Urban Super-Diversity

Academy of Urban Super-Diversity

8-10 April 2015, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences

The Academy of Urban Super-Diversity took place at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences from 8-10 April. Organized by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity under the combined auspices of the European Research Council and the Max Planck Society, the event brought together more than 100 international academics from around the world. The overarching aim of the Academy was to stimulate senior and junior scholars to challenge and to push the ways social scientists conceive and research changing and emergent configurations of urban social complexity, increasingly called ‘super-diversity‘.

The Academy of Urban Super-Diversity was structured in such a way as to offer multiple formats for intellectual engagement of the issues. These included: ‘masterclasses’ offered by twenty of the world’s leading scholars in the field; symposia in which panels of experts collectively discussed key themes; ‘slams’ in which young scholars presented their work in a succinct and highly energized fashion; and ‘findings’ sessions where members of the ‘GlobaldiverCities’ project presented results of their research. Visualizations of urban super-diversity were exhibited throughout the duration of the event, including ethnographic photography, video installations, interactive graphics, and films.

The Academy commenced with welcoming words by Dan Hiebert, standing-in for the event’s organizer, Steve Vertovec, who was unfortunately unable to attend. Hiebert encouraged the participants to question, contest, and experiment with ways of thinking about (and consequently, of researching) changing forms of urban complexity.

The concurrent ‘masterclasses’ took place in morning sessions on all three days. Among others, Ash Amin dealt with the ‘Material of Urban Solidarity’, Rainer Baubock talked on ‘Urban citizenship for the 21st Century’, Edgar Pieterse on ‘Public Culture and Multiplicity’ and Sophie Watson on ‘Affective and Material Publics’.

The young scholar slam sessions were a particular highlight of the Academy. The format indeed respresented a significant challenge to the presenters (“3 clicks, 3 slides, 3 minutes”), but the eighty-odd young scholars more than rose to the occasion. Congratulations to Linda van de Kamp, Maria Schiller, Anamik Saha, and Jan Haldipur, who were chosen by the judges (Jenny Phillimore, Jan Rath, Amanda Wise, Marcus Banks, Kim Knott and Sophie Watson) as being especially outstanding by way of thematic organization, slide design and presentation. The winners each received a bottle of sparkling wine (sponsored by Palgrave publishers), and a copy of the recently published book based on the GlobaldiverCities project, Diversities Old and New (edited by Steven Vertovec). 

The afternoon symposia assembled senior scholars to discuss innovative ways of conceiving, theorizing and researching new urban complexities. In the first symposium, with Phil Kasinitz as chair, Rainer Bauböck, Maurice Crul, Thomas Faist, Kim Knott, Loren Landau, Jenny Phillimore and Paul Spoonley discussed urban complexity and institutions. The group considered the challenges of super-diversity for citizenship and state agencies, social services, education and religious bodies.

Chaired by Dan Hiebert, the second symposium dealt with the issue of urban complexity and its effect on public space. Here, Ash Amin, Edgar Pieterse, Jan Rath, AbdouMaliq Simone, Sophie Watson and Brenda Yeoh discussed the ways new complexities manifest in and shape urban spaces.

Thomas Hylland Eriksen moderated the final symposium that dealt with urban complexity and social practices. Jan Blommaert, Robin Cohen, Ralph Grillo, Nancy Foner, Mary Waters and Amanda Wise addressed aspects of super-diversity, social interaction and cultural change in their discussion.

In the afternoon sessions, findings from ‘GlobaldiverCities’, a major five-year research project on urban super-diversity issues in Singapore, Johannesburg and New York, were presented. Project researchers presented findings on each city respectively on each day: Alex Wafer and Raji Matshedisho on Johannesburg, Laavy Kathiravelu and Jia Ye on Singapore, and Anna Cieslik and Sofya Aptekar on New York. The three films produced within the framework of this project: -- “Everybody is from Anywhere. Hillbrow, Johannesburg”, and “Mix, lah. Jurong West, Singapore” and “A Different Kind of Diversity. Astoria, New York City”   were also shown and followed by discussions with the film-makers, Doerte Engelkes and Anna Seegers-Krückeberg.     

In the final session, participants were invited to comment on the academy and offer suggestions for further developing and maintaining a sustainable inter-generational community of interest around the concept of super-diversity. A combination of regular web-based discussions and periodic personal forms of interconnection, such as regular workshops ideally leading to publications, emerged as the ideal formats for developing the insights and approaches advocated at throughout the Academy.  

The academy came to an end with a gala dinner that was sponsored by Wiley and the Global Networks journal, where guests stayed well into the evening talking and connecting while enjoying Bavarian food and beer!


For a full list of the Masterclasses, follow this link:

To see the full academy agenda, follow this link:



Sample feedback from Academy participants:

‘From the slams to the masterclasses to the projects undertaken in NY, Singapore and Hillbrow, I went away inspired and buzzing with new ideas and leads for my own research. I'm thrilled to be connected with a cohort of scholars interested in similar research areas as myself. It is even more heartening that such a cohort comes from a variety of backgrounds. ’

‘It was very stimulating and extraordinarily well organized format wise and logistically. I took back a lot.’

‘Looking back, I particularly liked the intergenerational and interdisciplinary aspects of the academy, the mix of slams, MCs, and symposia. ’

‘The diversity of a-cad’s was also really impressive, and the slam idea absolutely rocked as a means to pick out those who you want to chase at lunch for further conversation!!!! ’

‘It was really such a treat to be able to socialize with some of the masters whose works I had previously read most enthusiastically. ’

‘There was a terrific buzz at the conference, an excitement about the ideas being discussed, and it provided a wonderful chance to meet new people and hear about new projects and ideas. ’

‘Not only was this an innovative and intellectually stimulating event; it was also really convivial and pleasant in every way. ’