Commonplace diversity: social interactions in a super-diverse context

by Susanne Wessendorf

Working Papers WP 10-11
September 2010
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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The London Borough of Hackney is one of the most diverse areas in the world. It is not only characterised by a multiplicity of different ethnic and migrant minorities, but also differentiations in terms of variables such as migration histories, religions, educational backgrounds, legal statuses, length of residence and economic backgrounds both among ethnic minorities and migrants as well as the white British population, many of whom have moved to Hackney from elsewhere. This paper attempts to describe different types and levels of social relations in such a superdiverse context and reviews the existing literature and policy discourse on diversity in urban neighbourhoods. It aims to identify patterns of social relations which cross categorical boundaries, and discusses the spaces in which such interactions and relations take place. The paper describes a phenomenon conceptualised as ‘commonplace diversity’, referring to ethnic, religious, linguistic and socio-economic diversity being experienced and perceived as a normal part of social life in Hackney by local residents, and not as something particularly special. Closely related to such perceptions of diversity are certain patterns of behaviour or intercultural skills which are needed to facilitate everyday social interactions in a super-diverse context. These skills and competences are described as ‘corner-shop cosmopolitanism’, referring to the localised and everyday nature of such intercultural social skills and the existence of a certain openness towards people perceived as ‘different’. Furthermore, the paper discusses the limits of corner-shop cosmopolitanism and the co-existence of mixing and ‘parallel lives’, characterised by different degrees of interaction and mixing in public as opposed to private space, and depending on different stages in the life-course.

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