Commonplace diversity and the ‘ethos of mixing’: perceptions of difference in a London neighbourhood

by Susanne Wessendorf

Working Papers WP 11-09
October 2011
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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The London Borough of Hackney is one of the most diverse places in the world. It is not only characterised by a multiplicity of ethnic minorities, but also by differences in migration histories, religions, educational and economic backgrounds both among long-term residents and newcomers. This paper attempts to describe attitudes towards diversity in such a ’super-diverse’ context. It develops the notion of ‘commonplace diversity’, referring to ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity being experienced as a normal part of social life by local residents, and not as something particularly special. Commonplace diversity is accompanied by positive attitudes towards diversity among the majority of the population, and especially in public and associational space, there exists a great deal of interaction across cultural differences. However, mixing in public and associational space is rarely translated into the private space, and despite regular interactions in public space, residents often know little about other residents’ life worlds. This, however, is not seen as a problem, as long as people adhere to a tacit ‘ethos of mixing’. This ‘ethos of mixing’ comes to the fore in relation to groups who are blamed to ‘not want to mix’. The concluding part of the paper discusses The paper concludes by discussing the fine balance between acceptable social divisions between groups and unacceptable ones in relation to specific groups who are seen to self-segregate themselves.

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