Cohabitation and convivencia. Comparing conviviality in Casamance and Catalonia (completed)

Tilmann Heil

This project explores conviviality, a set of processes surrounding everyday living with difference. Based on 18 months of fieldwork (2007-2010) equally split between Casamance, Senegal, and Catalonia, Spain, the comparison takes the transnational lives of Casamançais and their embeddedness in both local fields into account. Locally, Casamançais often spoke of cohabitation (French) and convivencia (Castilian). Exploring discourses as well as practices related to encounters with difference and everyday socialising, this thesis addresses three questions: (1) How do migrants who come from a context of religious and ethnic diversity manage to make their way within new social contexts of cultural diversity? (2) How do their pre-migration experiences of diversity affect the ways in which they deal with the changing configurations of diversity that they encounter in Europe? (3) How do ways of living together with difference change over time in both sending and receiving contexts due to migration and other concurrent societal transformations?

In four ethnographic chapters, I firstly explore everyday neighbourhood encounters and the centrality of multilingual greeting and temporary gatherings in open spaces for conviviality. A second chapter focuses on cultural and religious festivities and argues that, apart from the political recognition of diversity, the local residents’ sensuous experiences of difference are a crucial dimension of conviviality. Addressing challenges to conviviality, the third chapter engages with the processes of social closure, isolation and homogenisation which reveal alternative ways of living with difference. The fourth ethnographic chapter puts migration-related inequalities centre-stage, showing how conviviality also involves subtle forms of inequality.

Analytically, this project suggests that conviviality is not a static conception of sociality, but one that is in-process. I find that socio-cultural differences are permanently negotiated, that ways of dealing with difference are translated between the old and new contexts of diversity, and that discourses and practices of living with difference are continuously (re)produced in everyday interactions. Casamançais perspectives reveal ways of maintaining minimal sociality among local residents who remain different.

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