Migration and new diversities in global cities: comparatively conceiving, observing and visualizing diversification in urban public spaces

by Steven Vertovec

Working Papers WP 11-08
July 2011
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf


How can people with ever more diverse characteristics live together in the world’s rapidly expanding cities? The UN estimates a doubling of world urban population by 2050. Meanwhile, global migration flows show profound diversification of migrants’ nationality, ethnicity, language, gender, age, human capital and legal status. Everywhere, migrants with complex ‘new diversity’ traits dwell in cities alongside people from previous, ‘old diversity’ waves. The dynamics of diversification – despite their increasing ubiquity – remain seriously under-researched. We know little about how people in diversifying urban settings create new patterns of coexistence, or how and why they might tend towards conflict.

This Working Paper provides the background for the GLOBALDIVERCITIES project, which is funded for five years from 2011 by the European Research Council under its scheme for Advanced Investigator Grants. The GLOBALDIVERCITIES project’s core research question is: in public spaces compared across cities, what accounts for similarities and differences in social and spatial patterns that arise under conditions of diversification, when new diversity-meets-old diversity? The project entails inter-disciplinary, multi-method research in New York (a classic city of immigration with new global migrant flows in a broadly supportive political context), Singapore (dominated by racial-cultural politics, and wholly dependent on new, highly restricted migrants), and Johannesburg (emerging from Apartheid with tensions around new and unregulated pan-African migrant flows). Spanning the fields of anthropology and human geography to research the changing nature of diversity and its socio-spatial patterns, strategic methods entail ‘conceiving’ (exploring how old and new diversities are locally understood), ‘observing’ (producing ethnographies of interaction) and ‘visualizing’ (using images and innovative data mapping). Anticipated findings will significantly advance social scientific understanding of numerous, far-reaching global trends surrounding urbanization and social diversification.

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