhere and an interest of mine is the fact of diversity, the everyday lived reality of diversity – not diversity as policy or as philosophical orientation but just this sheer facticity of mixedness and living together, what we might call multiculture or multicultural drift. When I think of diversity my bias, the lens that I tend to bring to it, is probably more of an ethnic lens, although I understand intellectually that diversity is really about lots of different axes of difference, but the axis of difference which has to do with ethnicity and migration is the one that I tend to think of first.

B: Is ‘diversity’ just a Zeitgeist term – a post-multiculturalism policy catch phrase (as in ‘integration and diversity’ policy), a corporate tool (as in ‘diversity management’), or can it be a concept that can help structure and advance social scientific analysis?

G: I think that the way it has become a Zeitgeist term is a danger and a concern. I recently heard a quite senior German official talking about a school. She said there was one person from a classroom ‘from a diverse background’ and I thought that was quite shocking that she was able to use the word ‘diverse’, which is about difference, to refer to the one person that she saw as different . It seemed extraordinary to me. So there is a huge danger. I think the fashionable currency of the term has some advantages as well though. For example, the Council of Europe talk about ‘the diversity advantage’: intercultural cities or diverse firms having a competitive advantage due to demographic diversity, and some businesses have taken up this language.  However, I think that if used well,  diversity is a concept that certainly can structure and advance social scientific analysis. The danger in social science is the way that diversity can obscure inequality. Class for example is a cleavage that is harder to fit into a diversity lens than other cleavages such as ethnicity.

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Servicing super-diversity

This is my latest COMPAS blog post. You can read the original here. The photos are by me.

In the 1890s, philanthropist Charles Booth and a team of assistants – the pioneers of sociological research in the UK – walked the whole of London, visually noting the wealth of each street’s inhabitants, to construct their Maps Descriptive of London Poverty. The maps coded streets by colour, with scarlet red and gold marking the “well-to-do” and the “wealthy”, dark blue and black representing the “casual poor” in “chronic want” and the
“vicious and semi-criminal” “lowest class”. Southwark, just across the Thames from the City of London, was a mass of dark colours.

A hundred years later, the New Labour government created an Index of Multiple Deprivation to map new forms of poverty, dark blue for most deprived and gold for least. Again, the northern wards of Southwark were swathed in darkness, with the area around Elephant and Castle especially dark blue.

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More recently, the estate agents Savills has produced a different map of London, with dark blue representing areas where house prices were declining, and Booth’s scarlet red now used to mark zones moving “upmarket”. This time, in what the Economist called “the great inversion”, the former dark zones of Southwark had become vivid red property hotspots.

Elephant and Castle, in the heart of this area, exemplifies London’s sharp changes: commercial student housing, warehousing study migrants from the rising powers of Eastern Asia; luxury pied a terres in developments in a rebranded “South Central” quarter; social housing redevelopments that result in the decanting of long-term residents out to London’s far suburbs; a growing hub for Latin American enterprise.

Super-diversity at the local level

Elephant and Castle is also the site of a COMPAS project, Welfare, neighbourhood and new geographies of diversity. This project, along with an ESRC Knowledge Exchange Fellowship, were the source for February’s COMPAS Breakfast Briefing, presented by my COMPAS colleague Mette Louise Berg and me. We asked “How do local authorities deal with the increasing diversity of their clients and residents?” The Powerpoint presentation is online, and podcast and summary are coming soon.

IMG_3525_elephant_arches

Mette opened by describing the concept of “super-diversity” at the heart of our project, the intensifying diversity of forms of difference concentrated in one place, as defined by COMPAS founder Stephen Vertovec. Vertovec’s work has opened up a research agenda that I have been pursuing with Nando Sigona, Mette Berg and other colleagues in the last half decade, with a conference in Oxford, a workshop in Birmingham, and an edited collection. It also informed a Home Office study on the varying impacts of migration in local areas (subject of a previous Breakfast Briefing by Jon Simmons), which included “super-diverse London” as one of its geographical clusters.

The Welfare, neighbourhood and new geographies of diversity project, which also involves Caroline Oliver, Hiranthi Jayaweera and Rachel Humphris, as well as photographer Simon Rowe, takes this agenda forward by piloting ethnographic research on how diversity is patterned differently at different stages of the life course, and how this impacts on service provision in a super-diverse space.

