Friendship and the convivial city

The study of diverse and multicultural cities has gained considerable interest in recent years, reflecting a growing concern with migrant populations and the implications of 'strangers' in crowded urban societies. In this literature, one of the key considerations centers around understanding how ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse peoples "rub along" and live together in tight and dense metropolises. One strand of this research is interested in the quotidian encounter – ranging from the fleeting non-verbal to more sustained engagements over longer periods of time. In this research however, friendship as a form of social relation and interaction has been largely unexamined.

While research on friendship as a social phenomenon has been limited, our intention in this workshop is not to urge a general resurgence in the literature. Instead, we posit that friendship ties interrogated in conjunction with understandings of the diverse city, offer innovative ways to understand the urban politics of co-existence. Following Amin's (2012) recent work in Land of Strangers, we conceive of friendship networks as social ties that make possible a functioning, yet convivial, society of strangers. Friendships, in this sense, are seen as tangible ways in which the larger "urban unconscious" can be felt, linking the intimate sphere of private lives and relationships with a public urban commons.

We seek in this workshop to bring the geographical literature around the politics and spatiality of quotidian encounter together with more sociological understandings of relationships, networks and ties built on trust, respect and reciprocity. We do so in order to initiate a research agenda around the social and spatial configurations of friendship, which have implications for urban dwellers' experiences of city life, and in opening up potentialities for new ways of living together with diversity. We intend for the papers from this workshop to make contributions to contemporary understandings of everyday encounters in the diverse city, as well as further debates on the potential convivialities of dense urban spaces. 


Questions this workshop is interested in (but not restricted to):

  • How do ties of friendship and convivial relations characterize rapidly changing urban zones, especially in the ‘Global South’?
  • How do different migration and governmental regimes shape the formation and functioning of friendship networks?
  • How does friendship across lines of ethnicity, class, religion and language populate the city and leave a mark on the ‘urban unconscious’?
  • How is ‘convivial habituation’ learned and communicated through friendship networks?
  • When does friendship break down and how is the work of ‘repair’ carried out, and by whom?
  • When and how do convivial relations generated through friendship networks provide possibilities to challenge dominant values and structures of power, and transcend differences in a city?
  • Which types of spaces/ ‘third places’ in the city facilitate the formation and ongoing sustenance of convivial friendship relations?
  • What are the various technologies and everyday geographies that enable and encourage the formation and maintenance of friendships and convivial relations between strangers?
  • What are the affective registers, emotions and ‘atmospheres’ of place that characterize the spaces of conviviality and friendship?


Workshop Convenors:

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany; and
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Email: kathiravelu(at)

Assoc Prof Tim BUNNELL
Asia Research Institute and Department of Geography, National University of Singapore
Email: geotgb(at)