Understanding Elephant

figure for BB blogpost

My contribution to the Breakfast Briefing was to present detailed census analysis done as part of the project by Anna Krausova, exploring different patterns of diversity across multiple axes of difference in an area circumscribed by a 1 mile radius from Elephant and Castle. Mette then presented some of the findings from the education and housing case studies of our qualitative research. Continue reading


Impact case study: Oxford research on integration and diversity

As this is now published on the REF2014 website, I have pasted here the impact case study submitted by Oxford’s Anthropology department to the Research Excellence Framework, which included my work alongside that of colleagues. [See licensing terms of use here. For related blogposts, going into detail about much of this research, see here.]  Continue reading


The future of superdiversity research

My former colleague Nando Sigona posted this on his blog:

Notes on the roundtable held at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Research intro Superdiversity on 4th December 2013

by Nando Sigona, Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS)

IRiS roundtable, 4 Dec 2013

IRiS roundtable, 4 Dec 2013

IRiS invited three internationally renowned scholars in the field of diversity and migration studies, Dr Mette Louise Berg (Anthropology, University of Oxford), Dr Ben Gidley (COMPAS, University of Oxford) and Dr Susanne Wessendorf (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity) to join IRiS director Professor Jenny Phillimore in an informal conversation on the future of diversity research and the challenges that superdiversity poses to social researchers. The event was also an opportunity for launching the special issue of the journal Identities (volume 20, n. 4) on ‘Ethnography, diversity and urban space’ that I co-edited by Mette Berg and Ben Gidley. Here are a few notes I took while chairing the roundtable.

Cover, Identities: Global studies in culture and power

Speakers were invited to address four key questions: What paths might diversity research take in the next decade? How might these impact on different disciplines? What challenges and opportunities might lie ahead for diversity researchers? How can diversity research engage with different academic and policy agendas?

Susanne Wessendorf opened the conversation with a brief overview on the concept of ‘superdiversity’, stressing its multidimensionality, that is the coming together of different social categories: not just ethnicity and migration backgrounds, but also different variables such as educational and socio-economic backgrounds, legal statuses, disabilities, sexualities, etc. which come together and interact in one place. However, noting that the saliency of various categories is socially constructed and varies in time and space, she invited researchers to avoid essenzialising them and be aware of intersectionality.

For Wessendorf research is needed to explore how different stakeholders cope with super-diversity, including public service providers, local authorities, and long-established communities; and how superdiversity impacts differently in urban and rural areas, large cities and provincial towns. She also identified the need for more comparative analysis that investigates diversity and superdiversity also in the Global South and for research that looks beyond the present to understand from a historical comparative perspective in which contexts and historical moments diversity was or was not seen as a problem for the society concerned.

The focus of Mette Louise Berg’s contribution was two-fold: the methodological challenges for ethnographers and qualitative researchers that work a) in the field of superdiversity and b) in superdiverse field sites. For Berg it is not easy to measure diversity quantitatively and she highlighted the difficult trade-off between how fine grained categories should be and questions of operationality and scale of analysis.

Tracing back its emergence to the 1990s, she describes what one might call the ‘neighbourhood turn’ and places the current ‘diversity turn’ within it. Ethnographic work, she argued, holds the potential to uncover instances of everyday affinities, conviviality and cosmopolitanism from below, as well as experiences and practices of exclusion, discrimination and racism. The challenge lies in how to honour the ideal of immersion, rapport and long-term engagement with the diversity and transnational connections of residents of diverse neighbourhoods. Collaborative research seems a promising approach – there is the potential to capture different processes and angles, the multiplicity of residents’ perspectives reflected in the multiplicity of researchers’ perspectives.

For Ben Gidley mapping and tracking the changing landscapes of diversity in the UK are key tasks for researchers. However, existing system of categorisation seems unable to cope with increasing fluidity of identification and emergence of new ethnicities. There is a need for a new policy vocabulary and new ideas that enable us to rethink ‘integration’, ‘cohesion’, ‘resilience’, ‘conviviality’. Central to the researcher’s task is the critique of methodological ethnicism which has contributed to pigeonholing the population into rigid ethnic-based clusters, with repercussion well beyond academia. An ethnographic approach alert to the sites of interactions and to the spatiality of relations is, Gidley argues, a suitable method for investigating everyday integration and ‘commonplace diversity’ (see Wessendorf’s article in the special issue of Identities) in the era of superdiversity. This should be pursued together with rigorous comparative research that addresses upfront the challenges of translation and develops analytical models attentive to the scales of diversity. Continue reading